Inspiring India: Experimenter Curators’ Hub 2013

Curators from around the world come together to inspire India’s art scene at a two day curating conference in Kolkata.

Are politics, globalisation, time or money the biggest challenges facing curators today? The Curators’ Hub conference, hosted by Experimenter Gallery, brings together ten international art curators from 26 to 27 July 2013 to critically discuss curatorial practice at a “crucial juncture” in India’s contemporary art history.

Dr Inke Arns speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

Dr Inke Arns speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

The third edition of the Experimenter Curators’ Hub (ECH) will take place on 26 and 27 July 2013 at Experimenter in Kolkata, India. Ten international curators will give presentations focusing on their curatorial practice and highlight their exhibitions of the past two years.

Experimenter, a gallery founded in 2009, initiated the Experimenter Curators’ Hub in 2011. According to the ECH press release, the conference organisers wish to focus on India’s curatorial practice, which they see as being at a “crucial juncture”; the hope is that input from curators from various institutions and practices will help inspire change within India’s art scene.

Adip Dutta, 'I have a face but a face of what I am not', 2011 installation view at Experimenter. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Adip Dutta, ‘I have a face but a face of what I am not’, 2011, installation view at Experimenter. Image courtesy Experimenter.

The two day conference will be based around individual presentations by the ten participating curators. An open session will conclude the conference, “where artists, thinkers, collectors, writers, other curators, filmmakers, gallerists and other individuals from the arts will interact with each other to take the conversations productively forward”, as stated in the event’s press release.

Raqs Media Collective, 'Premonition', 2011 exhibition at Experimenter. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Raqs Media Collective, ‘Premonition’, 2011 exhibition at Experimenter. Image courtesy Experimenter.

The ten invited curators are:

Experimenter at Art Basel 2013. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Experimenter at Art Basel 2013. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Some of the issues the curators plan to discuss are the current challenges and key issues facing curators in the twenty-first century, and what they personally encounter. Art Radar spoke to some of the curators to find out more about the issues at hand.

Oliver Kielmayer, Director of Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland, talks about cultural budgets, politics and time for contemplation.

Money is of course an issue. In Europe, public support of museums has become more and more problematic in the last few years. Cultural budgets tend to be frozen if not cut, so in total the expenses for culture became a smaller part in the government’s total budget. It’s not only a society that wants to consume mass media but also artists and curators who did not communicate to politicians and failed to build an effective kind of lobby. The interface of politics and visual arts has been neglected for too long and should be paid more attention in the future.

Also time is very rare. Time to discuss and reflect, time to think together about something. A curator’s daily business is too often too much about organising things, getting things done and not enough about creative thinking. Here, a symposium can certainly help, because the only thing to do is basically to listen and to learn from each other. Which brings us to the networking issue: super important, but also time-intensive, the conference is of course the perfect occasion to improve one’s own network.

Conferences are also good for thinking about the immediate future, and how to implement any changes. According to Kielmayer, globalisation will still be a key issue, but it could mean a long term period of cultural stability.

Globalisation of the art world will possibly move on, more and more countries will become part of it … This means more artists, more curators, more everything. As human beings have a limited capacity, it might result in a system that even more than now focuses on so called [international] superstars. At the same time this means that local art scenes will become more important; hopefully not in a way that local scenes are cut off from the international discourse and influenced by local traditions and political power, as is still often the case at the moment.

The conference organisers also hope the various discussions will help to create change. In regarding what actions can help to create change, Kielmayer said,

I am not such a big optimist here, as I think the most important and substantial changes are not made in the system of museums and curators, but in schools and parliaments. Aesthetic discourse must first be acknowledged as a basic social and human competence, only then it can become a vital part of a society – and not a distinctive feature of a rich, sophisticated and privileged elite only.

Diana Campbell speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

Diana Campbell speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

UK-based Alessandro Vincentelli could not comment on the Southeast Asian art scene directly, but saw the importance of the ECH conference for challenging preconceptions and creating new awareness.

What I will say is that the Experimenter Hub reflects the growing importance of focused structured events where it is not scale and numbers that matter – like the mega-biennial congresses, but rather workshop-oriented and focused conversations among curators where there can be a proximity to art practice and to seeing new work.

Meera Menezes speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

Meera Menezes speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

The Otolith Group, 'In the year 2103' exhibition view at Experimenter in 2011. Image courtesy Experimenter.

The Otolith Group, ‘In the year 2103’ exhibition view at Experimenter in 2011. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Giving his take on the future of curation, Vincentelli saw a shift away from the western world.

[It’s] difficult to say what things will look like in five years, but long term collaborations for international making of exhibitions with artists will, I believe, be important. I also can see plenty of new dynamics that are entirely within South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East for residencies, exchanges and for models of presentation. Ones that don’t necessarily need dialogue or mediation through Europe and America. That I am sure is likely to be the case.  It would however be meaningful to see stronger public institutional structures within India for supporting modern and contemporary art rather than leaving it to individual collector foundations. That is a hope rather than a prediction.

The audience at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

The audience at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

Regarding the curators conference in general, Alessandro Vincentelli said:

Experimenter’s programme has, in just a few years, shown real ambition bringing together intelligent questioning work, often drawing on new technology and from a roster of artists with definite missions – RAQS Media Collective, Bani AbidiNaeem Mohaiemen – as well as finding platforms for newer artists such as Hajra Waheed and provocative new work by artists such as Omer Fast. It has also clearly brought work by pertinent and critically engaged others to Kolkata, such as UK based The Otolith Group.

Patrick Gosatti speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

Patrick Gosatti speaks at ECH 2012. Image courtesy ECH.

Asked if the global economy was an issue for curators worldwide, Vincentelli replied:

The financial crisis has had a particular effect of forcing a reconsideration of several things, not least the resilience of traditional structures and perhaps the artist studio/art fair/collector circle: [this circle] had become super-accelerated and was leading to burnout. Last time I was in Kolkata the financial slow down did not seem to have had much effect on India, or was only just starting to. I suspect it is different now, but hopefully other things have developed. It is radically different context.

Rathin Barman, 'And My Eyes Fill With Sand…', 2012, installation at Experimenter. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Rathin Barman, ‘And My Eyes Fill With Sand…’, 2012, installation at Experimenter. Image courtesy Experimenter.

India-based Girish Shahane sees the importance of having such a conference, but also realises the two day talk is not the panacea for the art world’s woes.

I think the Curators’ Hub is an excellent initiative and the flow of ideas it facilitates is necessary. However, I don’t personally believe it will create much change in the art world at large, even the South Asian art world.

Susan Kendzulak

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Related Topics: art curators, curatorial practice, the Indian art scene, conferences, events in Kolkata

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