Interview: Josephine Breese on Sri Lankan Contemporary Art

Josephine Breese is a writer, curator and co-Director of Breese Little gallery, London.  The gallery represents contemporary artists based in the UK and internationally, additionally organizing exhibitions with historical material.  She is a regular contributor to publications on the subject of South Asian contemporary art. In 2011 she co-curated ‘Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka’ at Asia House, London in March 2011.

Emergency, Installation View,  Breese Little, June  2014

Emergency, Installation View, Breese Little, June 2014

Anita Sharma:  How did you first become involved with Sri Lankan contemporary art?

Josephine Breese: I’ve visited Sri Lanka often over the past 15 years as my parents live there for much of the year, but it was collaborating with Saskia Fernando that led me into working with Sri Lankan artists and writing on the subject. Saskia and I met in 2008, the year before we started running galleries in Colombo and London respectively, the Saskia Fernando Gallery and Breese Little, which I co-founded with Henry Little.

Saskia and I spent 18 months developing the concept and funding for our first exhibition together, resulting in Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka 2011 at Asia House, London, an overview of 14 artists and their 25 artworks. It was the first international showcase of its kind since the end of the civil war in 2009 and an unusual focus in London where Sri Lankan artists were woefully under-represented.

I have been back and forth from Sri Lanka a couple of times a year since, working with Saskia and the gallery’s represented artists. We’ve staged three further exhibitions together at Breese Little in Clerkenwell, London, which have served as substantial opportunities for talks, writing and discussion on Sri Lankan art.

Contemporary Art From Sri Lanka, Installation View, February 2011

Contemporary Art From Sri Lanka, Installation View, February 2011

AS: Sri Lankan contemporary art has only recently started to attract international attention despite having a vital contemporary art scene over the last 20 years.   What factors have contributed to this lack of art historical attention both in academia and in the global art market?

JB: While Sri Lankan artists have not been as conspicuous as their peers internationally or even in the region, the contemporary art scene has a full history dating back across the last thirty years thanks to generations of energetic artists and individuals working to present their work in growing numbers of galleries and organizations.

Sri Lanka’s artistic identity in the last century was largely based on its prominent twentieth century modernist artists of the ’43 Group and their successors. Academic study has largely focused on these forebears, although parameters have shifted forward in recent years with more critical writing, publications and availability of material online. Likewise more international opportunities, critical writing and dialogue beyond Sri Lanka have found its artists slowly integrated into academic programmes abroad.

Sri Lanka has become much more accessible since 2009, with considerable international attention paid to the country, soaring visitor numbers and knock on benefits for the art market at home and abroad with a new ease of dialogue.

Emergency, Installation View, Breese Little, June 2014

Emergency, Installation View, Breese Little, June 2014

AS: In the larger South Asian context as well, little attention has been paid to Sri Lankan art and its growing contemporary art production. This is changing with art events such as the Colombo Art Biennial and the Dhaka Art Summit with their in-depth focus on promoting art from these specific regions. Are the dynamics changing now in South Asia?  

JB: An ongoing frustration in London (and further afield in Europe and North America) is that exhibitions, projects and auctions promoting themselves as addressing contemporary art from South Asia can almost exclusively be relied upon to omit Sri Lankan artists. Sri Lankan art has received much less attention than it’s South Asian counterparts, as exposure and its international market have been growing at a gentler pace. Nevertheless, this does not take into account established dialogue between Sri Lankan artists with their peers in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

The last couple of years have seen critical developments in the region with exciting new and established non-profit and commercial ventures such as those you mention and others. Furthermore, projects in Sri Lanka are promoting regional ties such as Raking Leaves’ initiative, The Sri Lanka Archive of Art, Architecture & Design, which developed out of a fantastic project called The Mobile Library with Asia Art Archives. It’s certainly an exciting and critical time for Sri Lanka’s place in conversations about South Asian art.

Contemporary Art From Sri Lanka, Installation View, February 2011

Contemporary Art From Sri Lanka, Installation View, February 2011

AS: Your first show in London, Contemporary Art from Sri Lanka in 2011 at Asia House, presented the artwork of 14 Sri Lankan artists. This was one of the first major exhibitions to showcase Sri Lankan contemporary art in an international context. In Great Britain now is there now wider exposure to Sri Lankan contemporary art?

JB: When I first started working with Sri Lankan art in this country I was amazed at how little exposure there had been here. It was a real struggle to find information here on the subject and it took some time to compile material through numerous trips to Colombo and asking around. In the 2000s there were a few substantial projects involving Sri Lankan artists in the UK such as those led by contemporary South Asian arts organisation Shisha in Manchester, exhibitions of Sri Lankan artists at Green Cardamom Gallery and initiatives such as The One Year Drawing Project (2008) by Raking Leaves publishing house.

At Asia House in 2011 I particularly enjoyed seeing the reactions across such a wide spread of visitors, as the artists had experienced very little airtime in the UK or none at all. Thankfully there are more initiatives developing here and further afield with different approaches. British Sri Lankan group Voices for Reconciliation host workshops, talks and exhibitions in London, including a recent exhibition entitled Herstories by Radhika Hettiarachchi in March 2014. June saw solo exhibitions of Senaka Senanayake’s work at Grosvenor Vadehra gallery and Priyantha Udagedara at The Norman Rea Gallery in York, while an exhibition of contemporary Sri Lankan artists, Serendipity Revealed, opens at The Brunei Galleries next week. An encouragingly busy time for Sri Lankan art in this city!

Decorated,  Jagath Weerasinghe Installation View, Breese Little, June 2014

Decorated, Jagath Weerasinghe Installation View, Breese Little, June 2014

AS: Are there local government sponsored arts initiatives to support the growing infrastructure of contemporary art in Sri Lanka?

JB: My understanding of arts funding in Sri Lanka is that it’s often down to the generosity of individual patrons and corporate sponsors as we experienced in 2011, an attitude which is also bolstered by Sri Lankan funding bodies in the absence of government sponsorship. I learned of an exciting example of this recently – an initiative called CAMP sponsored by the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust and supported by VAFA (The Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts), which will bring together practitioners from Colombo, Batticaloa and Jaffna through an exchange of skills, a residency and an exhibition, crucially providing a platform for artistic endeavour beyond just Colombo which heavily dominates the art scene by merit of its established infrastructure.

Drawings, Installation View, July 2012

Drawings, Installation View, July 2012

AS: Your gallery Breese Little in London has showcased three exhibitions of Sri Lankan Contemporary art to date. Can you share some of the highlights of these shows with us?

JB: We wanted to develop a programme at Breese Little engaging with individual artists and themes in some depth through the collaboration with the Saskia Fernando Gallery. Drawings presented a decades-long artistic exchange between Chandraguptha Thenuwara and Jagath Weerasinghe, whose contribution to the contemporary art scene has run in parallel with mutual inspiration through drawing. The catalogue for the exhibition is a particular highlight as it contains interviews with Saskia and both artists, which are by turns both frank and humorous.

When we presented Decorated & Emergency in May/June 2014 we had moved two doors down on the same road in Clerkenwell into a bigger space, which can accommodate simultaneous shows over two floors. We arranged the exhibitions with an overview of Weerasinghe’s recent work downstairs and an exhibition of four emerging and mid-career artists in the first floor gallery, Sujeewa Kumari, Nadia Haji Omar, Prageeth Manohnasa and Priyantha Udagedara. It was a great to have the scope for the intensive solo exhibition format of the more senior artist alongside a showcase of a new generation of artists that has quickly come into view in recent years. Sharmini Pereira’s interview with Weerasinghe for the e-catalogue is revealing of the artist’s career and motivations, and an important complement to the exhibitions.

 

AS: In the United States, while South Asian art has gained prominence in both the private and public spheres, Sri Lankan art has largely been left out of the dialogue. Under-representation and lack of access to primary sources are important issues that must be addressed soon by international art community.

JB: This is a good point and very much ties into the questions above about Sri Lanka’s place in both a South Asian and UK-context. We have spent a lot of time communicating with an international audience in Europe and North America (curators, galleries, institutions, collectors) who are curious to learn more about Sri Lankan art and gathering information where they can.

However, it’s important that the infrastructure develops outwards from Sri Lanka in my opinion, which will involve a steady and organic process. Sri Lankan artwork will not appear on the international stage overnight (as much as we would like to see it succeed on our doorsteps immediately), but will take time for projects to reach fruition, which will be well worth waiting for.

www.breeselittle.com

www.saskiafernandogallery.com

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Interview: Diana Campbell Betancourt on the Dhaka Art Summit

Diana Campbell Betancourt is the Artistic Director of the Samdani Art Foundation and is based in Mumbai. She also spends time in Hyderabad leading the Creative India Foundation, a private foundation supporting Indian sculpture internationally and building India’s first international sculpture park.

Dhaka Art Summit, February 7-9 2014

Shahzia Sikander, Parallax, 2014              Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation,  Courtesy of the artist

Shahzia Sikander, Parallax, 2014
Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

Anita Sharma: The Dhaka Art Summit was formed in 2012 by the Samdani Foundation to provide a platform for Bangladeshi artists. Can you talk about the foundation and the role it is playing in providing opportunities for artists in Bangladesh.

Diana Campbell Betancourt: The Samdani Art Foundation was founded in 2011 and the Dhaka Art Summit in 2012 was one of its first events. The Foundation supported part of the Bangladesh Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and felt the need to provide a platform and exposure for Bangladeshi artists within their own country, and thus the foundation was born. The Foundation has supported the production of many local artists’ work, as well as supported artists’ travel to dOCUMENTA and other international exhibitions. We are now widening the mandate past Bangladesh and supporting artists from South Asia to engage with Bangladesh, and also supporting international curators and institutions to begin their research and engage with Bangladesh and its art and culture.

Shahzia Sikander,  Parallax, 2014   Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

Shahzia Sikander, Parallax, 2014
Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

Shilpa Gupta, Untitled, 2014  Multimedia Installation Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation Courtesy of the artist

Shilpa Gupta, Untitled, 2014
Multimedia Installation
Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation
Courtesy of the artist

 AS: The 2nd edition of the Dhaka Art Summit is impressive in scope and presents 250 artists from the South Asian region with an emphasis on diverse programming including 14 solo projects , screening of experimental films and New-Delhi based Raqs Media Collective’s city wide public art project. What are some of the highlights of these projects?

DCB: I think all of the projects were highlights, but Shahzia Sikander’s work from 2013 Parallax really “stole the show” – in fact I had to open the summit early (and wake up my German technician) in order to show the work to an important international museum curator who was unable to experience the work during opening hours given the constant crowds in the space. The room was constantly full! Shilpa Gupta’s research based project about the chhitmahal (enclaves of Bangladesh within India, and vice-versa) was also a highlight- she used everything from text to an illegal cough syrup to describe the restrictions on the movements of goods and people caused by the creation of nationhood. Some curators described it as her best body of work in ten years, and I am honored that she trusted me as the curator and the foundation to unveil this important work.

Rana Begum,  No 473, 2014 Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation,  Courtesy of the artist

Rana Begum, No 473, 2014
Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

 AS:  The Dhaka Art Summit is defying the conventions of the traditional art symposium or art fair with its emphasis on curatorial projects and sharing resources within the art community. Artists from South Asian countries that are often under-represented in international exhibitions are included in the summit. What were some of your concerns and objectives when organizing this event?

DCB: Our objective was to be inclusive, but uncompromising on the quality of art that was shown. I think we were successful in doing that because there were no commercial aims – the aim was to create an event of international standards to draw local and international audiences alike to discover more about art from the region and show that South Asian art does not mean India and Pakistan- it is much wider than that. For the next summit, I am hoping to include fewer Indian and Pakistani artists in the solo projects and more from underrepresented countries.

Raqs Media Collective, Meanwhile Elsewhere, 2014 Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

Raqs Media Collective, Meanwhile Elsewhere, 2014
Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

 AS: The Dhaka Art Summit is the third largest art event to take place in South Asia, including the Indian art summit and the Colombo Art Biennale. Are there plans to collaborate in the future?

Raqs Media Collective, Meanwhile Elsewhere, 2014 Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

Raqs Media Collective, Meanwhile Elsewhere, 2014
Commissioned and curated by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

DCB: The Dhaka Art Summit is the largest of these three events, but comes last. We have already collaborated with the India Art Fair and the Samdanis sit on the advisory board of the Colombo Art Biennale. We are not a commercial venture and have an exclusive South Asia focus with strict curatorial guidelines that we don’t compromise on, so any collaboration will have to maintain our standards. Given that we installed for 45 days for a 3 day exhibition, this will be difficult to do in the region where there are space and budget constraints, but we hope the DAS will be a positive catalyst in the region and help more Bangladeshi artists become represented in these platforms as they become “discovered” by curators and galleries who visited the DAS. Annoushka Hempel, for example, visited the DAS and spoke eloquently on one of the panels.

 

Jitish Kallat, Event Horizon (the hour of the day of the month of the season), 2014 Lenticular photographic prints Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist

Jitish Kallat, Event Horizon (the hour of the day of the month of the season), 2014
Lenticular photographic prints
Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation,
Courtesy of the artist

AS:  South Asian artists are beginning to receive recognition on an international level with inclusion in prominent biennials and exhibitions, however there is a still a persistent tendency by western curators and institutions to showcase South Asian art in “survey shows” that often reduce complex art processes to themes of “globalization” and “politics”. Do you think this tendency will change as South Asia repositions itself in a larger art context? 

Rashid Rana, A Room from Tate Modern, 2013-2014 Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

Rashid Rana, A Room from Tate Modern, 2013-2014
Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

DCB: I really hope so! I like how the Tate integrates South Asian art into its international collection rather than having a “South Asia Room” – I hope more institutions work that way with their collection. We had an institutional panel with museum representatives around the world who discussed their strategies to presenting and collecting art from the region – and thankfully it seems this survey show idea is very passé in contemporary thinking about engaging with South Asia.

Rashid Rana, A Room from Tate Modern, 2013-2014 Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

Rashid Rana, A Room from Tate Modern, 2013-2014
Commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation, Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

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Interview: Annoushka Hempel on the Colombo Art Biennale

Annoushka Hempel is the founder and Director of the Colombo Art Biennale. She was born in London where she attended the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London where she studied History of Art and Social Anthropology. Annoushka moved to Sri Lanka with her family nearly ten years ago when she set up and managed the first Art Gallery in Galle showcasing contemporary Sri Lankan artists. Subsequently, she founded the Colombo Art Biennale with Jagath Weerasinghe and directed the very first South Asian Art Biennale ‘Imagining Peace’ in 2009, collaborating with leading local curators, artists and art historians. ‘Imagining Peace’ successfully showcased the works of both established and emerging Sri Lankan artists alongside international artists, provoking the notion of artists as catalysts of change.

Mahbubur Rahman, Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Mahbubur Rahman, Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Anita Sharma:  The Colombo Art Biennial was founded in 2009 and launched with the first exhibition of “Imagining Peace”. What was the impetus for starting the organization?

Annoushka Hempel: The organization did not start out as anything as ambitious as an Art Biennale. It came from a wish to do “something bigger” than the regular small gallery exhibitions that were happening in Colombo.  Something that would both give artists the opportunity to produce and show work beyond a conventional/traditional gallery’s subjective/commercial requirements and also to provide a window for the local community onto the artistic talent of local artists.  In essence CAB’s mission from the start was to create a platform from which this could be seen, to raise awareness as well as encourage artists to create expansive works under a given theme.

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

AS: CAB 2014 features a diverse group of international and South Asian artists. How are these artists chosen to participate in CAB?

AH: CAB14 has a curatorial team consisting of 4 curators.  CAB14 appointed Amit Kumar Jain to select and curate the South Asian artists as well as select the local artists.  Neil Butler and Chandragutha Thenuwara were both responsible for the curation of the international artists.  Ruhanie Perera has been the curator for the local and international Live Artists.

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

AS: Can you talk about the highlights of the several exhibitions that are on view at various location throught Colombo?

AH: Our main exhibition venue is JDA Perera gallery with works by 28 artists.  This exhibition includes works by Pala Pothupitiye (SL) , Mahbubur Rahman (Bangladesh), Pietro Ruffo (Italy), Anthoney Haughey (UK).  Colombo does not have many dedicated exhibition spaces, but it does have beautiful architechure and CAB has used wonderful colonial building as exhibition spaces, including the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute where CAB14 curators have displayed book art on the verandahs and land Art in the gardens. The Post Graduate Institute of Archeology, the Goethe Institut and the Museum of Economic History are also beautiful old colonial buildings.  CAB also always uses the wonderful Park Street Mews warehouses.  So the venues are highlights of the Biennale.

Olivier Grossetete from France has been working with local students in preparation to invite the public to help build the people’s tower in a public space. A project Olivier has been doing at various international locations that has been a huge hit and a wonderful community art project.

A major highlight for this particular edition has been the Live Art component which has been happening almost on a daily basis ranging from movement artists and musicians responding to the artworks to interactive street art performances. This has also been a refreshing public/community art project.

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

 AS: How does Sri Lanka fit into the larger art dialogue taking place in the South Asian region right now?

AH: For some time now when referring to the South Asian region in the context of contemporary art, Sri Lanka has tended to be left off the map, so to speak.  It is significant that the India Art Fair, the Colombo Art Biennale, the Dhaka Art Summit and the Chennai Art Fair are all happening around the same time, with visitors travelling from one to the other, which in turn gives the visitor an insight into the narrative of the current South Asian contemporary art world.

CAB14 has already attracted a large amount of attention from international art institutions and art press.  The Biennale is generating interest in Sri Lanka and its recent history through its artistic representations

CAB12 included artists from India, Nepal, Bangladesh & Pakistan.  CAB14 has also done this through our Art Talks programme has also included some of these regional participants in the dialogue of discussions surround the theme of ‘Making History’ from regional and international points of view as well as Sri Lanka.

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

 AS: As Sri Lanka’s  own visual arts trajectory continues to grow and diversify, in many ways it is making its own history. Are there efforts to document the existence of its visual arts histories?

 AH: Certainly through essays that have been written and published in the ‘Making History’ catalogue.  Anoli Perera’s concept note for the Theme, Anoli’s essay ‘From Art of Resistance to Art tp Art of Today and Suresh Jayaram’s (CAB12 Curator) essay on CAB12 ‘A Biennale between war and reconciliation’ are all included in the catalogue.

There are several local and international art writers visiting the Biennale and writing about it. We plan to publish all of these on our website

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

Colombo Art Biennale 2014

AS: The theme of Making history for CAB 2014  asks important questions of how history has shaped the possibilities for the present and the future, as well as the role of determinism in a larger sense. How do you see these themes provoking the current discussions in Contemporary Sri Lankan art?

AH: The theme is a provocation inviting the artists to address and the viewer to consider past ,present and future histories and, moreover, to be personally involved in the making/shaping of our own histories following the last 30 years of conflict.  The theme and the artworks produced under this theme continue to be an expression to our very changing current history that will shape the future

Conceal of Marks, Colombo  Art Biennale 2014

Conceal of Marks, Colombo Art Biennale 2014

AS:  How does the CAB situate itself in the larger context of biennales and large-scale art shows that are becoming popular in Asia?

AH: Although the Colombo is an international Art Biennale in the sense that it is hosting a significant number of international artists (50%), CAB does not follow the international art Biennale model.  CAB is not about the big international names. CAB remains a Sri Lanka Biennale, showcasing and encouraging Sri Lankan artists to work in a relevant and expansive manner in their approach to their artworks.  Working at an international standard.  50% of CAB artists are therefore Sri Lankan and CAB intends to maintain this approach in future editions.

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Interview: Raqs Media Collective at Performa 13

The Raqs Media Collective (founded in 1992) is India’s cultural “think tank” for the twenty-first century. Consisting of Jeebesh Bagchi (b. 1965), Monica Narula (b. 1969) and Shuddhabrata Sengupta (b. 1968), the collective came to prominence in the 1990s with original documentary films that challenged the conventions of the form. In 2002, they made their entrance in contemporary art with the film installation 28˚28’ N/77˚15’ E at Documenta 11 (2002). Since then, they have experimented with installations, books, curating shows (Manifesta, 2007) as well as collaborating with architects, writers and theatre directors. Their work has been shown, among many other places, at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis); the Venice Biennale (2003, 2005); the Palais des Beaux Arts (Brussels); the Liverpool Biennial (2004); Istanbul Biennial (2007) and the Guangzhou Triennial (2005). Raqs is a Persian, Arabic, and Urdu word that describes the state that whirling dervishes enter into when they whirl; it encapsulates the spirit of these polymath artists.

Raqs Media Collective, The Last International

Anita Sharma: Your project for Performa 13 is called The Last International. Can you describe your conceptual approach for this performance which takes place in New York from Nov 21-23, 2013.

Raqs Media Collective: We see ‘The Last International’ as a celebratory, thinking performance, that leaves traces in space and time through an assemblage of actions, images, constructions, notes, conversations and stories.

We like the idea of the work as a ‘reading’. The French poet ‪Mallarmé inaugurated the idea of a text, or a book, as a living network of acts, voices, thoughts and pictures. We see this work as an echo of that spirit. The spine of the ‘Last International’ is a reading. From this branches out an installation and a performance, which invokes archival material and newly filmed footage, horticulture, intoxication and correspondences. The Last International is a proposal for a new, joyful way of working, in which manifestos and programs, lists and charts, biology, mathematics and political speculation can be transformed into poetry, orchards can grow in factories and the live exchanges of thought can connect people in different circumstances all over the world.

AS: The Last International references an important moment in mid-19th century socialist political history. Fast forward to present day New York City and how do you set the stage for The Last International? What new possibilities emerge in your examination of these evolving histories and temporal frameworks?

 RMC: Everywhere, people seem to be gathering on streets as a way to account for the massive systemic failures that came in the wake of the economic crises of 2008.  What happened in Zucotti Park in New York was one instance of this phenomenon. There were many others, in cities across the world. Sometimes, those who gathered on the streets said that they had demands, but often they had none. All they really had was the collective, reciprocal recognition of a time that had come to the world as a gift. A gift of intelligence that people had given to themselves the very moment they had understood the long-term inoperability of the assorted apparatuses of power that pretend to run the world.

This is not the time of petitions, but of proposals. So you go back to the drawing board. You make plans, argue out your visions. You become visionaries.

And we too have a proposal. ‘The Last International’ is our proposal of proposals. This is our distillation of the gift of the world’s present collective intelligence. We return it to the world in keeping with the reciprocity that we see as the spirit of this time.

AS: The celebratory nature of this performance suggests reconciliation or the coming together of disparate elements. What was your inspiration for this project?

RMC: The Last International returns to the legacy of the First International (the First International Workingmen’s Association) and its promise but it is not imprisoned by the past. In 1872, the general headquarters of the First International moved to New York. We see that ‘move’ as the search for a new world. The First International did not last for very long, but reasons that compelled its visionary maneuvers remain valid even now. Our work pays its dues to that memory.

AS:  This work commemorates New York City as a multifocal place of gathering and contending histories. What would you like your viewers to glean from this discussion about place and Utopian politics?

RMC: We would like people to see an expanded field wherever they are, and realize that the place and time that they find themselves in are not bounded, but passages towards infinities and abundances.

The Last International stakes a claim to enduring for eternity. It is a fruition of a long time of conversation, a meditation on political failures as well a celebration of the legacies that outlasted those failures.

We envisage many possibilities – a staging of the work could, in some time, crystallize a roving program of conversations and performances around the work – involving philosophers, visionaries, futurists, artists, revolutionaries.

AS: What traces do you think The Last International will leave behind?

RMC: We hope that it will leave luminous traces behind.

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Transparent Studio: Interview with Tith Kanitha

Born in 1987 in Phnom Penh, Tith Kanitha lives and works in Phnom Penh. She holds a BA in Interior Design from the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh (2008). She is a member of the film collective Kon Khmer Koun Khmer and assists numerous film productions made in Cambodia. Tith’s first solo exhibition Companions was hosted by French Cultural Center, Phnom Penh (2011). Group exhibitions include Hut Tep So Da Chan, SurVivArt, House of World Cultures, Berlin (2011), Art of Survival, Meta House, Phnom Penh (2008), and Still Water, Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, Phnom Penh (2009). Tith was a participant in The Flying Circus Project: Memory, Archives and Creation (2009).

 Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

Anita Sharma: Can you tell us about the Seasons of Cambodia In Residence program and how you became involved with it?

Tith Kanitha: The residency’s goals were for us to learn, to work and to discover the artwork in New York. I was selected by the curators of Season of Cambodia, Erin Gleeson and Leeza Ahmady. Erin is the Artistic Director of SA SA BASSAC in Phnom Penh and she knew of my work. She showed several artists work to Leeza and they selected 10 visual artists to participate in SoC.

 Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

 AS: You studied interior design at the Royal University of Fine Art in Phnom Penh and later transitioned into working with sculpture and installation art. What influenced this shift in your art practice? Can you talk about your method of working with wire to create organic sculptures which seem to be a common thread in your work?

TK: The Shift from Interior design to Art: I was involved in the Selapak Neari Art program in 2007 founded by LinDa Saphan. My first art piece was an installation, Mean Rup Mean Tuk -With A Body Comes Suffering- 3 stools with different everyday materials representing the man, the woman and the child all spray painted white and gold. This was very unique and ultimately different in the Cambodian art scene, as I have never seen it. I always thought that to be a visual artist you had to be a painter, drawer or sculptor. I then discovered another way of being an artist.

All my artwork has a common thread of freedom in the way I approach the topic or the art piece. To be free from what society expect an artist to create or used material.

The sculptures are free-form conversations between me and the material. I don’t try to push the shape of the wire too much – the wire guides the shape.

 Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

 AS: For your residency at Transparent Studio you are creating a sculptural installation showcasing objects that are often “hidden” or considered taboo and unearthing them in a public space. Can you talk about the significance of this act of revealing?

TK: Since being in New York, I became aware of the similarities of being human. Despite our cultural differences, we all share the same features, we all have good and bad feelings, we all have joys and secrets.

We also have in common objects that we find disgusting. Underwear can have a sexual appeal when it is clean and once dirty it is seen as appalling. I wanted to show that we are not all “clean” or “good” but all that does not matter. To the eye of the child, they are seen as neither a sexual object, nor a clean or dirty object. Once hung in a different manner, the child sees another shape, another color not the dirty or clean underwear.

Calling attention to taboo, for me, means breaking the wall – I confront the shamefulness – not to be ashamed. To be seen in a different way through the eyes of a child.

 Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

 AS: Performance is also an important aspect of your art practice. How do you normally conceive pieces and what are the types of realities you are exploring?

TK: For each artwork, I do not think in term of medium. It comes naturally to me. My first performance was in 2010. I did not know about performance as an art form I just want to do it. I place several terra cotta stove on a wooden platform covered by a wire net. I began to smash one into pieces.

I can’t make a division between participatory art and performance. I consider the work I made at Bose Pacia participatory – because I approached friends to give me their used underwear (as well as my own) to display in a public space.

Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY, 2013

 AS: Has the open studio process opened up new possibilities or challenges for your art practice?

TK: This residency gave me the opportunity to articulate on my own art creation as a philosophy. It allowed me to think in a manner that I always did but was never able to pinpoint it. This art philosophy was anchored in that I believe the importance of thinking like children. A child is both clever and silly. I am now more than ever truly convinced that life seen through the eyes of the child brings new perspectives. Making art is was/still/will be important to me as breathing. My approach art is like a child, I hope to be as clever as him/her and as whimsical and silly.

I have found my own voice, my own words to talk about my work.

I feel that I am able to take ownership of my artwork and understand where I am within the larger art community beyond Cambodia. Working at Bose Pacia allowed me to feel how many possibilities there are out there. As I was creating in the space, it felt like sitting in a garden with open blue skies: the skies as my canvas full of potential. There is a great freedom to do whatever I wanted without any constraint from anyone at all. This is truly a unique experience for me.

Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY, 2013

 AS: What would you like New Yorkers to know about your work?

TK: I don’t have any expectation for New Yorkers other than causing a reaction of being surprised by my work. I have seen many passersby looking in surprise to see my installation piece. I feel that if I can surprise and startle New Yorkers who known to be jaded, then I have succeeded.

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Transparent Studio: Interview with Yim Maline

Born 1982 in Battambang, Cambodia, Yim Maline lives and works in Siem Reap. Yim studied art at Phare Ponleu Selapak in Battambang (2003), and holds a BFA/Diplôme National Arts Plastique (DNAP, Art Option) from École Supérieure des Beaux-arts, Caen la mer, France (2010). Yim’s solo exhibitions include Silk Threads, The Insider Gallery at Inter Continental, Phnom Penh (2012), No Name (2012) and Remember (2011) at SA SA BASSAC, Phnom Penh. Group exhibitions include New Journey, CLA Gallery, Phnom Penh (2012), Seven, Hotel de la Paix, Siem Reap (2012), and Eight Women, French Cultural Center, Phnom Penh (2011).

Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY, 2013

Anita Sharma: Can you tell us about the Seasons of Cambodia In Residence program and how you became involved with it?

YM: First, I want to say that Season of Cambodia is wonderful for me as a Cambodian artist. I participated in this program because it’s an opportunity for people to learn about Cambodian art and culture. Also, it’s a bridge connecting Cambodian contemporary art with the rest of the world. Leeza Ahmady and Erin Gleeson, the co-curators of the festival’s In Residence program, selected me – among other nine artists and one curator – to undertake a two-month residency in New York.

Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY, 2013

AS: A lot of your work is about the act of commemoration and enshrinement. Memory becomes a tool to both preserve and reinvent. Your past work has talked about various facets of your childhood, including the difficulties of growing up in the post-war Cambodia and is replete with references to cultural and social symbols that deal with loss and ambiguity. Can you talk about this process of reconstruction in relation to the act of drawing and sculpture-making?

 YM: In many of my works, I use my childhood experience as an inspiration. When I was a child, I didn’t have a lot of materials or toys to play with. Like many other children during my time, we invented and made our own toys. I liked making things by my hands. I also grew a garden. My art practice is very similar: I create things by my own hands. I draw, sculpt, and install. Perhaps this process of drawing and sculpting is somehow a personal manifestation of reconstruction. The darkness found in the works defines the lack of liberty and freedom in my day-to-day life. Although I explore the ideas of restriction in each drawing, there is also a sense of eruption – an imaginary world where I can escape the limitations set on me by society, culture, and history.

Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY, 2013

AS: How has the open studio process at Transparent Studio challenged your experience of the studio practice? Has it created new possibilities?

YM: I was fortunate to work at Bose Pacia’s Transparent Studio. I met with Sadia and many other people who were so kind to me. They were not only friends and colleagues but they also gave advice and constructive criticism. I learned a lot from all of them. It’s like a light and mirror allowing me to see the progress of my practice during springtime in New York. Before, I usually worked in my studio which is my home. I usually liked working alone. So my experience at Transparent Studio was new to me. I had people visiting, talking to and asking me questions as I was making work. They saw my process. I felt very excited like I did something I really enjoyed. When I was working, I was learning too. The interaction with visitors led to realization of new stories and ideas.

Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY, 2013

AS: What are your impressions of New York City as seen from an artist’s perspective and how did you translate this into your work for the TS program?

YM: I’m interested in environment around me. I feel concerned, rushed, excited, and happy with new atmosphere. When walking in lower Manhattan, I was compelled to think about my drawings, my history and the current moment as a visiting artist, a tourist, a researcher and an explorer. It was then that I visualized a drawing representing the congestion of the buildings in lower Manhattan. Using charcoal, I created tall, dark, steel buildings directly on the wall. As I continued to take walks, I found several new, useful, and functional items, such as a bookshelf, shoes, chairs, food, and children’s toys being discarded in public trash bins. At first I was going to create a pile of the collected “trash.” However, my art practice is based on creating sculptures and objects by my own hand. At home I am always busy using my hands – cooking, making knitted shoes for my young daughter, and gardening. Making things by hand is a process that is part of my daily life. So I decided to create the objects I found out of clay. I used clay because the process of easily molding and shaping objects reflects my transient feelings that are visible in my installation, Spring. I displayed the sculptures sprouting from the dirt which is similar to a colorful garden. The addition of many colors in my work is a new trajectory, which is in direct response to living and experiencing New York City. I stopped creating the charcoal drawing on the wall because I could not bring myself to use the dark charcoal, which I affiliated with sadness and with my earlier drawings.

Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY, 2013

 AS: What would you like New Yorkers to know about your work and art practice in Cambodia?

YM: As an artist, I really want audience to know about my work, my art practice, and my story. I work hard hoping the audience understands. But I cannot force people to know my work. I want them to understand as they wish.

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Transparent Studio: Interview with Artcodex

Artcodex at Transparent Studio, NY, 2013

Artcodex is a collective of artists who engage in collaborative practices that combine an absurd sense of humor with political content and philosophical exploration. They have exhibited many projects internationally including The War Show in Manila, Philippines, New York, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, Immigration of the Species, for Emergence on Governors Island, NY, and Boomtown as part of Dumbo Arts Festival. In addition, Artcodex participated in the Elsewhere residency in Greensboro, NC. Artcodex was founded in 2006 by Vandana Jain, Mike Estabrook, Glen Einbinder and Brian Higbee. Ghost Modernism will travel to Quartair Gallery in Den Haag, Netherlands in April 2013.

Artcodex at Transparent Studio, NY, 2013

Anita Sharma: When was Artcodex formed and what are the underlying concerns and objectives of this collective?

Artcodex: Artcodex was originally created in 2004 as a website featuring artists whose work dealt with appropriated materials to make political statements. These artists all shared a left-leaning political orientation and a strong sense of the absurd while maintaining diverse artistic aesthetics. By 2005, some of these artists had begun to exhibit and travel together and by 2006, with the first war show in the Philippines, this had developed into the main creative collective of Artcodex. With a concentration on politics, absurdity, the ephemeral, anti-aesthetics and the de-professionialization of art, Artcodex works to create and exhibit a new unified aesthetic outside the usual parameters of the members’ individual practices. Artcodex’s aims include interacting and exchanging with other artistic communities in other places through travel, creating works that engage with the public through interactivity and using humor in their work to defy assumptions about contemporary art pedagogy.

Artcodex at Transparent Studio, NY, 2013

AS: Can you describe your theoretical approach for the program titled Ghost Modernism for the Transparent Studio program?

Artcodex: We are using our residency at Transparent Studio as a way to prepare for our upcoming show at the Hague. As we often do, we are using interactivity, playfulness and a sense of humor to talk about more serious issues, in this case, the relevance of the ideas of utopia and/or failed utopia to our contemporary situation. We often talk about how we see the New York art world as dominated by two main forces, the art market and art academia, (i.e. theory). Through our collective practice, we strive to find a third path, one that is neither elitist nor hierarchical, and allows access to people without regards to economic status or specialized education.

Artcodex at Transparent Studio, NY, 2013

AS: What are some of the processes you are exploring in your critical examination of Modernism, Post-Modernism and Ghost Modernism?

Artcodex: For this project, we are interested in open-ended and experimental processes such as charting, mapping, non-hierarchical video editing, and sculpture created from scavenged materials. Participation and discussion with the audience is also important.

Artcodex at Transparent Studio, NY, 2013

AS: Describe for us the essence of the phase of Ghost Modernism? How is it distinguished from its predecessors?

Artcodex: Ghost Modernism started off as a pun, a funny turn of phrase that seemed to hit an important chord in our creative consciousness. Modernism, though originally rooted in radical thought, has now become a generic corporate aesthetic. And most often, when we think of utopic strivings such as communes (and communism) we think of them as complete failures. The notion of voting with our dollars has overtaken any real political activity, besides the quadrennial casting of votes for red or blue. For us, Ghost Modernism is not the next stage in a linear evolution so much as the creation of a new space to think differently. It is a place where we can reclaim the utopian hopes of Modernism informed by the contextual critiques levied by Post-Modernism.

Artcodex at Transparent Studio, NY, 2013

AS: How has the open studio process aided in your philosophical inquiries? Did it create unexpected opportunities for discussion and
understanding?

Artcodex: The work we’ve created that most literally deals with these inquiries is our venn diagram piece. It is made of three intersecting circles, each representing Modernism, Post-Modernism, and Ghost-Modernism. We created this chart directly on the wall with blackboard paint, and have made both chalk and erasers available. Anyone is invited to list their notions of the characteristics of each, and to erase any previous entries with which they disagree. The most surprising entry was simply “relleño”. Also, just being in the space together allows us to have more of these discussions, as well as to share collective responsibility in creating works.

Artcodex at Transparent Studio, NY, 2013

AS: You are screening films on various subjects throughout the studio program, including a film on Piet Mondrian’s grave in Queens. Can
you talk about this film as well the other films you are showcasing? How do these films address your investigations into these overarching and often contending movements, two of which have come to dominate academic discourse?

Artcodex: Most of the movies we are showcasing are our own. These are unplanned and unscripted, and are an exercise in film as a non-hierarchical collaboration- a kind of de-authoring. Our influences are b-horror movies, cartoons, and a youtube aesthetic. “Visitation”, our film of Mondrian’s grave, is a literal bending of our b-horror aesthetic to the Ghost Modernism theme. It is the first of a two part video in which we visit Mondrian sites. The second will take place while we are in The Netherlands, where we will visit the artist’s hometown of Amersfoort, Netherlands, and film the experience. In addition to our films, we are also screening “Incubus”, the first film made in Esperanto, the utopian language that was designed to be a common tongue. We see Esperanto as a beautiful example of the audacious hopes of Modernism, as well as it’s ultimate failure. We are also programming an evening in which we showcase short films by our contemporaries that we feel embody some of the aesthetic and political ideals that are indicative of Ghost Modernism.

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Transparent Studio: Interview with Faranú & Mike Redman

Faranú received her BA in 2008 from Willem de Kooning Academy of Fine Arts, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She was mentored by several established Dutch artists such as Diet Wiegman and Kiki Lamers. Her work has been exhibited in Amsterdam, New York City, and Beijing. Faranú has been recognized by the Dutch art platform Kunstweek as ‘Talent of the Year 2012.’ She was also nominated as artist of the year 2013. Faranú lives and works in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Mike Redman is a multidisciplinary artist, independent filmmaker, music producer and owner of the record label Redrum Recordz . Redman has won several prestigious international awards for his art documentary ‘Anagram’ (2008). He has also screened his films at internationally renowned film festivals. As a visual artist Redman has exhibited his work at venues such as Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and the World Trade Center Art Gallery, Rotterdam, NL. Redman is also the founder of the long running music project ‘Deformer’ with whom he has collaborated with rap group Public Enemy. His latest film project entitled ‘Sample: not for sale’ features international artists such as Guru, Public Enemy, Amon Tobin, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Madlib and KRS-One. He also lives and works in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

 Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

Anita Sharma: Your project for the Transparent Studio program is titled Diagonals Used for Mapping Brooklyn’s Overview. Can you describe your conceptual approach and how you were inspired to look at mapping as a way to examine the DUMBO neighborhood?

Faranú & Mike Redman: We visit New York quite frequently and we are always interested in exploring new areas and the eventual transformation of certain neighborhoods and surroundings. When we first heard of DUMBO years ago, we were immediately attracted to it. The positioning, ambiance and also the history of this area. The architecture of the old warehouses is great and you can also sense the hard labor while walking through the streets of DUMBO. When we came out of York station, we entered DUMBO in an oblique way. That drew our attention right away. At that time we became inspired by the area and knew that we wanted to do something with it. Maybe it is also because it reminded us of Rotterdam city (The Netherlands) a little because it shares a similar working mentality and has one of the largest harbors in the world.

Even though there is much movement within DUMBO, architectonically there is not very much changing. This is what made us look at the apparently unchanging streets and architecture differently. We started to use our first entrance (on Jay St.) as our starting point and went looking for diagonals, especially diagonals that weren’t supposed to be diagonals, like for example skewed poles and traffic signs. I started making photographs of these diagonals and took their picture in a way so that these diagonals became straight. The background automatically distorts and becomes oblique. This resulted in an interesting series of abstract photos. These photos also formed the basis for a huge collage. The diagonals that were initially photographed were located on an actual map of DUMBO.

Later we discarded the actual map and just kept the dots that resembled the exact locations where the photos were taken. This was turned into a large contemporary map by Faranú and me. Actually, both the collage and the ‘new’ map are the same map, but made with a different approach. They both form a contemporary map of DUMBO. D.U.M.B.O. originally stands for: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, but in this project we corrupted it to: ‘Diagonals Used for Mapping Brooklyn’s Overview’. We are extremely thankful that Bose Pacia gave us the opportunity to develop this project here.

 Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

AS: What are your observations of working in an “open studio” environment? How has it enhanced or shaped your art practice?

F & MR: We like the open studio way of working very much, it gives you great interaction with visitors and causes interesting conversations and eventual possibilities for future collaborations. Bose Pacia is a fantastic art space, not only is the space amazing, also the location on Plymouth Street is great. I’m used to public work in contrast to Faranú. For her it was a challenge and very inspiring. This is her first artist-in-residence program and she thinks the concept of developing new work within a short time frame is great. Once you start the program you have to start from scratch without really knowing where it leads you, beside the concept that is already made.  It makes the most of an artist.

 Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

AS:  You both come from different art backgrounds. Faranú’s drawing practice incorporates traditional materials such as charcoal to abstract complex ideas related to mythology and figuration and Mike’s multidisciplinary approach combines video, film-making, photography and music production. How does your collaborative work take shape? What is your process?   

F & MR: We used our concept and started looking at possibilities to combine our very different disciplines and mediums. We came up with various ideas within this concept and looked for connections in our way of working. Faranú decided to stick to drawing with charcoal in her recognizable mathematical way of working. I challenged myself with working within a technical border of mostly photography and video. Our charcoal/video work is seamlessly engaged, especially with the work ‘textures’. Here Faranú used ‘found textures’ of DUMBO and translated them into a charcoal drawing in her own interpretation after making photographs of various textures. I added a new layer of observation to it by projecting black and white video on top of it.  Here a combination of charcoal drawings and video reinforce each other. It becomes a playful interaction of textures that are pulled out of the ordinary in which different layers form one piece.

 Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

AS: Faranú’s charcoal drawings explore the form and natural topographies of DUMBO. Can you describe the language you see in the multitude of forms that have emerged in your series of immersive drawings?  

F & MR: The forms that you see in these drawings are inspired by the textures of DUMBO that were found in the area. Textures of the street, buildings, rocks, constructions, sky and the water that is surrounding DUMBO. These ingredients were pulled out of context and were also deformed by her imagination. This resulted in a play of dark lines and looked like washed away ancient scriptures or cave drawings almost. It’s almost as if the faded conversations that took place in DUMBO throughout history vaguely arise in her work. Faranú’s visual language can be interpreted by everyone in its own way.

Faranú & Mike Redman at Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2013

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Transparent Studio: Interview with Daniel Ballesteros

Daniel Ballesteros received his MFA from the University of Connecticut and his BA from Webster University in Saint Louis, MO. His work has been exhibited in New York, Chicago, Santa Fe, Saint Louis, Las Vegas, and several academic institutions. He is the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was selected to be part of Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward 2012: Emerging Photographers as well as En Foco’s New Works in Photography awards. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Daniel Ballesteros at Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2012

Anita Sharma: Can you describe your conceptual approach for Transparent Studio at Bose Pacia, NY?

Daniel Ballesteros: Taking pictures for me is about experience, so I wanted “experience” to be the theme through all the work created in the residency. The pictures of DUMBO are records of my experience exploring the neighborhood with my traveling darkroom. The portrait pictures too, are records of an experience rather than a traditional instantaneous picture. The exposure times for the portraits were around a minute and a half, so the final picture incorporated all the movement of the subject that occurred during that time.

Daniel Ballesteros at Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2012

AS: How did your interest in wet-plate photography develop? The technique involved in developing wet plate photographs is quite complex both in terms of the elaborate process and timing. Can you describe the process for our readers who are not familiar with this type of photography?

DB: The palette of wet-plate collodion photography always appealed to me. When I was making traditional silver gelatin prints in a darkroom I would often tone and dye the final prints to mimic the colors of an ambrotype or tintype. However, until two years ago, I had always had some fear regarding the process. I feared that it wouldn’t ultimately be what I wanted or that I wouldn’t be able to make the process work for me. Finally, I was in a place of uncertainty regarding my work and I went to visit a professor of mine from school, who is now one of my dear friends. I expressed my dissatisfaction and uncertainty about my work at the time to him, and without hesitating, he said, “I think you need to think about wet-plate processes.” Immediately, this mental block went away, I stopped thinking about the things I “SHOULD” be doing and started thinking about the things I wanted to be doing. I came home from that meeting and bought all the chemicals I needed to begin the wet-plate journey and haven’t looked back.

Process:

1.     A glass plate (ambrotype) or japanned-metal plate (ferrotype/tintype) is coated with a collodion emulsion

2.     That plate is placed in a bath of silver nitrate where is soaks up silver and becomes sensitive to light.

3.     After 3-4 minutes in the silver the plate is removed and placed in a holder that will go into the camera where the exposure will be made.

4.     Once the plate is exposed it is taken back to the dark box where I cover myself in the dark cloth so that I can remove the plate from the holder and pour the developing chemical over the plate.

5.     After the developer is on the plate for about a minute it is “stopped” by pouring water over the plate

6.     The plate is then placed in a bath of sodium thiosulfate where the unexposed silver is washed away and the image appears.

7.     Once the plate is completely dried it is varnished for its final protective coating

Daniel Ballesteros at Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2012

AS: Has working in an open studio environment opened up new challenges or discoveries for your photography practice which is quite a controlled process?

DB: Using the wet-plate process out in the world is a bit of an open studio wherever I set up, so it made the partnership with the Transparent Studio residency ideal. Before building my traveling dark box I was making ambrotypes and tintypes in a studio. It was important for me to spend my first year with the process in private where I could work out my technical and conceptual issues. Taking the process out of the studio began as a practical choice. I wanted to take pictures outside. After my first adventure outdoors it became apparent, with the frequency at which people would approach me to talk about what I was doing, that I enjoy sharing what I’m doing with others much more than I ever thought. I used to avoid people at all costs while making photographs, but this process has helped me to see the value in communicating and connecting with others. People seem interested in this idea that in an age of instant media someone is engaging in a process that is very slow and actually adds more time to the experience of taking a picture.

Daniel Ballesteros at Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2012

AS: How does your perception of your subject change or evolve in your portraiture and/or landscape series?

DB: Photographing is a continually evolving process. All of my projects or series have always been about learning something, either about myself, my subject, or, ideally, both. Sometimes I enter a project or series with an idea of where I want it to go, but usually that gets tossed out the window after my first time out photographing. I do best when I relax and allow myself to respond to my environment. Approaching things this way, change and evolution are inevitable.  This is true of both the portraits and landscapes made during the residency. Once I let go of the idea of the pictures I “should” be making and let myself respond to the people coming in for portraits and the environment I was experiencing in DUMBO I started to see new things.

Daniel Ballesteros at Transparent Studio, Bose Pacia, NY 2012

AS: During your residency you set up a mobile darkroom in various locations in DUMBO. What are some of your observations of DUMBO as a cultural landscape as seen through your own photographic exploration?

DB: With the warehouses, the bridges, and the remaining cobblestone streets with rails embedded, there is a strong feeling of history in DUMBO. I wasn’t too familiar with the area before the residency, but it feels like it’s in a significant time of change. It seems to be such a big draw for tourism with the nice views of the bridges and the Manhattan skyline that it’s just a matter of time before some of those nice bits of historic Brooklyn that DUMBO holds are replaced with the new. There is a lot of construction there now and I assume it will continue. In ten years there may be no more cobblestones. I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to photograph around the area before this big change.

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In Focus: Kathryn Myers

 The Bose Archives is pleased to launch a new interview series called In Focuswhich showcases in-depth features and essays on documentation and research projects that are currently taking place in the field of South Asian contemporary art.

Kathryn Myers has been teaching painting and drawing at the University of Connecticut since 1984. She received an MFA in painting from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a BA in art from St. Xavier College in Chicago. For the past decade her work has been informed by her immersion in the art and culture of India. She has been the recipient of two Fulbright Fellowships to India in 2002 and 2011, other  awards include The Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation, and The Connecticut Commission on the Arts. She has exhibited her paintings widely in the United States and India. Her recent video interview series can be viewed at www.regardingindia.com .

 

Arpita Singh / Regarding India: Conversations with Artists

Arpita Singh / Regarding India: Conversations with Artists

1) You recently participated in a symposium, Goddess, Lion, Peasant, Priest: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection where you presented Regarding India: Video Interviews with Contemporary Artists. Can you talk about your presentation for this symposium about the Rubin Private Collection which was held at the College of New Jersey?

I presented three fifteen-minute videos from my new series of videotaped interviews, Regarding India, Conversations With Artists.  Two of the artists I interviewed, Arpita Singh and Arpana Caur are in the exhibition so that was a nice coincidence, but I also included an additional video on the photographer and environmental activist, Ravi Agarwal. Since his career is more recent than either Arpita or Arpana who have been exhibiting their work for decades, and he is not a figurative painter like so many in the exhibition, I thought that including him would give some insight regarding the diversity of mediums in the contemporary Indian art scene now which in prior times was privileged by painting. It also introduces the topic of environmentalism which many artists seem to be very interested in.

The Rubin collection encompasses an important range of work from modern masters to some of the most celebrated contemporary artists working in India. It also includes artists of the Indian diaspora such as Bari Kumar who lives in Los Angeles. It’s a great opportunity for Americans who may not have much opportunity to see art from India to view a significant collection of work.  It was an honor to have an opportunity to show works from my new project to a diverse audience of scholars in South Asian Art, and students and administrators from the college. I was very encouraged by the reception.

Arpana Caur / Regarding India : Conversation with Artists

Arpana Caur / Regarding India : Conversation with Artists

2) In 2011, you received a Fulbright Fellowship to conduct research on contemporary art practice in India, which culminated in an interview project. What was the impetus behind this research project? Can you describe how it came together?

It goes back to my first Fulbright in 2002 where I was based at the Government College of Art in Chennai.  At that time I had made two prior visits to India in 1999 and 2001 where I attended artist residencies in Ahmedabad, New Delhi and Kerala. I wanted to come back to India not as a tourist, but in a way that would enable me to have greater access to artists, which the Fulbright fellowship provided as well as an extended amount of time.  In addition to the art college in Chennai, I spent a lot of time at Dakshinachitra which is about 20 miles south of Chennai, run by Deborah Thiagarajen, a recognized scholar on Indian folk art and crafts. Through Deborah and the beautiful setting of Dakshinachitra, I learned a great deal about folk and popular art in India. I also visited Cholamandal, one of the most important early art colonies in India. I returned there on my 2011 Fulbright where I recently stayed for about 2 weeks and interviewed some of Cholamandal’s founding members.

During my 2002 Fulbright I had time to travel to many other art colleges, and many of my current connections with artists were initiated at that time.  Through these artists I came to know more about contemporary art in not just Delhi or Mumbai, but all over India. Thus on those first visits I was getting to know about many different types of art in India from folk and popular through modern and contemporary. I continued to return to India nearly every year through research grants from the University of Connecticut where I teach painting, this enabled me to keep my contacts in India and to continue to develop my knowledge of Indian art.

My 2011 Fulbright project was primarily inspired by a course I developed on Indian art for the University of Connecticut’s new India studies program which started in 2004.  Although in India there is a “cannon” of modern and contemporary artists whose work is included in many national and international exhibitions, I realized that like in the US, there are many layers to the art scene, and a huge amount of work being created that I would not see in those galleries or large national or international group exhibitions, but in smaller places, studios and galleries outside of the major urban areas. I valued my access to these more complex layers of what constitutes contemporary Indian art.

The sources for all of the work I presented in my class had been “secondary”, information I put together from many sources, which was also good for the students because in my class lectures I’m constantly quoting from curators and critics, so they start to see who is writing about Indian art.  It took a long time for me to become comfortable enough with Indian art so that I could find my own voice, my own interpretations and ideas. There were often questions I wanted answers to, maybe specific things about a painting or something that I could not find in any of the written sources I had, or that I wanted broader ideas of what about India might have informed a particular work of art. My class is often the only exposure my students have to India, so I felt the need to show work that might also teach them about India. And even more I wanted to create a sense of immediacy, a sense of connection with the artists whose work I was engaged with, akin to the studio visits that I was enjoying as a practicing artist visiting another artist’s studio.

I initially chose artists based on regional diversity but found in the end, that not only have many artists from various regions in India moved to Delhi or Mumbai, but that the work rarely was focused on the particular region they were from. Still, structuring my interviews this way resulted in meeting with artists from diverse regions of India.

My interview project started with artists I was already familiar with and had been teaching about for a long time. Susan Bean, curator of South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, and Peter Nagy, the Director of Nature Morte gallery in New Delhi were very generous in providing contact information. In south India, Suresh Jayaram and B.O. Shailesh were a great help in meeting artists. Although I started with artists I was already familiar with and had already done a lot of research on, while I was in India I also came to know the work of artists such as Ravi Agarwal, Sarnath Banerjee and Paula Sengupta, whose work I did not know of before. There were a lot of suggestions given to me by artists and gallery directors, some of which I was able to interview this time and others, that I can save for another visit, in all, I interviewed 54 artists.

Each interview required substantial commitment and preparation, to know the work well enough to have an interview that would generate appropriate questions and responses, not only to specific bodies of work, but to broader ideas about Indian art and culture and day-to-day life. Because of the advance time needed to prepare, I had to be careful about my schedule and also importantly, how many artists I could reasonably interview in a sequence of days I might be in particular city. Scheduling was an issue, for instance I traveled to Mumbai three times to meet with the artists I wanted to interview there as not everyone was available at the same time.

Krishnaraj Chonat / Regarding India: Conversations with Artists

Krishnaraj Chonat / Regarding India: Conversations with Artists

3) Were artists in India and the art community receptive to your research project? Did you encounter any specific challenges and how were you able to address those?

All of the artists I contacted were very receptive, only two said that they could not meet with me, due to other obligations. Most were very appreciative that I knew so much about their work. Krishnaraj Chonat from Bangalore, I remember, told me that I knew more about his work than he did.  I wanted to make it very clear that I was not a curator or critic, but that it was an educational project, and would not be used for commercial purposes.  For me it was an amazing way to spend several months in India, and to learn an enormous amount about the art world artist by artist, even if nothing ever happens to the videos, it was time very well spent.

I learned to be more realistic about my schedule because each meeting often started with an hour of chai, which made sense as I was often meeting each artist for the first time, it broke the ice as chai always does. Then often I was invited to stay for a meal, and I would feel terrible if I had to run to anther interview. After an initial email, which I sent as an introduction because I have learned my American accent is hard to understand and because I don’t get great reception with my cell phone, I would follow-up by phone to have “real” contact before I met each artist.

I sometimes had challenges in trying to figure out how to get to each artist’s house, to find my way around each place in the short amount of time I was there.  I had a lot of equipment including my laptop in my backpack, but I knew if I took a taxi everywhere, it would cost a fortune. So in Mumbai for instance, I learned how to use the metro, which made me feel very good and I was back and forth on it all the time. I loved being in the women’s car, I was always very well taken care of.  Figuring out how to get there was part of the challenge.

A big challenge were technical aspects of the project as this was the first time I was ever making videos.  I had to set up the laptop so that the artist and myself could see the work I had organized in folders to talk about, so I had to then position the camera and myself so they could look at the laptop and not be looking too far away from the camera. If I didn’t get it right, they would be looking too far away from the camera. I was using a remote microphone with two switches, and was concerned if I neglected to turn one on, I would have a “silent” interview as a result. During my first interview with Amit Ambalal, the battery ran out and I didn’t realize it and I had to re-record quite a bit but he was very kind about it. On two occasions a friend came with me who could be the one to keep track of these things so I could focus on talking with the artist, but most of the time I was on my own. I also felt the conversation might be different if I was not alone with the artist.

4) What were some of the highlights of your interview process? You mentioned earlier that the need for primary source material and more direct sources for information on Indian art is what prompted you to initiate your interview project. What were some theoretical “questions you wanted answers to” in the classroom environment?

Highlights were the “high” I got when I knew an interview went well,  when it became something other than what I expected, when I actually would run out of all of my batteries and memory cards, nobody ever made me feel like I was taking up too much time, I often had a hard time knowing when to stop.  Even though the finished edited interviews are only 15 minutes, I have in some cases well over an hour of material and its valuable to have, but editing it is hard, to make choices about what to include and how to order it, I’m often cutting and pasting audio from different parts of the interview to create a meaningful sequence of thoughts and ideas, sometimes with the artist talking about specific bodies of work and at other times about related issues.  I had prepared questions but the best interviews where when it took on a life of its own.

There was a kind of magic when it went well, not only what the artist said, but the manner in which they spoke, points of emphasis, pauses, reflection, excitement, the cadence or tone of a voice.  At times it was so moving it gave me chills and I’d have to walk away from the computer and at other times I found myself laughing out loud.  I never got tired of hearing anyone in the hours I listened, I felt as if they were living in my studio, I felt an intense sense of connection.  Mayur Gupta for instance was so nervous he asked if I minded if he smoked, but he also told me that I made him feel very comfortable talking about his work and his excitement is palpably present.  Because of the amount of time I predicted I would spend on each interview and the editing process, I only met with artists whose work I had a strong personal response to, but even so everyone knows a conversation can “click” or not. There was only so much control I knew I would have, and I hoped for the best and I am amazed by what I have to work with, even if it takes years to finish. I look forward to those years.

Sarnath Banerjee / Regarding India: Interviews with Artists

Sarnath Banerjee / Regarding India: Interviews with Artists

I loved it when an artist would get carried away by a description or idea, sometimes as if they forgot I was there, for instance the way Sarnath Banerjee is at often in short sequence, humorous, irritated, upset or responds with a sense of affection to the issues in his work. I was filming in closer proximity to him than the normal polite distance I had with everyone else because the lapel microphone was broken by then (it was my last interview) and I had to use the in-camera microphone. Though the video resolution is a little digitized as a result, the kind of intensity Sarnath embodies is more effective filmed this way so this was a bit serendipitous even if the sound suffers from a bit of echo.

In terms of questions, I was always thinking of what would be most useful for my students. That might be why for instance, I asked Sarnath about both the structure and content of his graphic novels, to include a balance of formal and conceptual aspects of the work and working process.  I tried to keep the same balance with most of the artists.  I asked Sudhir Patwardhan, a painter whose work I talk about in my Indian art as well as my painting courses, quite a bit about how he selects color, structures his compositions, about his use of paint. It might be tempting to just talk about the content of his work because it illuminates many important social, political and cultural aspects of India, but the medium through which he speaks so effectively is paint, and I felt it was important to acknowledge and discuss this as well.  It’s why for instance I appreciate how Ravi Agarwal can be as passionate in the way he talks about the environmental issues he deals with as well as the aesthetic pleasures of being present in the moment of taking the photos.  I wanted to make sure I was capturing that kind of balance as I am an artist myself so the making of works of art, the process and use of materials is an integral part of how works of art resonate.

Ravi Agarwal / Regarding Indian: Conversations with Artists

Ravi Agarwal / Regarding India: Conversations with Artists

With Anupum Sud we were talking about a print she made of people drinking chai and she suddenly jumped up and realized that she had forgotten to serve me chai when I came. I hope that is on the video, it would be an interesting moment and give the feeling of what it was like to be there. As in most, I have edited out my voice so it might be hard to understand that I was in a conversation with each artist and their response is implied by my question. Because I’m not on camera my voice is a bit jarring when it comes in, so in all cases so far, I’ve edited out my part of the conversation.

I didn’t have any consistent set of questions, they were tailored to each artists work. I decided to focus on the work itself and not to ask any general questions about the art scene in India, for instance.  I had an idea that if I asked about specific works of art, larger issues would grow from that discussion, for instance with the Delhi printmaker Savi Sawakar who is a dalit, many stories arose that are very important for my students to understand and they came from a question about a single print. Savi understood that the interview was for American students who knew little about India (which I always stressed in how they might talk about their work) and he talked about these issues with great clarity and with this in mind.

Likewise Ravi Agarwal discusses so many interesting ideas about the personal, social, scientific and of course artistic  aspects of his work that there is a constant flow of rich ideas, but on several occasions he is self-reflective, about how he is uncertain, about how the work is about this uncertainty and that this is what makes him human. For my students, this is what is appealing and accessible about such an impressive artist and thinker, a sense of vulnerability that they were able to relate to. When I work on the videos, particularly in the editing process, I get totally immersed in the world of each artist.

Kathryn Myers in Arpana Caur's studio / Regarding India" Conversations with Artists

Kathryn Myers in Arpana Caur’s studio / Regarding India: Conversations with Artists

5) Can you talk about your background and how you developed an interest in Indian contemporary art?

Growing up in Chicago and attending college (St. Xavier) and graduate school in the Midwest, (UW-Madison) I had no particular exposure to Indian art and had not traveled at all outside of the Midwest.  My main focus was on the contemporary gallery scene in Chicago which was the closest one to me at the time, and then New York when I moved to the east coast to teach at the University of Connecticut in 1984. As I traveled to Europe on different artist residencies in the 90’s I came to know more about contemporary European art.

I went to India for the first time in 1999 on a sabbatical leave from my university and I stayed at two artist residencies, The Kanoria Centre in Ahmedabad and Sanskriti Kendra in New Delhi, each for a month and traveled for a month between.  I did not know much about India at all, maybe a minimal amount about miniature painting, I had never seen any Indian art in person that I remember, so I was very naïve and uninformed and thus probably also very open to wherever the experience might take me. Everything from activity on the streets, the regional diversity of Indian geography, food, popular culture, religion, architecture and national and local politics was a revelation. I veered between moments of ecstasy and despair and many feelings in-between, nothing had ever in my life produced such strong and constantly shifting emotions.  I came to love the old city of Ahmedabad in particular and have visited many times since to visit close friends.  From Delhi I traveled all over Rajasthan and also to Khajuraho and Varanasi. (Varanasi remains my favorite city in India). I loved seeing art in all of the museums.  Aside from Folk art I was drawn to miniature painting and work that I will describe as “diagrammatic or ritual” from Jain traditions as well as tantric cosmology diagrams etc.

However, it was my visit to the Crafts museum in Delhi that had at that time, the greatest impact. I always say that it was the first day of the rest of my visits to India. I felt powerfully drawn to work I saw there and when I came back I threw myself into research, relying on friends with more knowledge of India than I did who guided my research and eventually encouraged me  to apply for a Fulbright. I was starting from scratch because I wanted to know everything at once, about religion and philosophy and art. (I now have a very substantial library of books on all of these subjects that started then.)

I also had in 2002 an amazing opportunity to curate what turned out to be a very large exhibition of Indian art, titled Masala, Diversity and Democracy in South Asian Art at our university museum, the Benton Museum of Art, I worked on that for several years and it opened in 2004. It was as someone described a “crash course in Indian art” and was reviewed by Holland Cotter in the NY Times and in Art India magazine.  It introduced me to many artists in the Diaspora, including two artists who co-curated two sections of the show, photography, Annu Matthew and art of the Diaspora, Siona Benjamin.  Bose Pacia loaned most of the contemporary work and it was through Bose Pacia that I really came to know and appreciate contemporary Indian art.

To continue the sense of synergy at that time, UConn also started a new India studies program for which I served on the board. It was then that I created my new course Indian Art and Popular Culture. This course allowed me to organize what I had been learning on my own in a form and structure that would allow me to share my love of Indian art with my students.

My interest in contemporary art came later. When I first came to India, aside from hearing about and then meeting with Peter Nagy, from Nature Morte Gallery in Delhi, there was not much that was accessible to me about contemporary art and I was much more interested in miniature painting and folk art, types of art that many artists who travel to India are initially drawn to. My interest in contemporary art started during my Fulbright in 2002 when I was meeting art professors and students and it was through these personal connections that I developed an interest in researching Indian contemporary art.

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