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.

The Curator #1

Do you know that the word Curator means “a person who takes care of” or “the one who heals”? The primary task of a curator was to take care of a collection or a museum. But as times changed the practice of curating involved presenting a collection of works with an interesting theme or narrative. The practice also extended to works outside museums and institutions. Over the years curators have used collections to weave stories, re-define the idea of collections, present new art historical and visual possibilities to understand and see artworks. In this weekly series titled “The Curator”, updating every Saturday, we will introduce you to curators from India who are doing path-breaking works by using art collections and artworks to generate meaningful and participatory exhibitions.
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The Curator #1
Naman P Ahuja
Exhibition: Rupa-Pratirupa
The Body in Indian Art
Naman P Ahuja is the Professor of Ancient Indian Art and Architecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. ‘The Body in Indian Art’ was a seminal show curated by him at Europalia in Brussels which later travelled to National Museum, Delhi. The show was important for the wide range of materials it brought together from different museums, galleries and collections across India (largest ever mounted at National Museum with over 350 objects) to address the complex idea about body referring to diverse Indian philosophies and spanning across many periods of history.
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It also foregrounded the plurality of our country by showcasing diverse views, beliefs and expressions in art on the idea of body. The exhibition was divided into eight thematic categories ranging from birth to death and also dealing with heroic bodies to ascetic bodies. Those who have missed the show could take a look at the catalog produced by National Museum which is also very affordable. It also comes with a CD featuring the exhibition music and soundtrack.
– Premjish, Outreach Director, Art1st