The Curator #12

Through the various previous blog posts we got an idea about how does curating India abroad, how curating abroad in India functions. But what about exhibitions which feature artists from different nationalities to address certain universal political and social crisis. How would the curator address this diversity of the artist and strategically situate the artworks in the purview of his curatorial objectives. Would a foreign artist be able to understand the concerns of a different country? This is one of the most contested questions in contemporary art. Also, how do artists from different nationalities collaborate on a common concern is a perplexing question. All we can do is to attempt and see. The route map of this journey, the interactions between the curators and the artists are the important milestones which remain even after the exhibition is over.

Another important issue I would like to address today is how do we see our times. How can a curatorial exercise reflect our times. I do not disagree that we all see the world through our own vantage points. But there are certain truths which one cannot surpass are merely subjective. The political and economic crisis of our times is a reality. Not a fiction scripted to distract us form our valuable existence. Art or artists are not away form these issues and questions. Therefore one has to address them. Since art, curation, writing, etc., are the medium in which we work, we will address the crisis through this medium. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” we will look at “A Preview to Desolation” curated by me at the Italian Cultural Center. The exhibition, a group show featuring eight Indian and Italian artists, imagined the contemporary as a desolate landscape, a terrain stripped of hope and peace. Quests for justice, equality and asylum have become more important than ever, but these struggles are always met with dismissal and brutal crackdown. Eight artists have responded to this topic, which is of utmost importance, through their works.

Exhibition: A Preview to Desolation

Curator : Premjish Achari

Venue: Italian Embassy Cultural Center

Artists: Atul Bhalla | Beatrice Pediconi | Gigi Scaria | Giuseppe Stampone Maura Biava | Sharmila Samant | Tushar Joag | Varunika Saraf

One of the major concerns of this exhibition was to address the apathy and indifference which has engulfed people in our times. We see incidents of violence, inequality, injustice but fail to respond to them. When there should be a collective demand for justice, equality, asylum, and human rights, instead all we see around us is a brutal crackdown on the marginalized and the oppressed. Because of this, the lives of the dispossessed has become even more precarious. The refugee crisis, the rise of  right wing ideologies is destroying co-existence and plurality in our society. The state aided violence by the fringe elements in many countries has become a serious concern. The main objective of this exhibition is to address this crisis through art. Therefore I had included artworks which confront and respond to this situation. The aesthetic concerns of these artworks address the fundamental instability caused by the ‘bad new days’, a phrase used by Brecht to denote these times of crisis.

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Atul Bhalla_Fictitious Landscape I_Courtesy_Vadehra Art Gallery & Atul Bhalla

This exhibition is premised on a concern about the violence, apathy, and brutality of the “bad new days”. These oppressions are real but on the other hand we ignore them and celebrate a different vision of life which exclusionary in nature. So I imagined our times or the contemporary as a landscape, a terrain of desolation stripped of any hope and beauty which could keep us going. The urge to control people, especially minorities, by branding them as “aliens” is increasing day by day. Furthermore, the larger global economic crisis and the economy of war and invasion have left thousands dead and much more homeless.  Through the artworks and the exhibition, in general, I attempted to draw the attention of the viewer to this crisis.

It was definitely a challenge to get artists who also think similarly and are sensitive to these issues. It needs political sensitivity to ally with these concerns. Artists included in this show were constantly working to make the artwork more active and participatory, in terms of their involvement in the material processes behind the creation of an artwork and an exhibition. I was fortunate to have found such a wonderful group of artists from Italy and India who responded to this exhibition through their brilliant works.

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Beatrice Pediconi Alien D_Courtesy sepiaEYE, New York

This exhibition uses ‘precarious’ as a conceptual category to understand the cataclysmic contemporary climate; through this it attempts to survey the vastness of this desolation and disarray. It enables us to plot the coordinates of crisis and the political conditions generated by conflicts for power.

Through this exhibition I attempt to show works which confront and respond to this situation. Its aesthetic concerns remain to address the fundamental instability caused by these ‘bad new days’. How a precarious regime of aesthetics is developing, based on speed, intermittence, blurring and fragility. It reasserts the necessity to locate the ideological foundations of Fascism and its aesthetic sensibilities, which are rooted in passive consumption. It allows this by activating and politicising art to protect the present and future from becoming a part of its political project.

 

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Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

 

“Bad new days” is an apt way to describe the times we inhabit. In the last few decades, unprecedented economic, political and social turbulence have resulted in a climate rife with insecurity and precarity. An undeclared state of emergency has displaced millions of citizens across the world, creating unjust socio-economic disparities. This has given rise to an atmosphere of intolerance, which thwarts any form of debate, engagement and dissent, virtues associated with a democratic society. Historic amnesia is favoured over historic memory. The human condition has become fragile; it is more insecure, fragmented, and susceptible to injustice and oppression. Our very existence has become precarious.

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Gigi Scaria_City unclaimed_Digital print on canvas_2017

A video feature of this exhibition was done by NDTV-Mojarto which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wrv4VTILJog

Here are some of this exhibition views.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
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Varunika Saraf, Citizen Z

 

 

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The Curator #10

The Curator #10

Most of the curators whom we have discussed in this series, except Naman P. Ahuja, had in a way represented Indian art in India. It would be too simple to call them as Indian art because their approaches were thematically diverse, concerns were different, the choice of artworks, artists and spaces were also individually motivated. In the exhibition “Body in Indian Art” we saw the two possibilities of an exhibition representing Indian art abroad and Indian art in India. The act of representing India is a nationalistic act. It means that you put together artworks of artists from different linguistic, ethnic, geographical groups under the category of nation. How does it function in the age of globalization especially during the beginning of this decade when the idea of nation-state has not strongly returned as it has returned now?  How do we define citizenship in this new context where people move freely, artists collaborate internationally, show their works across the world? How does a curator represent the cultural diversity in this context, still being placed in a homogenizing platform like national pavilion?

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We know that Venice Biennale, one of the oldest in the world, is a platform which actively encourages national pavilions. Countries try to send their best artists and curators to represent their art world. Though Indian artists have been represented in Venice Biennale in the past it was the first time in 2011, the 54th edition, that India got an official pavilion. Renowned curator, poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote was selected by Lalit Kala Akademi to curate the pavilion. Today in Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Ranjit Hoskote’s exhibition ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’curated for the Indian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

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Curator: Ranjit Hoskote

Title: ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’

Venue: Venice Biennale, 2011.

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Ranjit Hoskote

 

According to Ranjit Hoskote, his objectives in curating this show was to, “mark a sharp rupture with these pre-existing notions of how India’s national art scene should be represented. Since I have long argued that contemporary Indian art is defined by multiple horizons of value, I wished to disclose artistic practices from locations other than those synonymous with the Indian art market: practices that transit among disparate economies of image production, traverse asymmetric cultural and political situations; that are nourished by diverse circulations of philosophical ideas; and that grow, often, from improvisational forms of research and collaboration.”

Hoskote’s focus was to draw attention to multiple locations from which value is created in the context of Indian art. Instead of giving importance to the aspect of nationality and fitting artists into the institution of nation-state, the curator emphasized on the idea of cultural citizenship. This was a significant shift from the idea of monolithic culture to a transcultural existence. It expanded the idea of what is India especially through the lens of migration and hybridity.

The four artists/ artist groups chosen to represent India in this pavilion were:

  1. Zarina Hashmi (print-maker and mixed-media artist; born in Aligarh, 1937; now lives and works in New York).
  1. Praneet Soi (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kolkata, 1971; now lives and works in Amsterdam and Kolkata).
  1. Gigi Scaria (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kothanalloor, Kerala, 1973; now lives in New Delhi).
  1. The Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain, born in Shillong in 1975, and Mriganka Madhukaillya, born in Guwahati in 1978; DMC is a media collective based in Guwahati, Assam, and works across film, installation and public space projects).
Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi's mural (L), Gigi Scaria's interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine.gif

Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi’s mural (L), Gigi Scaria’s interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine. Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote

The exhibition was a ‘laboratory, stage and school’ for the curator to understand these developments. It became a site to map these important shifts post 90s in India. According to Hoskote, “Zarina Hashmi, Praneet Soi, Gigi Scaria, and the Desire Machine Collective act as compass points for an alternative atlas of references. An idiosyncratic line of latitude connects them across the globe, running west-east to link their theatres of life and work across New York, Amsterdam/Kolkata, New Delhi/Kerala, and Guwahati. To my mind, it was vital to honour the historic occasion of India’s first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale by proposing such positions, which demonstrated the linkages between contemporary Indian art and global art at large, while retaining the distinctiveness of sensibilities engaged with the South Asian predicament.”

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Gigi Scaria’s Elevator from the Subcontinent, Courtesy: Domus

Through their works, Hoskote used the exhibition space as a laboratory to test the ‘idea of India’, a conceptual phrase developed by Sunil Khilnani. The artists developed their works to re-imagine what it means to belong to India. The title of the exhibition was taken from a a book by an anonymous group of theorists called The Invisible Committee which was shared by Mriganka Madhukaillya of the Desire Machine Collective. The opening of the book read: ‘Everyone agrees. It’s about to explode. It is acknowledged, with a serious and self-important look, in the corridors of the Assembly, just as yesterday it was repeated in the cafés… The newspapers conscientiously draw up the list of causes for the sudden disquiet. There is the financial crisis… the failure of the educational system… the existence of a youth to which no political representation corresponds… what power is confronting is neither just another crisis, nor just a succession of chronic problems, of more or less anticipated disturbances, but a singular peril: that a form of conflict has emerged, and positions have been taken up, that are no longer manageable.”

The pavilion was conceived not only to ask questions on what is nationality and on nation-state but also to enquire what is global art.

You can listen to Ranjit Hoskote talk about the exhibition in this link https://www.aaa.org.hk/en/resources/videos/everyone-agrees-its-about-to-explode-curatorial-reflections-on-the-india-pavilion-54th-venice-biennale-by-ranjit-hoskote

A video of Gigi Scaria’s installation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vasYjXFzlg

Please read, share and comment. Happy weekend!

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

The Curator #9

Over the last many issues of this series we have discussed the curation of collections from museums, galleries which mainly included paintings, sculptures, contemporary art forms, etc. We have not focused exclusively on the art of photography. But how many of us see photography as art? If we look at the conventional histories of art, including nationalist or mainstream histories of art which is manifested mainly in museum displays, don’t give photography its due space in terms of its importance and aesthetic relevance. Raghu Rai, Dayanita Singh, Pablo Bartholomew or Prabuddha Dasgupta are not our household names. There is an injustice in this ignoring and it is time to dispel such erasures.

Photography is one of the most popular and accessible media of our times. Outside museums, galleries and in its print forms, it is now manly accessed through screens. The arrival of mobile cameras has democratized this form like never before. But what are the reasons why photography always had a marginal presence in the domain of high art. One important reason could be this mass production of images and its consumption. An image can be reproduced as many times we want to. There is no concept of original in photography. All products are a copy. Hence it lacks an exclusivity. Why would someone acquire an artwork which is easily reproducible and accessed by a larger community? Connoisseurship feeds on rarity, not on profuseness. Other reasons for its marginalization as an art form is also due to the fundamental nature of photography. It is seen as an objective medium which can document reality as it is. Hence it lacks the “fictional” elements of art. But this was challenged by the later developments. Surrealists, Dadaists and other modern artists have used photography to create fictional works. We also forget that the photographs which we see are also composed and authored. It is the outcome of the choices made by the photographer which include how the image is composed, how it may be cropped, edited, or otherwise altered after it is taken, the point-of-view deployed and inevitably impact how we receive and understand images. The subjects in photographs, many times are also posed, rather being candid. These aspects related to the creation of a photograph gives it an artistic touch.

Today in Art1sts’s “The Curator” series let us look at an important exhibition curated by Devika Daulet-Singh titled “Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

The Curator #9

Curator : Devika Daulet-Singh

Exhibition: Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, 2011. 

Devika Daulet-Singh established PHOTOINK in 2001 as a photo agency and publication design studio, based in New Delhi. In 2008 PHOTOINK expanded into a gallery to exhibit contemporary Indian photography and international photographers. Her engagement with the world of photography has been as an editor, curator and publisher of photo books.

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Devika Daulet-Singh with Raghu Rai. Courtesy: Lpvshow

Devika was the associate curator for the Indian presentations at the 2007 Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival and the 2007 Photoquai Biennale in France. She was the Project Director for The Photograph: Painted, Posed and of the Moment, which included 8 exhibitions, held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (2008). She co-curated The Self and The Other ­– Portraiture in Contemporary Indian Photography for the Palau de la Virreina, Escort woman in Turkey Barcelona and Museo Artium, Vitoria in Spain (2009). In 2011, she curated a group exhibition, Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

Daulet-Singh’s exhibition “Photographing the Street” was an attempt in foregrounding the shared history of these countries despite its separation as distinct countries in the modern era. Even though the relationships might have strained, culturally there is something which unites them all. Singh identified streets and street life as an important trope to connect these countries and establish the shared nature of it. “Despite the many differences in the eight countries,” writes Devika Daulet-Singh in her curatorial note, “there are narratives that overlap, intermingle and are reminiscent of our shared histories.”

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Horsemen in Hisarak village, Balkh province, Afghanistan, 2004. Courtesy: Livemint

All the 117 photos were taken from the existing archives of the photographers. “Street photography could explore the shared histories and bridge some of the differences between these countries. It had the potential to transcend the conflicts of the times and present conditions of civil society as it progressed and evolved across these countries,” says Daulet-Singh.

The exhibition was able to use photography to bring together this shared nature of these countries brilliantly. These curatorial exercises are usually done by using premodern art, or modern or contemporary mediums with a heavy reliance on paintings and sculpture. Singh was able to break that monotony and give it a new twist. These are not pictures that will make it to National Geographic, they are not picturesque. Many of them do have an atmospheric quality, because they are so evocative,” says Daulet-Singh.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

 

 

The Curator #7

We all know that national galleries across the world represents the nationalist spirit of the country. It assembles works created from different regions and puts it together to imagine a shared past between these regions and art practices. This purpose of national galleries and museums becomes more instrumental in the context of newly liberated colonial countries. These institutions help newly formed nations to position themselves along with the already existing nation-states. While the history of the nation acts as a legitimate claim towards the past, these modern institutions herald the arrival of a new age, as a continuous process in the progress of the nation.

NGMA is the best repository of modern Indian art in this country. It has acquired works of Indian artists from the 19th century onwards, a bureaucratic exercise which continues towards the 20th century, representing important Indian artists from different states. The size of this collection representing different artists, movements, styles, and mediums is vast. It is a curator’s Disneyland and hell at the same time. The task of presenting this giant collection in a legible way to the public is not an easy task. But there are certain brilliant curators who have not stepped away from this arduous mission. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator,” we introduce you to a seminal exhibition in Indian art history curated by renowned art historian and curator Geeta Kapur.

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Title: Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection

Curator: Geeta Kapur

NGMA, Delhi. 1994.

It is definitely an unnecessary task to introduce Geeta Kapur to my readers. You must have come across her important book “When Was Modernism?” at some point of your life. Geeta’s pathbreaking works on Indian art has received national and international acclaim and attention. She still remains the critical voice on Indian art on various international platforms.

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Geeta Kapur, Courtesy: Utharakalam

 

In the year 19994 she was invited to curate a show marking the hundred year journey of Indian art. In her own words, “The third project at the National Gallery of Modern Art came about in 1994 when I was invited as an honorary member of the NGMA advisory committee of to mount an exhibition from their holdings. I sifted through the Collection by physically looking at hundreds of works. My selection criteria was based on the idea of laying out an itinerary across 100 years — a walking/looking itinerary through modern Indian art. No works were borrowed from other collections, which means there was a constraint on choice; an expressly NGMA exhibition, it was what is called in standard museum language, a re-hang of the Collection.

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

The passage was mapped, predictably perhaps, from Ravi Varma until the most contemporary work available at the time. But the itinerary had its twists and turns; it was not laid out chronologically nor strictly by schools and styles. The spectator walked through a broadly delineated period and encountered unconventional and hitherto untested juxtapositions. To give one example, I placed Ravi Varma and Amrita Sher-Gil face to face in one room to suggest the ‘studio’ academicism in each, and then in another room, I installed Sher-Gil paintings beside Jamini Roy’s for an opposite ‘thesis’ — because they were contemporaries experimenting with a diverse range of Indian art-historical antecedents and arriving at certain abbreviations that placed them in a keen, tangential relationship to modernist language. I was, in other words, testing and revising our familiar art history — on the walls, in the act of traversal, through the act of looking. There is the art history of the text book, based on carefully sourced influences and the evidence of styles; there is another that reads signs and meanings in conjunctural ways. The latter is experienced phenomenologically, on museum walls and related spaces.”

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

In the curator’s working notes for the exhibition written in July 1994, Geeta Kapur writes:
‘Nothing serves the cause of investigation better than a point of view for seeing, refocusing, finding alternate perspectives. That is why even if it were possible, it would not be useful to present a conclusive exhibition. A great part of the history of modern art in India not having been written — yet— what we can do best of all is to re-place and sometimes also dis-place the images and their attendant signs and meanings. Thus one begins to make out from the unmade meanings a historical argument. Which is the form of history I, at any rate, would privilege.’

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

Participating artists included Raja Ravi Varma, Pestonji Bowmanji, Pithawala, Hemen Mazumdar, Xavier Trinidad, Sarada Ukil, Amrita Sher-Gil, Abanindranath Tagore, Masoji Vinayak, K.N. Mazumdar, Sunyani Devi, Karitick Pyne, Dhanraj Bhagat, Ramkinkar Baij, Bhabhesh Sanyal, Sailoz Mukherjee, K.H. Ara, Nandalal Bose, K.K. Hebbar, S.B. Palsikar, Mohan Samant, Laxman Pai, Gaganendranath Tagore, Leela Mukherjee, Jamini Roy, Binode Behari Mukherjee, Akbar Padamsee, F.N. Souza, Harkrishan Lall, Paramjit Singh, Prem Singh, Vajubhai Bhagat, P.T. Reddy, Bhupen Khakhar, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Laxma Goud, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Ravinder REddy, Prithipal Singh Ladi, Jayashree Chakravarty, Jagdish Chandra, K.C.S. Paniker, A. Ramachandran, Vivan Sundaram, N.N. Rimzon, Dilip Sur, S. Savarkar, Jaya Ganguly, V. Ramesh, Rabindranath Tagore, Zainul Abedin, Satish Gujram, K.G. Subramanyan, Meera Mukherjee, P.V. Janakiraman, Sarbari Roy Chowdhary, Himmat Shah, Latika Katt, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Raghav Kaneria, Himmat Shah, M.F. Husain, K.S. Kulkarni, Paritosh Sen, Pradosh Das Gupta, Bijon Choudhury, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Anupam Sud, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, Shamshad Husain, Vajubhai Bhagat, N.S. Bendre, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chowdhury, Manjit Bawa, Amitava Das, Nagji Patel, Arpana Cour, Gogi Saroj Pal, Ravinder Reddy, Vid Nayar, Zai Zharotia, Kanchan Chandra, Sanjiv Sinha, Madhvi Parekh, Prabhakar Barwe, K. Muralidharan, Manu Parekh, Satish Gujral, Jatin Das, Nareen Nath, P. Gopinath, S.R. Bhushan, Jehangir Sabavala, Vijay Mohan, Arpita Singh, Krishna Reddy, J. Swaminathan, S.G. Vasudev, K. Achuthan, P.T. Reddy, Haridasan, Om Prakash Sharma, G.R. Santosh, Jeram Patel, Rameshwar Broota, Biren De, S.H. Raza, Shobha Broota, Ambadas, K.C.S. Paniker, Vishvanadhan, Nasreen Mohamedi, Rm. Palaniappan, Bal Chhabda, Krishen Khanna, Rekha Rodwittiya, C.S. Douglas, Robin Mandal, Alex Mathew, N. Pushpamala, Tyeb Mehta, Jeram Patel, R.K. Dhawan, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, Sankho Chowdhary, Prabhakar Kolte, Ramesh Pateria, and Akhilesh.

Nevertheless, Geeta’s redefining of the collection was not easily digested. Her ideas were way ahead for the time. Her curatorial strategies. non-chronological way of assembling works, especially juxtaposing them to create other interesting parallels was heavily criticised.

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A newspaper cutting of an article criticising Geeta Kapur’s exhibition. Courtesy: Asia Art Archive.

Despite these the exhibition remains as one of the important early attempts to re-define an existing institutional collection.

More images of the exhibition view are accessible at the Asia Art Archives website. http://www.aaa.org.hk/en/collection/search/archive/another-life-the-digitised-personal-archive-of-geeta-kapur-and-vivan-sundaram-hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection/object/hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection-exhibition-view-18823

Please take a look at them and see if you are able to identify the artists. Have a good weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

 

The Curator #6

How do we tackle our times through art and curation? I would like to talk about a show which I had curated in January 2017 as part of the Curator’s Ensemble of Krishnakriti Festival. Four curators (Dhritabrata Bhattacharjya Tato, Georgina Maddox, Faizal Khan and Premjish Achari) were invited to address the relation of technology and art in our lives. We called the exhibition H20~ArT using a mathematical equation related to null hypothesis. The curators divided the exhibition into four vectors Experiential, Existential, Exploratory and Evolutionary. Through these vectors we explored the different facets of technology using art. This issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” talks about the Experiential vector and its curatorial concerns.

The Curator #5

Curator : Premjish Achari

Exhibition: H20~ArT, Experiential: Things are Vanishing Before Us

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We are living in a curious time where for the first time in history we inhabit both the digital and physical spaces together. This unprecedented convergence of the digital and the physical has made our lives disorienting. Our constant addiction to screens (ATMs, computer, mobile phones, television, etc.) has flattened our perception of space; it has irrevocably altered our visual experience.  In our society, screens have become magical tools used by ‘augurers and haruspices’ or those who read omens in the stars, flights of birds and the entrails of animals, uncovering guilt and foreseeing the future. Through screens, we navigate the netherworld of imaginations. They have become our magic mirrors; it appears that we have formed a Faustian pact with the digital world. Instead of our souls, we have surrendered our unrequited attention and devotion to the virtual.

Our fixation to screens has split our consciousness between the physical and the virtual realm. Software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. We increasingly prefer Bitcoins and digitised banking rather than paper currency, digital images to printed photographs, e-books to paper books; we even seem to spend more money on our online personas. As minimal lifestyles and spaces become fashionable, it appears that our consumption and conversely our clutter have shifted online. Digitisation of objects, information, and emotions has irrevocably altered existing ways of knowing, doing and being.

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Will digital versions of objects such as artworks, photos, clothes, etc., render them obsolete? Will objects eventually shed corporeal form and become flat and virtual in the digital world? Will we define ourselves increasingly through what we consume and create in the digital space? Will our digital avatars overtake our physical selves?  To address these questions, first, we have to examine the significance of objects in our lives and the role they play in shaping our identity. I am particularly interested in this because humans have defined themselves through the objects they possess or yearn to accumulate. We are at a critical moment in our history; the physical and digital realms appear to be converging. It is imperative that instead of lamenting for the objects that are disappearing around us, we need to urgently take stock of their role in shaping our memories and identity. Therefore, the exhibition attempted to analyse and perhaps even salvage the role of objects in our life, by paying particular attention to their ability to evoke the past through nostalgia and memory.

William James in his seminal work ‘The Principles of Psychology’, published in 1890, outlined how we constitute our identity through the objects we accumulate. According to James, “A man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses and yacht and bank account.” James’s text and the subsequent research undertaken by Russel Belk highlight that objects are not merely commodities; we also have to take into account their indexical qualities particularly their ability to evoke nostalgia. It is evident from their work that objects also serve as mementos that mediate our perception of the past. Objects remind us of who we are, we often use them to demonstrate our identity. There is little difference between us and what we define as ours. William James has observed on this conflation of person and possession as: “It is clear that between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine the line is difficult to draw.”

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These aspects continue to differentiate the physical from the virtual objects. Several contemporary scholars such as James Baudrillard have similarly observed that we accumulate objects equally as a necessity and as an emotional investment. According to Baudrillard, objects have a functional value as well as emotional value. He equates objects with mirrors because they send us back not real images, but desired ones. Hence, it is interesting to note that in this relationship between possession and our sense of who we are, the objects create an extended self for us, whose functions are related to having, doing, and being. In his novel ‘White Noise’, De Lillo dryly observes, “The dead have faces, automobiles. If you don’t know a name, you know a street name, a dog’s name. ‘He drove an orange Mazda.’ You know a couple of useless things about a person that become major facts of identification and cosmic placement when he dies suddenly, after a short illness, in his own bed, with a comforter and matching pillows, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, feverish, a little congested in the sinuses and chest, thinking about his dry cleaning.” Human lives tend to be identified by their possessions. Even Sartre in ‘Being and Nothingness’ notes that the sole reason to possess something is to enlarge our sense of self; the only way we can know who we are is by observing what we have.

Apart from these scholars, objects studies have also focused on old attics and wardrobes, particularly the way in which they function as spaces to store secret memories.  It appears then that objects produce two types of knowledge – documentary knowledge and associative knowledge. Documentary knowledge is proof; it is a trace of a person or event at a particular time and specific place. Associative knowledge, on the other hand is experiential; the object evokes a memory of a time, place, person or even taste. This exhibition, therefore,  highlighted these two important functions of objects.

According to Sartre we constitute the object as a part of ourselves in three ways. The first is by appropriating or controlling an object for our own personal use. He writes that we appropriate intangible objects and those we do not own by overcoming, conquering or mastering them. For example, climbing a mountain or living in a city demonstrates how we master these spaces. Similarly, by learning to ride a bicycle or car or using new computer, we make them a part of our lives. The second way is by creating an object. The object created could be material or an abstract thought and bears the marks of the creator. This identification is then legitimised through copyright, patent and authorship. The third way is by knowing the object in a biblical way where the object is a known place, person or thing. The relationship with them is inspired by the carnal or sexual desire to possess. It is through our intimate knowledge that we make it ours and a part of our self. Hence this exhibition delved onto these three aspects through how we come to regard an object as part of our self. It invites artists to respond to these three propositions.

The proliferation of software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. With more time spend actively gazing at electronic screens, from smartphones to computers and televisions, a chronically split consciousness, the human attention is increasingly divided between the physical and virtual spaces that they simultaneously inhabit. Therefore in this passage of rites towards the virtual objects when things are vanishing before us I invited artists to contemplate on the function of objects, do they see this as a revolutionary paradigm shift, or do they prefer the old ways of possessing physical objects and its production more relevant in the preservation of memory and evocation of nostalgia. It is hoped that this will help us understand the role of personal collection and in shaping our identity and why we continue to seek and comprehend the past through objects?

Artists:

Aman Khanna | Arti Vijay Kadam | Atul Bhalla | Chandan Gomes | Chinmoyi Patel | Dayanita Singh | Mansoor Ali| Muktinath Mondal| Nikita Maheshwary| Prajeesh A.D.| Riya Chatterjee| Roshan Chhabria| Sharmila Samant| Sumedh Rajendran| Umesh P K| Varunika Saraf| Waswo X Waswo

Please read, share, discuss. We would love to hear from you.

The details about this exhibition can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KmN9G5km1g

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

The Curator #5

In the last few issues we had introduced you to few important exhibitions and the curators of those shows. If you notice in the recent times the word curator and its usage has become very democratic. There are curated food festivals, music nights, books readings, curated trips, and so on. In all these cases the term curator is used to refer the act of selecting, excluding and making it consumable for an audience. Very much allied to its original meaning. But is that all curating about? What about the most important “taking care” part? Though one is happy to see the expanded usage of the term, one is also alarmed at how the usage is based on a selected reading of its function.
Then the important question to raise is how does one become a curator? Most of the senior and active curators in India have not done a course in curating. Most of them are art historians, artists, or have a background in literature. But their consistent engagement with the art world, their historical knowledge, exposure to exhibition practices, etc. played an important role in foestering their growth. Despite the strong presence of important exhibitions and shows curation has not been part of a full fledged academic program in India. It is very recently that certain art institutes have started offering programs on curation. Unfortunately these are not a masters level program, but runs through a semester and helps students to get an experience in curating a show. This issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” is about such an initiative. This post is about the “Where in the World” exhibition at Devi Art Foundation curated by the students of School ofArts and Aesthetics along with the faculty members Kavita Singh, Naman P. Ahuja and Shukla Sawant.

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Exhibition: Where in the World
Curators: Students of School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU and Professor Kavita Singh, Professor Naman P Ahuja, Professor Shukla Sawant.

This exhibition was part of a semester long course called “On Curating” offered by Prof. Kavita Singh. The course introduced students to the history of museum practices starting from its colonial roots, to nationalist appropriation and its contemporary resurgence. The course took these multiple directions and introduced students to the institution of museums, galleries, curatorial practices. This course also allowed students to interact with curators, designers, light and sound technicians. Devi Art Foundation which has a strong colleciton of contemporary Indian art was involved throughout the project and gave the responsibility to the students to select the artworks for the show. A collaborative effort was required in these efforts to jointly discuss and debate about the inclusion and exclusion of works. Students were also assigned different tasks related to writing texts for the catalog, publicity, exhibition design, conducting interviews with artists, etc. They were constantly in touch with the Foundation team and were able to develop an idea about the space. Besides this students were also offered visits to National Museum, Crafts Museum, etc.

The exhibition was one of the biggest and critically acclaimed shows on contemporary art. It included works by A Balasubramaniam, Atul Bhalla, C. Nannaiah, ShebaChhachhi, Krishnaraj Chonat, Nikhil Chopra, Atul Dodiya, Anita Dube, Nicola Durvasula, Sheela Gowda, Probir Gupta, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Sonia Jabbar,Bharti Kher, Sonia Khurana, Susanta Mandal, N. Pushpamala, Jeetander Ojha, JagannathPanda, Srinivasa Prasad, Ashim Purkayastha, Gigi Scaria, Mithu Sen, Tejal Shah, Sudarshan Shetty, T.V. Santhosh, and Navin Thomas.

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The central concern of the exhibition was to reflect on the contemporary art and its influences and response from/to globalisation. ‘Opening out’ to the world has brought a range of new influences, opportunities, audiences, forms of circulation and means of production to Indian art in the last ten or fifteen years. What does the new Indian art look like? Whom does it address? And how will we remember this era in the future? These were some of the key questions that this exhibition addressed through its four sections. The first section, ‘Export,’ traces the strategies used by artists asked to enact ‘Indian-ness’ in their work. The following sections, ‘Outraged’ and ‘Outrageous,’ examine the ways in which artists engage with issues and the larger public beyond the artworld. And finally, ‘Uncollectable’ considers the movements of objects through markets and into collections.

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This course and subsequent exhibition was an important experience in our academic life. We were not only exposed to the nomenclature “curator”, but also provided hands on experience in handling works, logistics, preparing texts, designing catalog, desigining exhibition layout, etc.

The exhibition images and texts are accessible through a beautifully designed catalog. Some images are available here in this link http://www.deviartfoundation.org/content/behind-scenes-where-world

Have a wonderful weekend. Please comment, share and discuss.

  • Premjish, Director, Outreach – Art1st

 

The Curator #4

In the last few posts we saw how curators weave a narrative around the existing collection to make it viewable and legible, and how some redefine collections. But how would you curate something which is not there? Something which is absent and whose presence is anticipated. Something which will appear much later in the curatorial process. These are complicated questions, but these were some of the important questions which Raqs Media Collective had encountered while curating the seminal exhibition Sarai 09. Earlier we had discussed about looking at curation itself as a process and how to not see the final exhibition as the most important aspect of that journey. Curation is a map of that journey, and the final exhibition is one of the halting points. But where does the journey end. That is another important question which was raised by Raqs, “When does curatorial work end?” It is an important question which draws our attention to the practice of curation itself. With the conventional form of exhibition making we assume that once the exhibition is open for public viewing it starts its life cycle and once the works are taken away on the closing day, the exhibition is over.

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Sarai 09, Courtesy: Raqs Media Collective

In Raqs Media collective’s own beautiful description, “To curate is to offer, metaphorically speaking, not just old wine in new bottles, or even new wine in no bottles, but also all that is entailed in so far as the cultivation of a vineyard, running of a distillery, maintenance of a cellar and the animation of a tavern are concerned, and all at the same time. It is to create the conditions necessary for the intoxication of what is called ‘rasa’ (aesthetic jouissance) in the Indic traditions to occur, and for sobriety to be called into question, as an aide and afterthought to the revelry, all the time. The curator is the distiller, bootlegger, tavern-keeper and barmaid of rasa, or aesthetic experiences.” Here we see the varied roles of the curator. As the world and the object domain of the contemporary art expands the functions of the curator too broadens.

In the fourth issue of “The Curator” series we present artist collective and curators Raqs Media collective.

The Curator #4

Raqs Media Collective: Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta

Exhibition: Sarai 09 

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Raqs Media Collective:  (L to R) Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and

“The Raqs Media Collective enjoys playing a plurality of roles, often appearing as artists, occasionally as curators, sometimes as philosophical agent provocateurs. They make contemporary art, have made films, curated exhibitions, edited books, staged events, collaborated with architects, computer programmers, writers and theatre directors and have founded processes that have left deep impacts on contemporary culture in India. Raqs (pron. rux) follows its self declared imperative of ‘kinetic contemplation’ to produce a trajectory that is restless in terms of the forms and methods that it deploys even as it achieves a consistency of speculative procedures.”

 

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Sarai 09, Courtesy: Raqs Media Collective

 

Sarai 09 was stretched across nine months as a series of propositions, in an empty space, ‘like a blank space” which would eventually unfold into objects, situations, utterances, gatherings and questions. I had a chance to visit the final exhibition in Devi Art Foundation. The energy there was tremendous. Viewers moving from work to work, interacting with the artists, works, and performances. Even few of my friends who were part of the exhibition found the experience very useful. It helped them to see art making and participating in an exhibition as a process and a collaborative experience. The exhibition too featured different kinds of “works” which we do not see as art works in a conventional manner but which had a deeper sense of belonging to the contemporary world in terms of its content. According to Raqs, “the term “artist” got thoroughly dismantled and explored by each protagonist; it became elastic. Our role as curators in this situation was also to observe overflow.”

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Sarai 09, Courtesy: Raqs Media Collective

This democratisation of participation, the expanded notion of what is art, and the emphasis on the process and seeing curation as an ongoing journey has made Sarai 09 a memorable experience in Indian art. As far as the important question of when does curatorial work end. I would say curation is an incomplete work, it is an ongoing journey. Once started it keeps on traversing the landscape of art and history. It accumulates new meanings, interpretations, responsibilities, and attracts new “consumers”. The work of curation never ends.

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Sarai 09, Courtesy: Raqs Media Collective

The details of this exhibition could be found in the Sarai catalogue Sarai 09 with the proposals of the artists and the curatorial note of Raqs (http://sarai.net/sarai-reader-09-projections/). Here is another important interview with them on the exhibition which appeared in On-Curating magazine ( http://www.on-curating.org/issue-19-reader/interview-with-raqs-media-collective-on-the-exhibition-sarai-reader-09.html#.WZbaWfig_Mx ). The magazine is free to download and also look for other topics which interest you.

We wish you a happy weekend. Please share, comment and discuss.

-Premjish, Director, Outreach

The Curator #3

Redefining and recasting is the essence of any radical gesture. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series a curator not only presents the existing canon but also redefines it in new ways. Curator presents new readings on the existing artworks, schools of art movement, styles, and conceptual formulations. With these radical interventions the field is renewed, new questions are raised, frames are altered, enabling explorations in newer directions. We know, in the history of art, artists have always taken the past styles and forms as a tool to explore the contemporary. In South Asia’s context artists have used the miniature tradition to revive Indian visual arts as a response to the European academic realism, and later on many artists from the contemporary period have used this idiom to address  socio-political issues, aspects of representation and perspective, and its materials and techniques. In such diverse ways of a renewed use of the miniature tradition how does a curator make sense of it? In the third issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we introduce you to the renowned curator and art historian Gayatri Sinha and her exhibition “Fabular Bodies: New Narratives in the Art of the Miniature”, 2011 which has contextualized this renewed zeal in the use of miniature tradition by the contemporary artists.

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The Curator #3

Curator: Gayatri Sinha

Exhibition:  Fabular Bodies: New Narratives in the Art of the Miniature, 2011

 

Gayatri Sinha is an internationally acclaimed art critic and curator whose primary areas of enquiry are centered on gender and iconography, media, economics and social history. She has also initiated Critical Collective, a forum for thinking on conceptual frames within art history and practice in contemporary India.

Hair Burns Like Grass Orijit Sen

Hair Burns Like Grass, Orijit Sen

“Fabular Bodies” was an exhibition which presented the art world with the newer possibilities of miniature in the contemporary. It has clearly moved away from its royal circuits of production and reception, and has ‘moved into the domains of video and digital art, animation and illustration.’ Sinha reminds us about the complexities of fixing this term with a static definition, and asserts that it had always existed in a flux, getting constantly reinvented and redefined.

Never Ending Story, Manisha Gera Baswani

Never Ending Story, Manisha Gera Baswani

Featuring important contemporary artists such as Nilima Sheikh, N.S. Harsha, Mithu Sen, Desmond Lazaro, Waswo X. Waswo, Manjunath Kamat, Chintan Upadhyay, etc., who have been inspired by this medium and a group of young artists who have displayed promising interventions in this idiom such as Varunika Saraf, Lavanya Mani, T. Venkanna, etc., this show remains as one of the most important in the history of South Asian art to engage with miniatures with a complex lens.  The show’s catalog has a brilliantly detailed essay written by the curator along with the bios of the artists and images of artworks.

– Premjish Achari, Outreach Director, Art1st

Varunika Saraf, Tryptich, 2009

The Curator #2

Curation, as we read in the last post, emphasized on presenting a group of artworks clubbed together with a particular theme or a narrative. This particular process gave importance to the final show, the exhibition. It foregrounded the final exhibition as the most important event in this entire process while neglecting the role of the curatorial process. For example the curator’s interactions with the artists, his selection of works, why did he or she selected that work, the process of displaying the work, the selection of a theme or a narrative, these all are part of the curatorial process. But conventionally our sole focus remains on the final exhibition which remains static throughout the display period. What can one do to activate the exhibition that it becomes interactive and participatory? Is contemporary art exhibition only about art making and displaying? What about its role as a platform to educate and create awareness?

You see, there are so many questions and the ways to address these through is new ways of curating which highlights the importance of the process of curating, art making, displaying and viewing. This week in Art1st’s ‘The Curator’ series we introduce you to Premjish Achari and his exhibition ‘Inquiries on the Contemporary’.

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The Curator #2

Premjish Achari

Exhibition: Inquiries on the Contemporary

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Premjish Achari is a Curator, Writer and Translator, he is also the Outreach Director of Art1st. He has conceptualized a curatorial platform called Future Collaborations to reclaim the political potential of 1) curation 2) collaboration 3) exhibition and 4) writing. This platform’s main objective is to bring together artists, writers, poets, performers, activists, etc to collaborate with each other, to mainly question the alienated individual spaces of art practice. It initiates collaborative practices between participants to turn exhibition spaces into sites of experimental research. Through this Future Collaboration’s turn public spaces into a battleground of different ideas to allow multiplicity of perspectives.

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The first edition of Future Collaborations adopted inquiries as a methodology. It drew inspiration from Karl Marx’s seminal text ‘A Worker’s Inquiry’ written in 1880 to understand the nature of labour and the condition of the working class. Seven practitioners from diverse fields were brought together to expand the scope of this text through their inquiries into issues related to caste, sexuality, displacement and disability. Before leading to the final exhibition the group collaborated on various performances, interactions and activities. Also to highlight the educational aspect of the curation,  artists like Gigi Scaria, Dayanita Singh, etc. were invited to give interactive public talks.IMG_2320.JPG

This meant that curation and exhibition was not only about the final display but has to be seen as a continuous exchange of ideas. The project grew out of monthly meetings based on shared reading and engaging with strategies of exhibition-making to activate art’s political potential.

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Through this project Future Collaborations attempted to shape a practice of knowledge production that seeks to bridge the lacuna between practice and theory in order to transform the white cube space into a location for debate, inquiry, and reflection. This exhibition featured installations, live-performances, artworks, etc. jointly created by the participants.

 

We would be very happy if you leave a comment for further discussion or clarification.