In July 2016, 11 acclaimed curators joined the three-day event at Kolkata-based Experimenter Gallery to share their experience on curating.

Art Radar reports on the 6th edition of the Experimenter Curators’ Hub, which took place in late July 2016. The event brought together some of the foremost minds in curatorial practice worldwide. Read here about Cosmin Costinas’ and Dayanita Singh’s presentations.

Experimenter Curators’ Hub 2016. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Experimenter Curators’ Hub 2016. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Experimenter Curators’ Hub (ECH) 2016 took place from 28 to 30 July 2016 at Experimenter in Kolkata, India. Eleven renowned international curators and artists were invited to the Hub to give presentations on their recent curatorial projects.

ECH has been a crucial platform for developing and sustaining discourse on curatorial practice and exhibition making. This year the curators’ hub broadened its scope by including curators of architecture and design as well as curators of visual art. Past iterations have seen the participation of influential art world figures, including Jitish Kallat, Doryun Chong and Shanay Jhaveri.

This year, the participating curators and artists included:

Art Radar summarises the presentations given by Cosmin Costinas, the Romania-born director of Hong Kong’s leading contemporary art center Para Site, as well as that of widely acclaimed Indian artist Dayanita Singh.

Cosmin Costinas. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Cosmin Costinas. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Cosmin Costinas: On Quarantine and Xenophobia

Cosmin Costinas was born in Satu Mare, Romania in 1982. He studied art history and history at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Previously, he co-curated the 10th Shanghai Biennale (2014-2015); BAK, Basis for Actual Knowledge, Utrecht (2008-2011); the 1st Ural Industrial Biennial, Ekaterinburg (2010); and was the editor of dOCUMENTA 12 Magazines (2005–2007). At Para Site, Costinas oversaw the institution’s relocation to a new home in 2015 and co-curated exhibitions such as “Afterwork” (2016), “The World is Our Home. A Poem on Abstraction”( 2015-16) and “A Journal of the Plague Year” (2013). At BAK, he curated “Spacecraft Icarus 13. Narratives of Progress from Elsewhere” (2011).

Curatorial premise of Para Site’s exhibition “A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story”

In his presentation at ECH 2016, Costinas focused on one exhibition to explain his curatorial premise. Para Site’s exhibition “A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story” took place in the spring of 2013, which coincidentally happened a year before the Umbrella Revolution that saw Hong Kong citizens’ plea for democracy. The title of the exhibition, “Journal of the Plague Year”, references the famous novel of the same name by Daniel Defoe published in March 1772. The book recalls a man’s experiences of the Great Plague that occurred in 1665 in London.

Click here to watch Cosmin Costinas’s presentation at ECH 2016 on Vimeo

Method of Curating

Costinas sees similarities between the book and the social conditions globally and in Hong Kong. First, the events that occurred in the same period, which may or may not be related, are arranged in chronological fashion. Secondly, fear is the motivating factor behind all that was happening. The plague, which is a problem at home to London inhabitants, happened against the distant background of the Anglo-Dutch war. Similarly, the SARS crisis in Hong Kong, which happened in March 2003, share the same headlines on newspapers that report on the Iraq War, which took place in the same year on the other side of the world.

In both cases, fear destabilised the core centres of capitalism in West and East, namely London and Hong Kong, which caused financial instability and disrupted the stock market. To contextualise historically, Costinas points out that SARS indirectly caused the xenophobic sentiments of Hong Kong’s citizens towards mainland China. After the SARS crisis, the Hong Kong government responded by changing visa terms, allowing individual visits of mainlanders to Hong Kong.

This led to a sharp influx of mainland Chinese into Hong Kong territory, roughly 55 million people. The fear sowed by SARS of infecting biological agents translated into the fear of cultural and political invasion by the mainland Chinese. However, diseases know no border, and SARS, first started in the mainland, eventually spread to Hong Kong, the United States, and reached areas such as Bengal in India.

Cosmin Costinas' presentation at ECH 2016. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Cosmin Costinas’ presentation at ECH 2016. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Yellow Peril

‘Yellow Peril’, explained by Costinas, is the fear of people of Asian descent held by Europeans. Europeans see themselves as “civilised”, and they feel anxious about the “invasion” of Asians. This is especially true in regions such as North America and Australia, where Asians, mainly the Chinese, are willing to work for very low wages, sparking fear among the locals that the Asians may take away jobs.

Costinas cites a historical example of the rising power of Japan. In 1905, the Japanese defeated Russia, which sent shockwaves within Europe. It was the first time since the Mongolian invasion that a non-Western nation had defeated Europeans. In the 14th century, diseases were associated with Asians and the myth that Mongolians brought illnesses to Crimea prevails. Costinas also raised examples of other sorts of “diseases”. For instance, there was the type of ‘sickness’ that manifests when Chinese people fear other Chinese.

Adrian Wong, 'Sak Gai (Chicken Kiss)', 2007, digital print. Image courtesy the artist and Para Site.

Adrian Wong, ‘Sak Gai (Chicken Kiss)’, 2007, digital print. Image courtesy the artist and Para Site.

Colonial History and the Xenophobia of Hong Kong towards Mainland China

Costinas mentions that the fear of pathogens runs deep in colonial history in the context of Hong Kong and India. The phenomenon was brought about by the British colonisers through politicising diseases. In the 19th century, there were two schools of thought regarding diseases. The first was that ailments are spread from individuals to individuals. The other was the miasmatic theory, which proposes that diseases come from external sources such as soil or air. The tension between taking quarantine measures by closing off borders versus free trade, favoured by the British, was evident.

The analogy of illnesses echoes with the increasing xenophobic conditions in Hong Kong towards the mainland, which is seen in the democratic movements in Hong Kong. In terms of economic restrictions, Costinas raised the example of baby milk powder formula scares in China that led to the Hong Kong government’s ban on selling baby milk powder to the mainland Chinese. He notes the irony that while Hong Kong is one of the freest economies in the world, the government chooses to implement such measure. Costinas also observes the trend of depictions of the mainland Chinese as “locusts” by Hong Kong citizens. The animal imagery dehumanises its subjects.

Ricky Yeung Sau-churk, 'Man and Cage', 1987. Image courtesy the artist and Para Site.

Ricky Yeung Sau-churk, ‘Man and Cage’, 1987. Image courtesy the artist and Para Site.

Works in the exhibition and upcoming curatorial projects

Costinas discusses the works featured in the Para Site show he curated in 2013. The artworks include a giant map of China made from Baby Milk Powder Formula Cans by Ai Weiwei, a critique of the Hong Kong government; a work by artist Ricky Yeung Sau-churk created ten years before the handover that depicts a fragile human body – a strategy that serves as a counterpoint to the dehumanizing aspects surrounding it; and a work by Chicano group Asco from the 1970s that protests against the discrimination by the United States against Chicanos.

Costinas also comments on the significance of including the image of pop star Leslie Cheung in the exhibition. Cheung, who is the symbol of the Cantonese-speaking culture of old Hong Kong, committed suicide by jumping off the top of Mandarin Oriental hotel in the heart of Hong Kong, signifying the end of the flourishing Hong Kong before the handover. To sum up his presentation, Costinas briefly discussed his upcoming projects, including “Global Fascism”, curated with Inti Guerrero. The show is slated to be held in a museum in Brazil and will travel. Works in the exhibition include Mexican painter Siqueiros’s art and traditional Japanese paintings which serve as propaganda tools.

Dayanita Singh. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Dayanita Singh. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Dayanita Singh: the photographic image and the mobile museum

Dayanita Singh is an artist who uses photo books as her medium. Stemming from Singh’s interest in the archive, the museums present her photographs as interconnected bodies of work that are replete with both poetic and narrative possibilities. Publishing is also a significant part of the artist’s practice and over the last few years Singh has been involved with her ongoing project Museum Bhavan, which has been shown at the Hayward Gallery, London (2013), the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2014), the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (2014) and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2016). Singh has also authored eleven books. Her twelfth book, Museum Bhavan, also published with Steidl, is forthcoming in Fall 2016.

Click here to watch Dayanita Singh’s presentation at ECH 2016 on Vimeo

Singh creates books from cut up contact sheets. When Singh created her 32nd book and was asked if it could be exhibited, she said:

No, these are letters […] these are made just by cutting up my contact sheets […] they are really like love letters to the people I travel with […] and two copies will be made; one would be travelling, and one would stay with me.

Dayanita Singh's presentation at ECH2016. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Dayanita Singh’s presentation at ECH2016. Image courtesy Experimenter.

In her work Museum Bhavan at the Hayward Gallery, comprising ‘7 + 2’ museums that travel and open at designated times, Singh endlessly displays, sequences, edits and archives the images in the museums herself. She plays with the notion of changing structures in exhibition-making and created the Museum of Chance, Museum of Little Ladies and File Room. Commenting on her multiple roles, she sighs:

I’m the Secretary, the registar, the curator, the director, the sweeper…

Commenting on institutions, Singh proclaims:

The idea for me is always I had to be independent of museums and galleries and that I should be able to take my work with me.

Valencia Tong


Related topics: Curatorial practice, photography, installation, painting, events in Kolkata

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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