[Syafiatudina] Numpang as Inhabiting Thresholds

(Author: Syafiatudina)
Editor's Note: The article written by Syafiatudina is part of the author's research during her residency program at ifa gallery.) The politics of sharing concerns strategies of numpang (or loosely "sharing"), critique and forming positions concerning the self and one's neighbours in environments of entangled values and shifting proximities.
What is numpang? A friend of mine has been living in a communal house for his whole life. Once he lived in and took care of the headquarters of an artist-run space in the south of Yogyakarta. He didn’t pay the rent but he took a great deal of care of the house. He was numpang in the artist-run space headquarters, of which he was also a member. Numpang is taking a shelter, living in a place that “belongs” to someone else.

On a daily basis, this friend of mine would clean the house, repair some broken things, or make the house comfortable for other members when they come to visit. The house was a workshop for artists to produce silkscreens or linocuts. It was also the place for them to drink and hangout. After the hangout session ended, they would go home to their own individual places, except for my friend. He stayed in the house, because he lived there. Thanks to my friend’s daily efforts to take care of the house, it became a convenient space to work together for the collective. So the collective is numpang on my friend’s efforts to take care of the house. Here, numpang becomes a moment of dependency. Something depends on other things in order for certain things to exist.

The city centre of Yogyakarta is a dense area. In a very packed urban kampung (village), the street serves as the extension of houses. In the morning, women gather in the roads in front of their houses, to feed their kids, or do grocery shopping from mobile vegetable sellers. They exchange gossip, interact with each other while taking care of their children or doing other domestic chores. In the afternoon, the men will hang out in a few spots on the street near their homes, to smoke, drink coffee, as well as to gossip. When I passed the road where a group of men and women were gathered, I would nod my head while saying “numpang lewat, nggih.” Here numpang is a polite gesture that serves as an acknowledgement that I am temporarily using their space and creating a rupture in their time. Although the street belongs to the users, such as myself, I also consider it to be the neighbourhood collective space which I should respect. The collective space is shaped by the porosity of personal and domestic space (home) into public space (roads). These groups of men and women allow me to pass by because they are also numpang in the street. They use it temporarily to gather together.

In another case, a friend lived in someone else’s home for one year although the initial plan was to stay for one month. The owner of the house felt disturbed by this overstaying guest but did not know how to express her resentment. Because in numpang, there’s no written agreement on the rights and responsibilities of each person involved. It is based on trust and generosity. So numpang can easily escalate into parasitic numpang. Yet the uncertainty of numpang can create a space for relationships to grow into something else in the future. But the room to grow comes with consequences, such as insecurity.

I would like to emphasize numpang as temporary moments involving the porosity of the private and public spheres, personal and collective space, and family, guest and host relations. This all can collide and produce different values.

During my period staying in Berlin and working on the Radio KUNCI project at ifa Gallery, I encountered these porous moments. In the first week, we talked with Philip Horst (ZK/U) and Sithujan Varatharajah (Refugees Welcome) on how the practice of managing home (personal space) faced challenging moments of openness towards “others,” such as guests in residence, refugees, and even members of the public. This might involve a feeling of insecurity, but through iteration, negotiation and trust, both relationships and space grow. In the second week, we had a discussion with Alex Head (Wasteland Twinning) on the space of uncertainty and the ambiguity between private and public property as manifested in empty land or wasteland. Ferdiansyah Thajib also shared how an empty piece of land in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, become a site for a community which did not have a legal position to inhabit it, but then they created informal collective methods of land distribution. The porosity of private and public space creates a shared space where communities are always in the making. This is a site of emancipation and agency for the community. 

More or less similar things are happening in the Bermuda Garten and Kommen and Bleiben initiatives in Weißensee, Berlin. They have been involved in connecting residents from different backgrounds (families, office workers, students, new and old Berliners), to exchange knowledge and facilitate the collective care for space and community. We also discussed the urgency to shake up notions of citizenship based on the division between “us” and “them.” To challenge this dichotomy between private and public (us and them) was also one of the centres of our discussion with Read-In (Annette Krauss and Hyunju Chung). How the practice of organising door-to-door reading can highlight the potency of collectivity in houses as well as in reading practices.

I also want to dwell a bit on my experience living in Berlin for one month. I am very fascinated by the technology of locks, doors and windows that I have seen so far in Germany. There are heavy doors, light doors, special settings in which you can decide if you want to open the door only from the inside or also the outside, windows which can be only half opened, or fully. I also saw wooden blocks or bricks placed next to doors to keep them open at certain moments. So people or users add their own “technology” to expand the possibilities of certain material settings.

I am currently staying in Studio No. 4 with a door connected to the back veranda. It is located next to the kitchen. Through the window of my studio (and also the door), I can see people who spend their time in the park. Somehow I feel that the people in the park can also see me. So the public and personal spaces are collapsing through our exchanges of gaze. I think it is also interesting that ZK/U with its artist studios is located in a public park. Again, the personal, public and collective spaces are in existence side by side, sometimes interfering with each other.

I am at the end of my notes. The term numpang is not a solution for the political or economic issues faced by our society today. Numpang is the moment of inhabiting the thresholds between private and public (making shared spaces managed by communities of users), crossing boundaries of otherness (guest and host), and using the uncertainty towards the future as a space to grow through our inter-dependency with each other. It is the overlapping of things and people.