The show relooks at the conceptual, notional and foundational role of drawing across various disciplines and media.
Art Radar talks to Experimenter gallery directors Prateek and Priyanka Raja about their latest show, “Drawn from Practice”.
The idea of drawing: a bridge between thought and action
“Drawn from Practice” is an exhibition that relooks at the role of drawing across a wide arc of disciplines and media, by exploring the conceptual idea of drawing more as a scaffolding, for building practices of expression, rather than restricting itself to a practitioner’s skill. The show goes beyond the world of visual arts to include performing arts, theatre, music, textile, writing, architecture and archives with 11 Indian artists including Abir Karmakar, Ashish Avikunthak, Aveek Sen, Badal Sarkar, Bijoy Jain, Kanishka Raja, Padmini Chettur, Rahul Jain, Sahil Naik, Srinath Iswaran and TM Krishna. Having opened simultaneously in both Experimenter spaces in Kolkata, “Drawn from Practice” works towards building a dialogue not only across artistic disciplines but also across spaces, by presenting a cohesive and unified programme across both locations.
The works on display, while being influenced by the traditional notion of drawing as markings, notations and sketches, takes its scope further and into the realm of drawing as thought, form and practice. While Abir Karmakar presents a painting installation juxtaposed with a working desk to draw a connection between the two, Ashish Avikunthak shows Rati Chakravyuh, an experimental, 106-minute single-take film that probes mythological and socio-political ideas through conversations between six newly-wed couples and a priestess. “Drawn from Practice” also celebrates the theatricality of artistic practice. On the one hand, it has writer and thinker Aveek Sen inhabiting the gallery throughout the exhibition while opening his writing practice to visitors. On the other hand, the works of a theatre director – the late Badal Sarkar – that are on display are indicative of a strong connection between the workshops he conducted, his writing practice and his artistic production.
The multiplicities of painter Kanishka Raja’s practice, Sahil Naik’s juxtaposition of architectural and sculptural influences, architect Bijoy Jain’s experimentations with form and shape, and contemporary dancer Padmini Chettur’s performative work Beautiful Thing 1 are also on display at this exhibition, to bridge the gap between an artist’s planning, preparation and final presentation. The works of revivalist textile designer Rahul Jain, vocalist and social commentator T.M. Krishna and photographer Srinath Iswaran amongst others, take the conceptual arc of drawing as a wide and impactful tool of thinking, in order to successfully activate their ideas in their respective practices. As mentioned in the statement accompanying the exhibition,
Though the development of inherently static haphazard notations, disorder, and initial ideas seem to animate much of the work on view in this exhibition, a coherent image is what ultimately emerges […] Recognising that drawing is often the starting point of work, or the bridge between thought and action, or a segue between conversation and advancement, the exhibition attempts to break away from generational boundaries and traditional disciplines by holding the idea of drawing at its kernel.
Art Radar speaks with the gallery’s directors Prateek and Priyanka Raja about the genesis of the show.
As the importance of draughtsmanship, as a critical building tool for artists to develop their artistic concept, is surfacing once again in contemporary art, could you share with Art Radar readers the genesis of “Drawn from Practice”?
The exhibition was brewing in our minds for a long time, as all exhibitions at Experimenter do. The fact that we spend so much time inside artists’ studios and with artists discussing work, allows us the rare privilege to be part of the creative process and we have observed with fascination over the years how artists develop work, how they think about their practices and the range and depth of references they ‘draw’ from. “Drawn from Practice” is an attempt to immerse into this thinking process and activity.
The exhibition is less about draughtsmanship, and much more about thinking about drawing, not just as an act of putting pencil to paper, but more as a conceptual thought, of finding the scaffoldings that go behind the artistic process. The exhibition is ambitious and multidimensional because it does not restrict itself to visual arts only, but extends its scope to include writers, theatre practitioners, classical singers, weavers and architects, exploring their deep seated process of thinking about their own work and opening up a nuanced insight into their practice.
You have curated the work of 11 very different Indian artists – each with their own unique artistic language. How did you seamlessly integrate their work into your curatorial vision for this show?
The range of work in the exhibition is diverse, and seamlessness is really an impossible idea when it comes to bringing such a range of practices together. In fact, it is important for this show to put across the overlaps and the slippages between these practices as that makes the exhibition discursive and immersive. Yet a strong sense of cohesion reveals itself when the works are shown together. Since this is an exhibition that looks at the process with equal interest as the completed work of art, it is materially very rich, from notes and diaries of the artists, to books, reference materials, research photographs and screenplays, which accompany the works on view. “Drawn from Practice” roots itself on looking inwards revealing aspects of the artist’s work that might not be otherwise seen.
Along the same lines, the exhibition is a unified programme across both Experimenter locations in Kolkata. How did you ensure consistency of message for visitors and ensure cohesiveness in their visual experience? And what part did your locations – both 1930s style-restored structures – play in the project?
One of the foundational reasons for our new space was to be able to extend our program across a wider physical space and this is the first exhibition for us that actually brings together that vision,to straddle both spaces equally. The exhibition opened simultaneously on the same day and time to underscore the cohesiveness of the program across both spaces, with some of the artists’ works on view across these spaces.
An exhibition of this nature and scale needs a certain immersion and each work and decision of installing a particular artist’s work with another was deliberated multiple times before we made a decision. There is of course, a precise reason for each work to coexist with the other in the show and that comes across beautifully across both spaces. For example, the notes, stage drawings, collages and archives of the avant-garde theatre writer and director, late Badal Sarkar are on view with the drawings, notations, journal and video of a particular piece by contemporary performance artist, Padmini Chettur, while the Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna’s lecture demonstrations and books are in the room adjacent.
The juxtaposing of such public practices across generations brings about a certain dialogue that immerses one into the workings of this show. The architecture plays a significant role as it would play for any exhibition. At the Hindusthan Road gallery for example, the work of Rahul Jain, which is a delicately woven velvet textile revived over years of research (loaned from the collection of the Devi Arts Foundation, New Delhi has been suspended from ceiling in the central depressed courtyard of the space with a mirror placed directly underneath the fabric to show its weaving techniques that provide a glimpse into the technical aspects of the work. This piece is also installed directly in front of a large and imposing painting I & I, by Kanishka Raja that employs painting, weaving, embroidery and printing. The adjacent room has three works, commenting on architecture and material by artist and architect Bijoy Jain, which from the point of view of process, include materials such as banana fibre, turmeric and vermillion. These works form an interesting dialogue between each other’s practices referencing craft traditions, indigenous practices and use the faculties of cross-disciplinary expertise. There are several such instances throughout the exhibition that makes it such a cohesive show.
As you mention in your curatorial note, the exhibition looks at the role played by drawing across a wide arc of disciplines and media. How did this challenging diversity of media influence the choice of works on display?
The range of media did not influence the choice of works on display. We wanted to be as wide as possible in our approach towards the exhibition and used the idea of ‘drawing’ as a point of entry into each artist’s work. The works are therefore reflective and representative of their interests and influences. We were in deep dialogue through the planning of this show with each of them and the decision to show these works grew organically through these dialogues.
How did you go about selecting the artists? Are the artworks that are on display in “Drawn from Practice” bespoke pieces that the artists created with the theme in mind?
For a show of this nature, it is important that although there are distinct and unique voices, they need to come together and express the intent of the exhibition. Some works are new, such as the suite of doors that are oil paintings on canvas by Abir Karmamkar. Although Karmakar has long been painting detailed hyper-real interior-scapes, he has been studying discarded doors that line up warehouses all across the country and has built an archive of this material over time. He presents a new body of painting installations of doors and a book of sketches, rubbings of surfaces of door elements and a series of photographs alongside, allowing us an entry into his process and practice.
A unique aspect is the role played by the works of writer and thinker Aveek Sen and the late playwright Badal Sarkar – the former inhabiting the gallery during the exhibition. How were you able to, with the help of their practices, create a dialogue between art, theatre and the written word?
The interesting aspect of Aveek Sen’s work is that although it finally manifests itself in the written word, it is influenced by a range of mediums, including but definitely not restricted to art, music, literature and most importantly, conversations. Aveek has recreated his working space and library and invites visitors to engage with him personally that in turn leads to further dialogue about a wide range of topics. He at times watches excerpts of films with visitors together or listens to music with them making them part of the process itself and allowing a certain intimacy to the written word.
At the same time there is the work of Badal Sarkar, whose avant-garde practice, its process and methods were ahead of his time in theatre and performing arts. His influence is felt across generations of theatre practitioners and it brought ideas of transition, ephemerality and participation through his workshops that eventually became the scaffolding for his pieces. His actors were more of participants than actors in my opinion, and he energized their participation to generate new possibilities, much like how Aveek encourages his participants to think and view in a different way, and introduces new aspects of seeing, listening and reading. Although we don’t have Badal Sarkar amidst us anymore unfortunately, I can imagine that he and Aveek would have had a very interesting dialogue, and maybe that dialogue is possible to take place through a show of this nature.
As art evolves in the digital, multimedia world of today, what do you foresee as the future of draughtsmanship in an artist’s practice?
The idea of drawing in this show is thought of as an act of thinking as well as an act of doing. Every new direction or possibility that grows out of an artist’s mind comes from multiple experiences and influences. That experience or idea can manifest itself in many ways, which include but are not restricted to draughtsmanship as its first step towards its realisation. I don’t think the digital medium is any lesser a medium of building a body of work. In fact, it allows for certain freedoms that manual processes do not. Having said that, there are definitely human qualities that digital mediums need a long time to match or may not ever be able to match. I think digital and non-digital mediums will co-exist in the future, each utilising each other’s advantages.
This was an important year for Experimenter with the inauguration of a new space in the city of Kolkata. What are the gallery’s plans for the rest of 2018?
We have a very exciting remainder of the year coming up at Experimenter. A range of shows are planned across both spaces, with some very exciting artists, including solos by the New York based, Canadian artist and filmmaker Moyra Davey, which is going to be her first solo in Asia and marks her long-term relationship with Experimenter. The late nonagenarian Krishna Reddy, whose solo will celebrate a section of his work that will bring together a rarely seen body of drawings and sculpture, will be a first mark of respect after his sad demise last month. Amsterdam-based Praneet Soi will return to the gallery with his second solo at the gallery. Living between Marseilles and New Delhi, Julien Segard also returns for his second solo at the gallery. These solos run into the first two months of next year along with group exhibitions.
Our ambitious new foray, the Experimenter Learning Program that has also started from August, brings together some of the leading voices from all over the world across a wide range of disciplines from writers, filmmakers, publishers, photographers, curators, historians, artists, dancers, musicians, teachers, artists and others to take intense 3-5 day courses through the year. This is an exciting development for us. The first two ELP courses have begun with resounding success and we look forward to the rest.
Experimenter Books will publish a focused artist book object and our annual Experimenter book by the end of the year. In addition, we have a packed fair calendar with FIAC, Paris in October with a long-planned solo by Krishna Reddy. These are extensions of our program and encourage newer audiences to engage with our program outside of our city. Our artists have solo, biennial and group exhibitions at some of the leading museums in the world. This September we look forward to the opening of Naeem Mohaiemen’s films, Tripoli Cancelled and Two Meetings and A Funeral that have been nominated for the Turner Prize 2018 show at the TATE Britain.
“Drawn from Practice” will be on display from 18th August through 31st October 2018 at Experimenter, 2/1 Hindusthan Road, Gariahat, Kolkata 700029 and Experimenter, 45 Ballygunge Place, Kolkata 700019, India.
- “Traversing Terrains”: a retrospective of eminent Indian artist S.H. Raza at Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai – October 2018 – Art Radar talks to the exhibition’s curators Vaishnavi Ramanathan and Ashvin E. Rajagopalan
- “In the womb of the land”: Indian artist Ritesh Meshram – in conversation – October 2018 – the exhibition explores both the strength of metal and its representation of exploitative labour practices in the mining industry
- Contemporary Indian artists ponder over the politics of labour at Experimenter in Kolkata – in conversation – July 2018 – Art Radar spoke to the artists in a sort of panel discussion to shed more light on their group exhibition and their intentions
- Fertile minds and finding pause: musings of Experimenter Gallery’s Prateek and Priyanka Raja – interview – April 2018 – Art Radar speaks with curators Prateek and Priyanka Raja about cross-practice curation and offering openness
- “I Wish to Let You Fall Out of My Hands (Chapter I)”: Bangladeshi filmmaker Naeem Mohaiemen and Pakistani artist Bani Abidi – in conversation – February 2018 – the show examines longing, memory, identity, dislocation and loss through architecture, form and space
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