From Outside to Inside the Screen, then to Outside the Screen: Curatorial Essay for Out of In The Penal Colony

Personally, I agree to the viewpoints which perceive that Franz Kafka’s short story firstly written in 1914, In The Penal Colony, is an allegory of the downfall moments of the preceding regulatory system which were all physical[istic], ritualistic and gigantic. In the end of the story, we seem to be encountered by a new state that has not been (and very possible will be difficult to be) described; Kafka apparently offers a question of how we presuppose ourselves in the midst of the situations of the indefinable and of the intangible—these then actually become a new daily routine—that is the time when the centralized powers divide theirselves into fragments of knowledge and language which allow diffusional productions in the form of subconscious control.


As Deleuze mentioned in his postcript on Foucault’s theoritical framework, which is the Disciplinary Societies have been transforming into the Societies of Control, this is the moment where we should recognize his argumentation about how the sites of confinement have changed to “the infinite world”, but it is actually multiplying the “panoptic energy” in its most cryptic form; the era of analogue was shifted by the era of digital that accumulates the chaos of communication circulation to be the most unpredictable flow. This means that technological apparatus has been able to leap to a distance we’ve never imagined before.


However, there’s one thing: as Manovich mentioned in 1995, we haven’t left the era of the screen yet.


The screen, presumably, is the most possible candidate to be “an imperishable enclosure” in the life of human being. Rather than discussing about system of penal and punishment through a descriptive and naive commentary, the attempt to disrupt the establishment of the endless control system perhaps will produce more refreshing inspirations through an aesthetic reflection on the elements that build the concept of “apparatus” – the network built from, appears at, and located in the intersection of power relation and the regime of knowledge.


Out of in The Penal Colony (2017) is an art project initiated by Forum Lenteng, which becomes part of 69 Performance Club – a platform which encourages sustainable collaborative study on performativity, which was initiated by that organization since early in 2016 by engaging several performers in Indonesia. This performance artwork which is intended to be special presentation tries to grab the inspiration from the short story in order to expand Forum Lenteng’s study on current situation of media and art today.


I concur some philosophers who do not think necessary to define the “apparatus” positively – like what Agamben believe that “…terminology is the poetic moment of thought” (Agamben, 2006, “What Is an Apparatus?”). The reason is certainly because there are various complexities in (whether contained inside or connected from outside) that term. In line with that, I think the Out of in The Penal Colony is developed as performance art project which is neither in the framework of illustrating nor as explanatory response to the short story In The Penal Colony. Selecting some points from that story, which according to the artists are the most significant aspects that form our impression of the regulatory mechanism, as the material which later is intepreted into performance, this work is more like an attempt to declaim a poetic articulation regarding to the ongoing changes in the present – i.e. this era of the screen and modulation – when the practices of inter-regional multicorporations as result of globalization, digitalization and expansion of cyberspace networking is a factual state which creates a self-multicontrol situation of the global society.


Such decalamation in this work, as we can see then, is performed through a technological dramaturgy trying to reflect the position of human bodies (i.e. the performers) in their real environment and at the same time their connection to the image reality (or the representational world), that is to say, those images today can be transmitted directly through an electronic circuit which is arranged in such a way so it is able to open up the possibility of the artistic language composition that consciously involving the current media devices – which can be said, it is the contemporary apparatus – as the main elements of its style of language.


The artists who create this work (Otty Widasari, Prashasti Wilujeng Putri, Ragil Dwi Putra, dan Hanif Alghifary; the four are the participants of 69 Performance Club) deliberately improvising their own translation on the concept of apparatus, whether referring to the ideas which were developed in the prior era (analogue; tangible) and the one build in the new [media] era (digital; intangible), as well as the reciprocal relation between the two.


The Man, Decipher, The Wound, and The Script are the four keywords bringing the sense and spirit to deconstruct the regulatory system. On the one hand, they are the boundaries which signify how the regulatory mechanism really works; incantations that bring out imagination about the sacredness of penal and punishment, about the apparatus that – adopting Agamben’s sentence – removes everything (including us, human) from common use (or the profane) and transport them to the separated sphere (or sacred).


On the other hand, if we agree to the viewpoint of Agamben that anything which has been ritually separated from the profane (also including in this category, in my opinion, are the event of adjudication, or even the exercise of control and discipline by the authorities against those they dominate) can be restored through an act of using or producing the counter-apparatus – which is Profanation, in Agamben’s term. Thus the repeated declamation of those four keywords performed by the artists by using electronical distortion in this work, as well as live [re]production of image and sound which resulted through constant movement of their bodies – the effect was even extended by the internet technology – is nothing but a concrete performative act which is done intensively in order to disrupt the established system of control from that apparatus itself. Like Kafka who through his short story tries to allegorize how far a penal, punishement and regulatory system can maintain their status quo, Out of In The Penal Colony is the subjective articulation of the artists with the same order of intention. That the imagination about the downfall of the existing system, and the emergence of an era with the new system, perhaps, need to be presupposed through a poetic terror.


But it seems that such suppositions, which is the imagination about the replacement of an old mechanism by the new one, will always keep demanding the balance. In the extreme level, as depicted in Kafka’s short story, however the collapse of the gigantic ritualistic machine (still) needs a martyr who is consciously adoring the contemporaneity of the apparatus – and this matter indicated that “the downfall” of apparatus will still happen by following the nature and character of the elements that build it.


If Kafka considers physical destruction also requires physical sacrifice in a sacred moment – The Officer who in detail recites the splendor of the machine (the apparatus), then surrenders his body as the final subject of execution of the machine while heading for its ruination – the performers of Out of In The Penal Colony are the subjects who celebrate the sophistication of today’s media technology. Following the nature and the character of those contemporary apparatuses, they choose to “enclose” not the physical but the representation of their bodies onto the screen – the entity that becomes our “imperishable apparatus” – in the purpose to push to the extreme point their own imagination of a more experimental media language, if not about the newer media (or apparatus) world.


We will still remain under the “cryptic confinement” of the world of the screen, which means the regulatory mechanism will still exist until the unpredicatble time. I see that such ritualistic event may be countered by the play or art language – in the context of this work, that is the performance art. Or at least, by reinforcing our awareness about how the subjectivication (‘the process of making identity’ – in my sense) is produced and defined by the apparatus of power.


Out of In The Penal Colony is part of the attempt of those artists to discover the new possibility that can determine the way we gaze this world which has been “convicted” as the era of the screen. How will we be, as the subject who is always trying to remove the shackles of any existing rules, if we are no longer under the “power” of the screen?***




Agamben, G. (2009). What Is an Apparatus?. In G. Agamben, What Is an Apparatus? and Other Essays (D. Kishik, & S. Pedatella, Translator., p. 1-24). Stanford, California: Standford University Press.

Deleuze, G. (1992). “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October , 59 (Winter), 3-7.

Hildebrand-Nilshon, M., Motzkau, J., Papadopoulos, D. (2001). Reintegrating sense into subjectification. Dalam J. R. Morss, N. Stephenson, H. van Rappard, (Editor), Theoretical issues in psychology. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Kafka, F. (2003, October). In the Penal Colony (terj. Ian Johnston). Retrieved on November 8, 2017, from the web of The Kafka Project:

Manovich, L. (1995). An Archeology of a Computer Screen. Retrieved on November 8, 2017, from the web site of Lev Manovich:

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