Grobak Goes Global: Travelling Objects and Mobile Performance
Certain events that took place during the 2012 Melbourne Festival linked Jalan Malioboro, (Malioboro Street), Yogyakarta and Swanston Street, Melbourne – two streets some 4500 kilometres apart. Swanston Street and other parts of the city of Melbourne became the locations where, to use Amin and Thrift’s gloss on the potential of cities to organize experience, ‘the far became near and distance was redefined’ (2020: 33).
A performance called ‘Grobak Padi’ that was staged as part of the Festival formed transnational urban connections through activities in the squares and the streets and created a moment in which distance was redefined and the world could be inhabited from afar. A grobak is an Indonesian food cart that typically sells cheap local dishes as it moves through urban and other spaces in Indonesia. Several grobaks were imported from Yogykarta for the 2012 Melbourne Festival.
After being dismantled in Yogyakarta and reassembled in Melbourne, they became travelling objects in more ways than one as they negotiated the streets of Melbourne and stopped in squares and on the riverbank to sell satay and other dishes. Festival-goers who clustered around the grobaks became not only spectators or consumers of the food, but also part of the performance.
The official Grobak Padi flyer announced that the performance offered ‘A little piece of Java in the heart of the city’ that would take the form of ‘an intimate exchange between cultures and cities’. Described also as ‘a deliciously cross-cultural performance piece’, what made this intimate exchange and the cultural interaction across distance possible, was the addition to the grobaks of media technology.
Through mediated exchanges between citizens in Melbourne and Yogykarta, the grobaks created the conditions for global connections that went beyond the need for physical proximity to develop social relations across distance. This paper examines the ways a performative moment conquered physical distance to create an imagined presence of the global other.