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Yuramia Oksilasari_Residency Malý Berlín (nov 2023-jan2024)_foto©Petra-K-Adamková_(Malý-Berlín)_13

Yuramia Oksilasari spent three months in Malý Berlín: What will this young Indonesian architect take away from her residency in Slovakia?

Resident Yura took on an intriguing project during her time in Malý Berlin for three months. In the interview, she discusses her work, impressions of Slovakia, and future plans.

Yura, in Trnava it’s not so common to meet someone from Indonesia. How did an architect from this country just get to Malý Berlín one day? 

It surprised me when I discovered an Indonesian restaurant not far from Malý Berlín. I don’t think it’s that rare to find something Indonesian-ish here in Trnava, or at least in Slovakia. It’s amusing that I’ve met two Slovaks in Trnava who speak Indonesian fluently – quite funny. And I found some words that are the same in both Indonesian and Slovak, such as ‘beton,’ ‘dva,’ and ‘kartu’ – perhaps I’ll find more. So, in the end, maybe we’re not that different or distant (smile).

And how did I get here? It turned out to be a funny and random experience. In mid-2023, I decided to leave my job at the architecture firm where I had worked for the past couple of years. I wanted to concentrate more on my independent practice and individual research. With the freedom to set my own time and place for work, I began considering the possibility of going abroad. This might have been influenced by the fact that many of my friends are involved in the art and culture scene, often doing residencies abroad to enrich their experiences. So, I was inspired to do something similar. The funny thing was that residency programs are usually for artists or cultural practitioners, not architects. Then, I randomly googled ‘Open Call Residency Program for Architects,’ got interested in the topic, applied for it, and boom! Here I am (smile)…

Was it hard to decide if you would go here or not? 

In theory, the desire to come here is not challenging because I am generally open to new experiences and meeting new people, especially if it involves an interesting topic related to my research focus. However, in reality, it was not the easiest thing for me to be here – I must admit. Indonesia doesn’t hold a strong passport compared to EU countries, so I needed more time to prepare in advance. For instance, this residency was initially scheduled to start in October 2023 but was postponed to November 2023 due to visa processing. I was fortunate to obtain the visa in 1.5 months because I had the Letter of Invitation and proof of accommodation. It would have been different without such documents; I would have had to be prepared for a 6-month visa processing time.

Can you please share more about your life and work? Where did you study? Which interesting project did you work on? 

I studied Architecture at Universitas Gadjah Mada, located in the Special Region of Yogyakarta – around eight hours by train from my hometown, Bandung, in West Java. Both cities are emerging hubs in Indonesia and are situated on Java Island. Without any intention to brag, Universitas Gadjah Mada is one of the top three universities in Indonesia. The education system in Indonesia differs significantly from that in Europe, as far as I have observed. The high population in Indonesia somehow transforms education into a ‘promising business sector.’ This means we need to pay a lot for better quality education, and the competition to enter is challenging, especially at the university level. Because I didn’t come from an elite background, I had to put in extra effort to enter and complete my studies: I secured a scholarship, worked various jobs, sold anything I could (from goods to services), and more. During university, I once worked part-time as a professor’s assistant, providing a sense of security in terms of the academic environment. Simultaneously, I worked part-time in an independent alternative space to build my networks and gain experiences in a punk and grassroots approach. It was a challenging period to reflect on, but I am glad I pursued it my way – it brought me new opportunities in my life: people, places, projects, and lessons that I hold dearly until now. I think almost every project I worked on had its own interesting aspects to discuss, especially when it involved public-use buildings with specific social issues as the background. I will share more about them in my public lecture on January 23rd, 2024, in Malý Berlín: ‘Architects Don’t Have All The Answers.’ But if I really need to mention one of the most interesting projects I ever undertook, it might be my bachelor’s degree final project with the idea to redesign a former roof-tile factory into a village cultural center.

Watch the recording of Yurami’s lecture Architects don’t have all the answers, which took place on January 23, 2024.

What was your goal here in Slovakia – what did you work on? 

My goal is to expand my independent practice and conduct individual research on industrial architecture and its relationship with society as my primary focus. Since completing my bachelor’s degree final project, where I proposed redesigning a former roof-tile factory into a village cultural center, I’ve realized my specific interest lies in industrial and abandoned buildings such as factories, warehouses, storage facilities, silos, power plants, and so on. However, after years of immersing myself in this industrial topic, I couldn’t solely focus on architectural elements. I began to shift my attention to the surrounding society of each industrial building and area. I realized that, ironically, these societies often emerge as the most vulnerable entities within the urban spatial context due to factors such as segregation, poor environmental quality, and social dynamics ranging from income gaps to labor movements. I thought that advocating for this society could be achieved through critical thinking within an architectural framework. This perspective led me to believe that Trnava and Slovakia would provide an excellent starting point to extend this research within the Central European context, with a specific focus on Coburgova Street in Trnava. The historical background, architectural typology, and social issues related to segregated communities in these areas are intriguing subjects to observe and discuss.

I know you were not here only for work in Malý Berlín – can you please tell me more? 

Yes, I collaborate with The City – specifically, with the departments that take care of urbanism, architecture, planning, and social work. It’s not a literal collaboration, but more about having access to these departments, particularly for The Coburgova projects. Honestly, working with two different institutions is a tricky situation, especially from the perspective of a foreigner who has just visited Europe for the first time. I need more time to plan, connect with others, and find specific people aligned with my research focus. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Additionally, this serves as the pilot project of the Residency Program for Architects, a collaboration between Malý Berlín and The City of Trnava. There are still many things to be managed and figured out. It’s tricky, but that’s part of being a resident, right? I see this more as an experimental opportunity for all parties involved.

Yuramia Oksilasari
Yuramia Oksilasari

How did you like your Slovak experience? 

So far, so good; although I’ve encountered some difficulties, and barriers, and experienced some shock due to the differences I discovered at the very beginning – but overall, I have managed everything somehow. I am a firm believer in the idea of creating a good place rather than finding one, recognizing that we will never find a perfect, ideal place. Thus far, I feel like I’m continually in the process of making Slovakia a good place for myself. I achieve this by cycling throughout the entire city, trying random activities, and, most importantly, meeting new people. Thanks to Malý Berlín, which has become my first and coolest safe place to experience Slovakia, especially Trnava. I’ve gained a lot from the people at Malý Berlín. I would say that people here, in Trnava, are not the easiest to open up to initially – I felt this more because of the language barrier, which often makes people a bit shy. However, I sense that deep down inside, people are nice and want to help me in their own way. This is something new for me, but it’s relieving at some point; I can enjoy my personal bubble too without getting interrupted by others. Also, let’s not forget about the dark humor that emerges after some shots of Tatratea or Borovička – it connects me with people on a deeper level.

What did you know about Slovakia before? 

Although I don’t have any friends who have spent time in Slovakia, at least I know a few things about the country: Considered the most central country in Europe and landlocked. Bratislava and Vienna hold the record for being the two capital cities with the shortest distance between them in the world. Slovakia and the Czech Republic were once united as Czechoslovakia before gaining their sovereignty. As a trivia, I once read that every Indonesian student in Czechoslovakia concentrated in the Czech Republic after the separation. A bit of history as a former communist country, which has left many legacies related to modernism and brutalism architecture – something I like. Some knowledge of Slovakia as an industrial country in the European Union that is still active now, but also preserved the industrial heritage well – I like it even more. A bit of experience with Tatratea, the tea-based liquor from the High Tatras – I love it the most!” I think at some point Slovakia has a little bit of everything about Europe, which makes it even special. Well, I can say Slovakia is indeed an underrated country.

Is there something new you learned here?

It might be ridiculous, but the most practical thing I’ve learned here is… to cook rice manually on the stove. I mean, I’m Indonesian and eat rice almost every day. Every Indonesian has used a rice cooker from birth and since forever. So, I gained a new skill (laugh)… And also, how to manage or endure this winter dynamic.

What will be the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says “Slovakia” in the future? 

My new homeland in Europe (smile).

I know you went to a few events of Malý Berlín. Which one did you like the most? As an audience, I enjoyed Radical Empathy: Faidros’, dance theater, the most because I didn’t experience any language barrier during this event, unlike other events, especially the workshops and discussions, which I found to be interesting but I couldn’t understand at all. This performance was simply aesthetically pleasing. As an active participant, I particularly liked the literature workshop Literature in the city, hosted by my colleague Anna Siedykh as a part of a Ukraine club,. I truly appreciated how she accommodated the English version of the workshop, specifically for me. During the workshop, we attempted to create a new poem based on a selected few words from another random piece of literature. I have always been interested in literature and creative writing, and this experience added another layer to that for me.

Yuramia Oksilasari
Yuramia Oksilasari

Can you share some interesting things that you experienced here?

What a difficult question and request! I mean, the whole residency experience itself is already interesting. But I think the most fascinating part for me was when I found and connected with people who share similar interests, specifically in industrial architecture and urban exploration. In my country, some of my friends knew about my fascination with abandoned buildings; I used to do this UrbEx by myself. Actually, I only became familiar with this term when I visited Trnava and engaged in this kind of exploration with my new friends – this term and concept were never popular in Indonesia. Finding people with similar interests has always been an intriguing experience worth sharing.

What are your next plans after you go home to Indonesia? 

Thinking about how to go back to Slovakia (laugh)! Haha, just kidding! I would love to, but it’s not my top priority right now. I left some work in Indonesia before I went to Slovakia, and I’ll be back to continue those things. One of them is finishing my private library collection and turning it into public access. I’m so keen to do that. And, of course, to process all of my discoveries from these past three months of the residency experience. I was inspired by what my friends and colleagues have already accomplished here in Trnava related to the industrial building archives. An honorable mention to Miroslav Beňák for his super interesting and inspiring works: the guide map, the website, and the publications – they gave me a breath of fresh air for my independent research approach. I would love to try and test these ideas in the Indonesian context. I also have a plan that I have been thinking about for a long time: to pursue a master’s degree with a focus on industrial society. As a baby step, I’ve made notes for this lifelong journey that you can access at this link.