Ever since we started POST in August last year, we have been drawn to creative spaces and the stories behind them. Out of all the creative spaces that we have visited, Lir in Yogyakarta intrigues me the most. For one, it is difficult to pin down what Lir is exactly. I am so used to creative spaces with a singular purpose – art galleries, makerspace, hackers’ nests – that it took me a while to understand the in-between-ness of Lir. It is an art gallery, a library, a restaurant, a curiosity shop, and a space where new ideas and initiatives can come and flourish.
The in-between-ness of Lir also seeped into my conversation with Mira Asriningtyas and Dito Yuwono, the mad ones behind Lir. We talked about Lir in between warm ginger milk and honey toast during a misty walk around Kaliurang, Mira’s fried mushroom at Lir, spiced coffee at Kopi Ketjil, and over email. I hope you too have a warm cup of comfort beside you as you get to know Lir better.
How did Lir come to be?
Mira: Lir started as a dream. I had a dream of establishing an independent bookshop and even wrote its business plan for my thesis. It was like a child for me, and like all children, Lir too had its own idea of what it wants to be and has evolved from my initial idea of it being a bookshop. Since its early days, Lir always consists of different elements – there is a library, a shop, a gallery, and a restaurant. But community and collaboration are always at the heart of Lir, so the space evolves along with the people and communities that shape it.
Although I founded Lir, Dito is also a strong influence. In its early days, Lir was known as a hub for crafters to gather and therefore has a very cute and girly image. Slowly, with the influence of Dito, Lir’s art space became more prominent. We expanded the gallery and collaborate with more artists to hold their exhibitions as well as come up with events and ideas that we would like to try out, such as our Walk the Folk and Folk Afternoon concerts. The restaurant is thriving, it regularly rotates its menu and is also the catalyst for food based events that we organize with a group called The Aunties, which consists of my sisters. The library is always there, as are corners to read and discuss. It used to bother me when people called Lir a book café, because there is so much more to Lir, but now it doesn’t matter anymore to me how visitors perceive Lir, as long as they find a space that is interesting and welcoming. So we are now enjoying being betwixt and between.
Being betwixt and between seems to be what sets Lir apart from other creative spaces in Yogya. Can you share more about it?
Dito: Other than the mix of elements in Lir that Mira has shared, Lir is also located in between the geopolitical axis of Yogyakarta. The city is known to have scholars nesting in the Northern part and artists residing in the Southern end, but Lir’s location in Baciro is right in between the two. We are translating our location into our stance as an art and creative space, but also personally as an artist (Dito) and curator (Mira). This means that Lir does not cater to a specific type of artist the way that other art spaces might. Rather, we open our doors to street artists, visual artists, crafters, illustrators, toy designers, and many more. We have a mix of programs, ranging from debut exhibition for new artists to opportunities for established artists to try something outside their comfort zone. One of our signature programs is called Ex.Lab, or Exhibition Laboratory, in which we select four people from diverse backgrounds to go through a series of workshops, studio visits, and discussions that will end with their solo exhibitions. We have had art students, historians, and even a nurse participating in Ex-Lab!
How do you select collaborators for Lir?
Mira: I mentioned that Lir is like a child for us, so we are selecting our collaborators the way we would select the friends of our child. We collaborate with those who are interested in Lir because they understand its personality and what it stands for, as well as those who are willing to put up with the process that we have in place for collaborators.
Dito: We admit that the criteria for selecting collaborators are rather ambiguous, but it is one of the prerogatives of running your own space. So far it’s been snowballing, our next collaborator usually is a friend of a previous collaborator, who have in turn become our friends.
Among all of the initiatives you’ve hosted in Lir, can you share some of the most memorable ones?
Dito: For me it’s our Ex.Lab, Folk Afternoon concert, and Murakabi or Mural Kampung Baciro. Several artists came together and painted murals on walls that are often vandalized around Baciro. The vandalism has stopped after the murals are in place, so it feels that we have a positive contribution to the neighbourhood around Lir.
Mira: I also love the Folk Afternoon. Other than that, I really enjoyed Mendengarkan Kaset Sore-Sore, in which a collaborator invited the public to come to Lir with their favorite cassette and play their favorite songs, and When Artists Cook, which was exactly like it sounds, a bunch of artists cooking and sharing a meal with young people.
Lir is one of the few art spaces we know that are independent of donor funding, be it from local foundations or foreign governments. Why do you choose to not receive any donor funding?
Mira: We enjoy the independence and freedom of decision making that comes with it. Consequently, as parents of Lir, Dito and I are supporting Lir financially. The restaurant, in which I am the recipe developer for, and the shop are a source of income for Lir. I am a freelance writer for magazines while Dito is a food critique, so we support ourselves from these jobs and dedicate extra income for Lir when needed. See, Lir really is a child for us.
What are your plans for Lir in 2015?
Mira: A lot. We have two editions of Ex.Lab coming up, Walk the Folk and Folk Afternoon concerts, an Independent Book Making Club, the documentation of Murakabi, publishing our new magazine called Semi, a small gathering called the (Not So) Secret Dining Club, and solo exhibitions until September. We have a program called The Observant Club, which we are very excited about, and a special exhibition to commemorate LIR’s fourth anniversary and, guess what, it is called ‘Betwixt and Between’!
How can people get in touch with Lir?
*All photos, except for the cover photo, are courtesy of Mira Asriningtyas and Dito Yuwono
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww’!” – Jack Kerouac. There are many kinds of madness, but our favorite is the kind where it drives someone to purse their creative passion and embrace others to join them in being mad together. The Mad Ones is our periodic column, in which we interview people who inspire us through their madness.