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India’s Experimenter focusses on the “now” with RAQS and Kolkata location – an interview with Prateek Raja

Posted by artradar on September 16, 2010


KOLKATA CONTEMPORARY ART PRACTICE ART GALLERIES INTERVIEWS

For a gallery that is just over a year old, Experimenter, co-owned, run and mostly curated by husband-and-wife duo Prateek Raja and Priyanka Raja, is quickly becoming a critical current in the very new trend of gallery spaces interested strictly in the contemporary. It is a welcome break from the traditional gallery system that regularly falls back on the moderns of Indian art.

A month before the duo heads off to the Frieze Art Fair in London this October, the gallery is wrapping up a show called “This is Unreal“. Featuring artists Susanta Mandal, Yamini Nayar and RAQS Media Collective, the show was conceived by the Rajas as an idea to cohere the multiple realities of modern life.  At the crux of the show is the idea of the manipulation of what is real – artists consistently create and break realities leaving the viewer in a constant state of doubt and speculation. This event marks the eighth show in the gallery’s young but accomplished life.

Art Radar Asia spoke with Prateek Raja from Experimenter about the gallery, the show, the art scene in India generally and in Kolkata; Kolkata is a city that has produced a number of great artists, but lags behind Delhi and Mumbai in the art market scene.

Raja on the Gallery, artists RAQS, Susanta Mandal and Yamini Nayar

The title is provoking. Why “This is Unreal”? Tell us how this project came about.

“This project came about from an initial idea of confronting modern day conspiracies and then filtered down to how everything today is projected as something and is in reality something else. The topic was left open for the artists to interpret in a way they saw fit. However, at this point I would like to say that we work with a different kind of approach. Our shows originate in conceptual ideas first and then we invite artists whose work has been in the kind of direction we are thinking to respond to that idea [or] concept. So all these artists within the realm of their practice have the ability to project multiple realities from the same experience.”

Tell us about yourselves. You are a husband-wife duo – both educated in Asian art at Sotheby’s. How did Experimenter happen for you and how does this partnership work?

“We both had this common urge to work together in the contemporary scene while Priyanka was at Proctor & Gamble and I was consulting on contemporary Indian art. Then she decided to take the plunge in mid 2008 and we opened the gallery in April 2009. In between, we did a short course on contemporary Asian art at Sotheby’s. Priyanka is the planner. She works out all the details. She is the arms and legs of the gallery. I do some of the thinking, but we both do the curatorial thinking together. We do only six shows a year, but believe me, its not easy to plan, ideate and keep a natural flow to the exhibitions for the six that we do. In fact, we balance each other out very well. That’s how this partnership works really.”

Experimenter is invested in capturing the “plurality of expression.” It is also deeply interested in the “now.” Tell us a little about this. How does this show fit into this paradigm?

“‘The plurality of expression’ comes from the inclination to introduce multiple mediums of expression and at the same time challenge the viewers to question established aspects of viewing contemporary art and break pre-conceived notions. It is also very linked into “now” because whatever we show or plan to show is about our generation, is about what is happening now and is reflective of what our society, our values, our systems project “now.” And if you look at people, organisations, governments, and the society around us, you will slowly peel off layer after layer to eventually derive your own understanding of the world, which might be completely unlike what you had originally perceived it to be. So the title does provoke in that sense by calling things unreal. Sometimes, one does not even have to go deep, just viewing an idea from a different point of view gives a completely new meaning to it. That’s the essence of this show.”

Tell us about the works in this show.

“RAQS has contributed three pieces, Skirmish, The Librarian’s Lucid Dream and I Did Not Hear.

Installation view detail of RAQS Media Collective's 'Skirmish', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition from the show "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Installation view detail of RAQS Media Collective's 'Skirmish', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition from the show "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Skirmish is a narrative about an estranged couple continuing their ‘skirmish’ on the walls of an unsuspecting city. The woman paints keys that are similar to the keys to her apartment that she had given to her partner, whom she has since distanced herself from, and the man cannot go anywhere without seeing the keys and recognises what a mockery she is making of his yearning for her. Yet in response he paints padlocks on the walls to continue that skirmish (and in a sense continue the only way of communicating with her) while the city assumes it’s just locksmiths and key-makers that have stepped up their business.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'Librarians Lucid Dream', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'The Librarian's Lucid Dream', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

The second work is a wallpaper called The Librarian’s Lucid Dream that forms the backdrop against which Skirmish is installed. It’s an interpretation of a librarian’s dream through just assemblages of texts. These are titles of books but all the titles are mixed up to created new meanings and realities.

The video I Did Not Hear is of a shooter at a shooting range. While the headphones on the viewer lead him or her through an abstract narrative, a rather sinister scaffolding of events is generated by the voice which in turn leads to multiple possible identities and roles for the shooter.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'I did not hear', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'I did not hear', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Mandal creates a kinetic sculptural installation which has a screen and a light source behind that projects an image of a boiling bowl of liquid on an open flame. Using a common scene of ‘cooking something,’ Mandal makes a pun of the phrase ‘cook up’ to express how most things today are indeed cooked up to project a reality quite different from the factual truth.

An untitled installation by Susanta Mandal, as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

An untitled installation by Susanta Mandal, as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Nayar’s process is essential to the show. She creates sculptural assemblages from found objects, creates them for the camera, and after photographing them destroys the objects, thereby destroying the physical existence of the source of the photograph. The works form a point of entry into the object but do not quite reveal their actual meaning.”

Pursuit_Archival C Print on Paper. Yamini Nayar. Image courtesy Gallery Experimenter from the show "This is Unreal"

Yamini Nayar, 'Pursuit', archival C print on paper. Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

RAQS Media Collective has come a long way since 1992 when they started out as a group of three media practitioners in the art world. What do you make of RAQS’ growing popularity in the international arts scene?

“They are a super super important artist collective. Any international curator or museum with any interest in contemporary Indian art will know the importance RAQS has on the Indian scene. And how the international market sees India is also defined by the shows that get seen at important venues like the ones that RAQS show in. Their practice is very critical to the Indian scene internally as well. They have some very interesting things lined up this year in Europe. We will also show them solo in February 2011 … and at the India Art Summit in January 2011 in New Delhi within a group show.”

This is your first time working with RAQS, Mandal and Nayar. How was the experience?

“Absolutely fantastic. They are very professional artists. Works and concepts were discussed (that were true to Experimenter’s way of working) over a year ago and we fleshed out ideas to finally put this show on. The most interesting bit is that their work really fits well together.”

Trends in Indian art

Do you think gallery spaces in India are generally not very encouraging for installation art?

“No. I don’t think so. It’s just that this is a growing population and, like all things new and different, installations have some amount of resistance to viewing and experiencing them, even now. From a point of view of being open to exhibiting installation art, there are a bunch of new galleries like us who are doing interesting things.”

Installation art and conceptual art are increasingly popular with Indian artists today. Do you see this as a trend?

“It’s a natural progression of what the Indian art scene is. The newer, younger galleries are looking to show this form of work. You have to know at the same time that the Western art viewing audience also saw this development in other countries several years ago and that’s possibly the trajectory we might see here in India too, but over the medium term.”

Kolkata on the Indian art map

Describe for us the arts scene in Kolkata? Why not set up Experimenter in Delhi or Mumbai?

“Because its the only city in the country where one can have viewers coming back three times over, spending two hours at the gallery. This is a city where art, literature, philosophy and politics all feature in regular conversations with regular people. It’s also a city which is extremely responsive to new forms of cultural influences and it’s fun to stir things up in a somewhat sidelined city!

Opening an Experimenter in Mumbai and/or Delhi would be easy and just another … contemporary space would have been added to the growing number we see today. In Kolkata, you are really making an impact on the visual arts scene with a program like ours.”

What has your experience been working in the Kolkata arts scene? How do you compare it with Delhi and Mumbai?

“Fantastic. For Experimenter at least, we have some very exciting collections in Kolkata that we are adding work to and we are evolving a new generation of collectors. Of course, we make sure that everything is available online – one can show works, do short videos of installations, gallery walk-through videos and share the program with the world. To give a small example, we will be the only Indian gallery at Frieze Art Fair, London this year. We did not apply; they hunted us down and asked for us to apply and we got through in the curated section where there will be only about twenty young galleries from all over the world. We are probably the youngest, too. Experimenter turned a year old in April this year.”

Do you feel it’s difficult to straddle the roles of gallery owner and curator?

“For us, a gallery is an extension of who the owners are. It’s our program. It’s not like a large faceless organisation, so curating shows for the gallery comes with what we want to show and how we respond to things in today’s world as people. So it’s not tough. It’s critical that we put our minds to developing the program in such a way that there is reflection of the ‘now’ in whatever we do. Also, most of our shows are quite political in nature and we like that. We like to make people a little uncomfortable.”

AM/KN/HH

Related Topics: Indian contemporary art, interviews, trends: fact and fiction blur

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Sotheby’s to hold first ever international auction house sale of calligraphy in Doha

Posted by artradar on July 28, 2010


ART MARKET ART AUCTIONS CALLIGRAPHY DOHA

Sotheby’s London recently announced it will hold the first ever international auction house sale dedicated solely to calligraphy in Doha, Qatar, at The Ritz-Carlton Doha hotel, on 15 December. The groundbreaking calligraphy auction Hurouf: The Art of the World will showcase various works ranging from very early Islamic calligraphies to a mix of modern and contemporary Arabic, Farsi and Ottoman Turkish works.

Highlights of the forthcoming auction will travel through the Gulf Region prior to sale, one of which being Ali Omar Ermes’ The Fourth Ode which has an estimated price ranging from USD250,000 to USD350,000.

Ali Omar Ermes's 'The Fourth Ode' (acrylic and ink on paper).
Ali Omar Ermes’s ‘The Fourth Ode’ (acrylic and ink on paper).

Calligraphy is an art form that has influenced the Doha art scene for many years, and Sotheby’s believes this sale represents the region’s past and present talents. Says Roberta Louckx, Sotheby’s Executive Vice President and Head of Sotheby’s in Qatar, in a the press release announcing the sale:

We are delighted to return to Doha later this year with an inaugural auction devoted to ‘calligraphy’, a theme that has inspired and informed the art of this rich and diverse culture throughout the ages – from the production of the first Kufic Qur’ans to the modern and contemporary artworks of Farhad Moshiri. Sotheby’s is strongly committed to the region, and we are extremely excited to present for sale, in Qatar, the creative endeavours of some of the region’s most talented artists, past and present.

According to the press release, the forthcoming calligraphy sale is built on the success of last year’s Doha sales. After opening an office in Doha in 2008, Sotheby’s held maiden sales in March last year during which an Indian carpet made of pearls and gems fetched USD5.5 million, although the Bloomberg article which reported on this sale also mentioned that the prices of the auctions were disappointing in general. As Dalya Islam, Director of Sotheby’s Middle East Arab & Iranian Art Department, states in the press release,

Last year at our Doha sales Sotheby’s achieved solid success for works by highly sought-after Arab artists such as Chafic Abboud, Nabil Nahas, Ayman Baalbaki, Yousef Ahmad and Ali Hassan. In order to build on this, we have decided to devote a sale to works of significant interest to the region, focusing on calligraphy. The Arabic script has stimulated artists for more than a millennium, and is still a highly regarded and revered art form that reflects the rich history of the region. The auction will emphasise the enduring legacy of Islamic art by tracing the development of calligraphy, with a focus on its contemporary manifestation.

CBKM/KN

Related Topics:  market watch – auctions, calligraphy, Middle Eastern artists

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Is text writing or image? Bloomberg prize-winner Phoebe Hui examines – video interview

Posted by artradar on June 29, 2010


HONG KONG ARTISTS VIDEO ARTIST INTERVIEW

In a short five minute interview on ChooChooTV’s weekly show [art]attack, emerging Hong Kong artist Phoebe Hui gives viewers a peek at her creative process.

In the interview, Hui expresses a strong interest in the transformation of text from one medium to another.  To her, such transformations serve as a way of linking text to other concepts.

Artist Phoebe Hui at work in her studio

Artist Phoebe Hui at work in her studio.

“The way I view text is not just a form of communication but also as an image.”

By removing the meaning of written words, Hui transforms them into more than just a method of verbal expression. In an early piece titled Doublets Doublets Doublets, Hui bases her process on a game by author Lewis Carroll.

“I will remove one alphabet letter in a word…and gradually change other letters too. These are still text that we are familiar with but once we change it our focus is no longer on the meaning of the text but simply on the relation of the symbols.”

After graduating from the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong Kong, the artist travelled to England where she studied for a masters degree at the University of the Arts London. Following graduation she decided to move back to Hong Kong.

Although Hui has achieved considerable success as a young artist, it has not come without disappointments. On her move to London from Hong Kong Hui states:

“For me, my path from attaining the scholarship from HKADC [Hong Kong Arts and Development Council], I thought I would have a very successful year in London, but it was not as good as I thought it would be.”

In spite of this setback, Hui went on to win the Bloomberg Emerging Artist award in 2008 after her return to Hong Kong, an accomplishment she is “very satifisfied with.”

While she expresses concern about support for artists’ programs from both organisations and Hong Kong audiences, she remains positive and driven.

“It seems like a very successful road, but I’m still not where I want to be.”

Watch the video here (length of video, 5:22 mins).

EH/KN

Related Topics: Hong Kong artistsemerging artistsinstallation art, conceptual art

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“The Empire Strikes Back – Indian art Today” at Saatchi Gallery: critics’ review roundup

Posted by artradar on February 24, 2010


INDIAN CONTEMPORARY ART

“The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today” opened on 28 January 2010 at Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London. It has received attention from critics interested in both the cultural implications of contemporary Indian art in British society and the exhibition’s impact on the art market.

Intensity and violence are found in some stand out works but the consensus suggests an uneven show.

According to the Business Standard, over 100 works of 26 Indian artists are being displayed. Price estimates are included for some works.

Also concerned with the art market, Colin Gleadell of The Daily Telegraph contemplates the impact of “The Empire Strikes Back” on the value of Saatchi’s investment in Indian contemporary art. He also summarises the fluctuations in the Indian contemporary art market.

Generally, critics’ reviews have been mixed: though they support the concept of showing contemporary Indian artists, many claim that there are only a few standouts.

The Financial Times‘s Peter Aspden is intrigued by “contrast between the work’s wholesome message and the gruesome imagery used to deliver it” in Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice 2, the first work in the show.

Jitish Kallat, Public Notice 2

Jitish Kallat, Public Notice 2

He then interviews Rebecca Wilson, the associate director of Saatchi Gallery. She explains Saatchi Gallery’s reasons for organising the show, focusing on global trends regarding Indian and Pakistani contemporary art and the sheer volume of new artists from the region.

The Guardian’s Adrian Searle begins with “One might expect Charles Saatchi to show just the sorts of things that are presented,” listing works like Huma Mulji’s Arabian Delight and Atul Dodiya’s Fool’s House as expected works. He concludes “A lot of the work looks exoticised for the gallery, the artists playing their post-colonial otherness as a gimmick, rather than making art of substance.”

JJ Charlesworth of Time Out London also concedes that there are works of “bog-obviousness,” but especially praises Chitra Ganesh’s Tales of Amnesia, consisting of 21 comic-inspired prints that question the role of femininity in society.

Husband-and-wife Subdoh Gupta and Bharti Kher impress Ben Luke of London’s Evening Standard, though he mentions the “collection’s unevenness.”

Bharti Kher, An Absence of Assignable Cause

Bharti Kher, An Absence of Assignable Cause

Luke is especially interested in Bharti Kher’s An Absence of Assignable Cause, which is her conception of a sperm whale’s heart covered in bindis.

The Times’ Joanna Pitman is fascinated by the artists who “push their media into almost illegible territories, as if to say that art could not possibly be adequate to record what really matters.”

Probir Gupta’s painting Anxiety of the Unfamiliar and Tallur L.N.’s Untitled both depict what she describes as “bleary fragments, the chance events, and barely registered perceptions of this imbalanced, disturbed country.”

However, Pitman also comments on the unevenness of the show: “Many works resemble the outpourings of pained and confused undergraduate minds.”

Mark Sheerin of Culture 24 is also struck by the intensity present throughout the works. He  claims that, “At best, such high impact work can astound and violently re-orient you” and cites Tushar Joag’s The Enlightening Army of the Empire’s “skeletal, spectral band of robotic figures” as a prime example.

Tushar Joag, The Enlightening Army of the Empire

Tushar Joag, The Enlightening Army of the Empire

He encourages the reader to “come and let the works do violence to you. They should be resisted, if at all.”

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AL/KCE

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Questioning “Made in China” – Interview Avant-Garde Beijing Artist: Huang Rui

Posted by artradar on October 28, 2009


CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART

Artist Huang Rui standing in front of the Comerchina exhibition.

Artist Huang Rui standing in front of Shadow at Comerchina exhibition at 10 Chancery Gallery.

 Father of contemporary Chinese art, Huang Rui  is a Beijing artist who dares to think and act differently in a society that demands conformity. Prominent founder of the historically momentous 1979 Stars Group as well as the famous Beijing 798 Factory, Huang Rui showcases his exhibition Comerchina at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery (17 Sep – 10 Oct 2009) in Hong Kong.

Characteristic of his previous work such as “拆那(demolition)/China”, this series of new paintings called “Hall of Fame” is a collage that tweaks a pun on advertising imagery contributed by online participants.

In an exclusive interview with Art Radar, Huang Rui explains the layers of political and economic connotations in Comerchina, the difficulties facing art in this consumer society and the impossibility of escaping political scrutiny.

Q: Why is the exhibition called Comerchina?

ComerChina coverThe theme is related to commercialization and China. Ever since the 1990’s, China has become more and more commercialized in three aspects.

First, politics is becoming a servant of commerce. Second, commerce is labeled with cultural slogans. Third, the entire structure of society is changing and, as an integrated society,  is very dangerous.

 It’s different from a global society, which is only an element of an integrated society. It’s not a dictatorship, but rather a particular organizational system.  

Politics, the demand for a rise in economic standards and personal interests means that other important concerns such as art are being sacrificed. We need to reflect, criticize, and protest.

Q: How do your new paintings and installations in this show speak to over-commercialization and the power of money in China? What do the numbers represent? 

Hall of Fame 1-25 by Huang Rui, silk-screen printing/collage/canvas, 45X60X25cm pieces, 2009

Hall of Fame 1-25 by Huang Rui, silk-screen printing/collage/canvas, 45X60X25cm pieces, 2009

If someone attacks you, you attack him as well. It’s a natural response. In my work, the number represents you and me, since everyone uses cell phones. In the work of a 100-yuan bill with Mao, there are 100 numbers. 100 out of 100 represents an integrated society. “Made in China” refers to the global economy and the power of cooperation.

Q: How do you see contemporary art in China evolving? Where is it going (the trends)? Would you consider yourself a trend leader?

 

 

Chairman Mao Wan Yuan by Huang Rui, 128X88X4.6X6cm, 2006

Chairman Mao Wan Yuan by Huang Rui, 128X88X4.6X6cm, 2006

 

 

Huang Rui’s take on trends in Chinese contemporary art

It’s getting more commercialized, there is more variety and commerce is a factor that makes cooperation indispensable. Chinese society in the South including Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Shenzhen are producing imitation art. Hong Kong is focused on business, so real art is hard to develop. Artists in Hong Kong either have to bear with it or move out. It’s not up to the individual artists to enforce change. Our power is confined to criticizing and perhaps creating new structures or models, new thinking, and making proposals. To lead changes in the art world, it is up to the social elites, the politicians, and the urban planners.

Q: In your work Shadow, the characters taken together mean “maintain dictatorship of the proletariat”**. Would this work be permitted in mainland China?

 

Shadow(1-25) by Huang Rui, 90X60X27cm, oil on canvas, silkscreen lithograph, 2009

Shadow(1-25) by Huang Rui, 90X60X27cm, oil on canvas, silkscreen lithograph, 2009

 

 

It is now permitted, but this only happened recently. There were a lot of controversies with the Twin Tower (2001), which comprised layers of words and political expressions. My intent was to draw an analogy. The Twin Towers in New York were a symbol of menace as well as a political and economic strength. Likewise, the thinking of Mao and that of Jiang Ze Min are symbols of power yet also have tones of menace. Another work of mine that was banned from exhibition was “Chairman Mao Wan Yuan“(2006) [Note: wan sui in Chinese refers to “longevity” or “10,000 years”. The character wan also means 10,000.]

Many of my works were not just banned in China, but also elsewhere such as Japan, where I used to live. In 2005, there was a 3D Asian Art Fair in Korea and Singapore, but the Consulate General of China protested against the exhibition of my work.

**note: In the Commerchina book that Huang Rui gave me, there are pages of quotations by Mao categorized respectively under upholding, proletariat, classes, and dictatorship

Twin Tower by Huang Rui

Twin Tower by Huang Rui

Q: Tell us about your activity as an artist against political force.

I participated in the Wall of Democratic Rule (1978-1981) in Beijing. With Deng Xiao Ping’s permission, people could voice their opinions, until Deng Xiao Ping withdrew the democratic wall in 1980. I also participated in an underground magazine about arts and literature.  In 1979, I founded the Stars Group of 1979 along with other members. Just search on the web and you’ll easily unearth a lot of information about the group.

WM/KE

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