Anthropology Indonesia Reflexive Ruins

Puncak in Ruins, Part 1: Arrival Scene

“there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” —  Walter Benjamin

Villa Kota Gardenia entrance sign
Villa Kota Gardenia entrance sign

Driving through Puncak Pass in the mountain resort area of Cianjur in West Java, Dezant and I pulled over into a large abandoned lot with broken oddly-shaped buildings to wait for the other cars in the family caravan to catch up. The family of Dezant’s brother-in-law owns a Puncak villa, and they let Dezant’s entire family use it for the weekend to celebrate his sister’s birthday.  We called his brother-in-law to confirm the location—a development called “Villa Kota Gardenia”—only to discover that the apparently abandoned lot where we parked was Villa Kota Gardenia’s main entrance.

Villa Kota Gardenia Main Entrance
Villa Kota Gardenia Main Entrance


The entire complex—overgrown, desolate, wrecked—looks like it was built in the late 1970s and without any maintenance since the early 1980s. I don’t actually think Kota Gardenia was built in the 1970s, but the security post—a swirling abstract two-story catastrophe—and the administrative and recreational buildings behind and off to the side have a tasteless grandeur reminiscent of the era. A wide and weedy circular boulevard leads up to a dense patchwork grid of villas, but from the entrance the villas remains entirely hidden behind a line of trees, leaving nothing to suggest signs of habitation.

Villa Kota Gardenia:  Administrative or Recreational Building Villa Kota Gardenia: Administrative or Recreational Building Entrance

Villa Kota Gardenia:  ???

I’m writing about the architectural ruins we found at Villa Kota Gardenia because I found myself gripped by their terrible eeriness. I explored the whole complex; Dezant took pictures. I will describe in a future post (“Puncak in Ruins, Part 4”) what we found among the actual residential villas behind the trees—an absolute show-stopper—because that deserves a separate discussion of its own. For the final images in this arrival scene near Villa Kota Gardenia’s main entrance, here is the stagnant scummy swimming pool we discovered next to the recreation building:

Villa Kota Gardenia:  Swimming Pool with Sunken Bar
Villa Kota Gardenia: Swimming Pool with Sunken Bar
Villa Kota Gardenia: Overgrown Archway Entrance to Pool
Villa Kota Gardenia: Overgrown Archway Entrance to Pool

Although the ruins we “discovered” at Kota Gardenia felt disturbing and even a little menacing, I was compelled to explore them with the same interest that I would explore the ancient Hindu shrines at Dieng Plateau or the Greek and Roman temples at Paestum. Ruins are good to think with, material fragments that signify loss and evoke absence. Aestheticized objects for contemplation, ruins stimulate the imagination to fabricate histories and memories, monumental achievements and colossal failures, inspirations for living and whispers of death, to fill in the blanks.** Ruins generate nostalgia, an uncanny sense, for something one has never known. There is something incredibly uncanny about the Kota Gardenia ruins that itches me. So far, I only have recourse to two associative resemblances from popular film with which to scratch it.

To be continued:

“Puncak in Ruins, Part 2:  Lost Detour”

“Puncak in Ruins, Part 3:  The Year of Living Dangerously”

“Puncak in Ruins, Part 4: Return to Villa Kota Gardenia”

“Puncak in Ruins, Part 5: The AnthroLOLogist in Ruins”

** Dirks, N.B. 1998, In Near Ruins: Cultural Theory at the End of the Century, in In Near Ruins: Cultural Theory at the End of the Century, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp. 1-18.

3 replies on “Puncak in Ruins, Part 1: Arrival Scene”

Hi Kopyor,

Your title made me wonder:

Do you believe Puncak is in ruins – i.e. all of Puncak has been ruined – or just Villa Kota Gardens, – i.e. ruins in Puncak?

Some who live in East Jakarta and suffer frequently from flooding (due in part to illegal developments and the loss of native vegetation in Puncak) would argue the former.

Even Sutiyoso blamed development in Puncak after the major flood in 2007, even though he owned an illegal villa there himself during the previous large floods in 2002. The villa was later bulldozed with S’s consent after a public outcry.

Hi Chris, thanks for the comment. I’m focusing on this particular villa development as an example of the larger problem. So yeah, I would argue the former too, but since I’m not an urban planner or familiar with all the aggregate data about Puncak development and the environmental degradation/consequences, I’m going to make the argument through this up close and personal exposure to this particular set of ruins. Stay tuned… in Part 4 I’ll finish the story about Villa Kota Gardenia.

Great piece, kopyor…
When I come across these places – which happens all too often in Indonesia – I’ve always found myself thinking “this is what all the now celebrated ancient palaces, tombs and temples of the world would have felt like, a decade after the dynasty fell…”

The unfinished towerblocks, half-built hangovers from the 1990s, that still dot the Surabaya skyline here and there have a slightly different connotation, but they also have their own eerie melancholy…
I look forward to the subsequent parts of your tale…

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