CURATion workshops at students' biennale 2016

Conference on Art Education ‘State of Art Schools: Reality & Prospects’ and Orientation for Curators, Students’ Biennale
26 /11 / 15– 28 / 11/ 15

Kochi Biennale Foundation in association with Foundation for Indian Art and Education organised a South Zone conference on art education titled ‘State of Art Schools: Reality & Prospects’ on November 26th, 27th and 28th 2015 at the Casino Hotel, Willingdon Island, Kochi.

The conference was supported by Tata Trusts, HCL, CGH Earth, Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation, One TV and the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art.

The inaugural speeches were made by Chief Guest Prof (Dr.) J. Letha (Vice-Chancellor of CUSAT) and Mr. M.G. Rajamanickam (IAS, District Collector of Ernakulam). Some of the key presentations included: ‘The Critical Curve: Why Art Education is no longer about Art Education’ by Sadanand Menon, ‘Young Artists and the role of Art History’ by Sarada Natarajan, ‘Philanthropy and Art Education’ by Deepika Sorabjee (Senior Programme Officer, Media, Arts and Culture, Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust), and an introduction to the 2016 Students’ Biennale by Riyas Komu (KBF) and Vidya Shivadas (FICA).

Each day of the conference also included ‘open mike’ sessions, where participants from the audience were encouraged to share their views and insights. The summit involved art educators, art administrators, artists and young curators, in a forum that was used as an opportunity to look at a range of issues blighting art education, to brainstorm, to exchange views and synergise them, as well as to discuss ideas that can impact the direction of art education in this country. The forum was also used to create a network amongst the various stakeholders in art education, a constituency whose numbers are sizeable but have remained under represented, for most part, in matters of policy making and dissemination. The idea was to have an open discussion, air views and have a say in matters we consider important. The South Zone conference is only a beginning in a series of zonal conferences leading up to a national summit in Delhi in late 2016. To this effect the Zonal summit plans to table a survey of Art Colleges conducted in the five states of southern India and invite speakers who have worked in art education and contributed as practitioners as well as academics. The idea is also to include people representing the decision making apparatus of the Governments concerned.

The conference also becomes an occasion to publically announce the curatorial team for SB and to host an orientation session for them.

WORKSHOP 2                   
New Delhi | January 25 – 30, 2016

Structure of workshop
The curator workshop in Delhi focused on research as a crucial aspect of the curatorial process.   Given the extremely varied sites of production that the curators are going to be visiting and the lack of information that is generally available on them, they will have observe and unearth different parameters at the same time: history and memory of these institutions, the pedagogic models and structures, the diversity of practices, the infrastructure, the life of objects and people studying there, art economies etc. 

Terry Smith in his seminal book Thinking Contemporary Curating writes “Place making, world picturing and connectivity are the most common concerns of artists these days because they are the substance of contemporary being… The first step is recognise that the object of contemporary curating is much larger than contemporary art.”  Contemporary curating produces meaning by bringing together artworks but also goes beyond to engage with other resources like photographs, videos, documentation, testimonies, archival materials etc to visibilise place and time.

The archive becomes an object of interest in this workshop – the archive that we access and the archive we build together on these institutions will be an important point of discussion. Closely linked to this are other questions on how to conduct research, how to understand and visibilise institutional contexts by piecing together disparate materials and also develop a nuanced understanding of practitioners working within them, how to engage with students and their practices, how to build collaborations and develop a collective vision of SB both within the institutions and at Kochi. 

The workshop was structured in terms of different kinds of practitioners sharing their perspectives and methodologies on conducting research.

Research in the curatorial process: 
The emphasis of the workshop was on research forming the base of our curatorial interventions. The research will inform our understanding of the site and context where students are working and how this foundation needs to be built as much as possible to understand how we frame the exhibition as well as our presence in the institution.  

We debated the relationship between the student and the institution (and how everything about the person cannot be reduced to the institution) – it brings us to the question of how we understand the institution. Is it confined to the curriculum and the building or is about other things that include networks and collectivities that students form etc. So not really thinking of institution in a narrow way but all the things that could be significant and inform the students’ practices.  

We also looked at various methodologies of research – of artists, archivists, art historians and ethnographers to think about how we can develop our research questions and tools. Keeping in mind both the exhibitory and collaborative nature of our project, we discussed what the nature of curatorial research will be: 

On the first day we had presentations by artists Vivan Sundaram and Shilpa Gupta where the artists spoke about how they deal with research within their practices. So the artist perspective was presented in the way research was conducted and also how it presented itself within the form of the exhibition.

On the second day we had Sneha Raghavan and Sabih Ahmed from Asia Art Archive, coming from art history and archivist backgrounds, sharing the work they have done digitising and collating key texts from personal archives and also looking at marginalised sources within mainstream art history like writing in regional languages. They shared in particular the case study of the Baroda digitisation project which they undertook over four years scanning the documents of four seminal figures K G Subramanyan, Ratan Parimoo, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Jyoti Bhatt in the making of the post independence art school in Baroda in the early 1950s. The parameters of archiving and the provisional frameworks that you keep making and remaking as you confront primary documents.

On the third day we had a presentation by Surajit Sarkar, who is working on neighbourhood and community museums. He gave us the ethnographer’s perspective on the steps one needs to make to engage with communities and allow them to become protagonists and active agents of their own narratives.

Finally Marianne Burki, head of Visual Arts, Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council, gave us an illuminating presentation on both the institutional perspective of an Arts Council and how an individual like her working within that mandate is able to create a meaningful, long term process. 

Each of these presentations resonated with the work that the curators were about to undertake.

There were also visits to exhibitions and the art fair as it was a time of great art activity in the city. We also spent an afternoon conducting a short exercise of dividing the curators and sending them to interact with students in 3 art colleges in the city. 

Following from the workshop, the curators have dispersed and begun their visits to the institutions. Having introduced the need to do some kind of mapping and also acknowledging that each curator will have to find their own way to do this – making the process as collaborative as possible so making students and teachers also become partners in this research (given the limited time and resources at their disposal). Also thinking of the ways this research can become visibilised and perform in the exhibition space.   

WORKSHOP 3 and 4
Curatorial Frameworks
Resource Persons: Swiss curators Sandi Paucic and Andreas Voghel
Organised in New Delhi and Bangalore
March 12 – 14.  March 16 – 18, 2016

Minutes of the workshop
The workshops were focussed on two aspects – one was an opportunity for the curators of the Students’ Biennale 2016 to present research from their preliminary institution visits and receive feedback from their peers, the two Swiss curators Sandi Paucic and Andreas Voghel and Vidya Shivadas. The curators presented their research so far and that gave us a very good grounding on how much they have progressed.

The discussion, triggered by our visits to museums like Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi and NGMA in Bangalore, began with a self-definition of the curator. Against the traditional definitions of the curator as gatekeeper, protector, caretaker and custodian, they asked for other definitions of the term curator. These were some of the definitions that emerged:

  • Gathering Energy / works – bringing it together
  •  Facilitator
  •  Author / creating stories
  • Observer – not actively involved / invisible
  • Filters
  • Synthesising different realities
  • Amplifiers
  • Interpreter
  • Researchers – what type / what can we do with research / what is the result of research

After presentations by the curators, where we discussed the current state of art schools, the potential of Biennale was discussed again. Paucic and Voghel spoke about Beinnale being essentially an experimental exhibition forum which needs to be different from other exhibitions. The format would need to affect change and exert influence on the schools. And it needed to create interventions that were sustainable and long term. It needed to build an informal culture which sustains and nourishes students away from the official structures.  We also discussed how to break the associations around exhibiting and the White Cube in the minds of the students? How to develop the entire art ecosystem?

“In your role as curator you need to exercise agency and make a strong intervention which is based on research and understanding. In many cases you are framing something that you have gone through your something yourself (having been a student, in many cases, in art schools). You need to feel empathy, reframe the curator in more fluid and active terms.” 

Curatorial Frameworks
A large part of the workshop also focussed on developing curatorial frameworks and models for the exhibition. Four models were highlighted from the discussions and debated among the group. These included:

  1. Institution as framework
  2. Themes/key points
  3. Rhizomatic approach
  4. 'A school is not a school’

The curators were divided into groups and examined each model as a possibility and how that determined the nature of the exhibition. These were just exercises not to arrive at a final definitive model but to engage with curatorial frameworks that we need to develop for this SB platform. The present task was to unpack this further in order to come to a common ground of what we want to take further for our model exhibition.

So for example if the Institutional model took precedence, we could elaborate this framework by focussing on:

  1. How is the institution / student registering the present – the present issues and matters pressing on each institution
  2. An expanded notion of the institution : This point was further discussed in the Bangalore workshop in 4th model – A School is not a school.
  3. Best practices of different institutions: looking at different institutional narratives and archival materials to speak of things that are worth noting and even exemplifying in various institutions.

What emerged in the discussion was on the Rhizomatic model was that while it is an important aspect to develop at SB, looking at each school as a node and developing a larger network (or even just visibilising and celebrating the already existing networks) it would also go beyond our scope to focus on things happening everywhere and dilute the attention from the potentiality of Kochi as a site. 

The fourth model ‘A school is not a school’ was developed most extensively in the Bangalore part of the workshop.

A School is not a School
The exercise on imagining this model began with curators writing out short statements. Most sounded like manifestoes which led us to discussion on manifestoes and mandates of some key art institutions of from Santiniketan, Baroda, to Bauhaus, Behaviour Art School, Black Mountain, among others, to understand the philosophy behind these institutions.
For this model we thought of the relationship between the inner circle which represented the official apparatus be it curriculum or building and the outer circle, the latter consisting of parallel structures that are developed around the schools.

Laying out the Exhibition
This was an exercise to think through spatially about the exhibition. Even as we didn’t get into specifics of work based layout, the facilitators asked us to think about perspectives, topologies, functionalities, movement in the space/s.  Points discussed:

  1. Identifying keywords to characterise the space/s, for example 'playground', studio etc
  2. Discussion on how to introduce the exhibition to a viewer
  3. Trying to relate the space and the navigation there within symbolically to our own journeys as curators.
  4. Thinking through movement, perspective, topographical punctuation to the sequence of the exhibition.
  5. Figuring out the functionalities (restrooms, benches, cafe) and reimagining these in conceptual ways. 
  6. Guided tours that provide different vantage points to the exhibition.
  7.  A live studio to import a slice of the production site/process inside the exhibition space.
  8. Public programs: workshops and performance art
  9. The relationship between the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Students' Biennale: inviting artists and curators from the KMB to engage within the space of the SB through lectures/talks etc.
  10. Marketing SB: customized rickshaws/ pop-up bar/performance buses carting people to the venue. SB merchandise, Digital platforms and projects, #s. All the ways of registering our presence.
  11. Having a title for the SB.
  12. An education program to reach out to the local Kerala audience.

Thinking through Organisational Structure
Andreas and Sandi also spoke about the different stakeholders in the project and to think about their interests and how to negotiate with these actors. It would be crucial to get a sense of their stakes in the project and address them. So to think of Student Interest, Professor Interest, Institutional interest, Sponsor interest, Organiser interest, among others.

 The job descriptions, among the curatorial team would also need to be defined clearly. Apart from being responsible for the respective institutions, each curator must also work in two other organisational roles.  The departments include Layout design and AV, logistics, social media and publicity, communications and guest relations, education and collateral events and finally team management.

In the final session Sandi and Andreas summed up the project and the challenges ahead. While recognising that that working with a group of 15 curators was a hard thing, they also brought our attention to the fact that by bringing our energies together we would have a real resource in our hands. The workshop was about entering a process together and not necessarily at arriving at all solutions.  

They drew attention to the fact that we had to realise the potential of this project – the questions the group were developing were pertinent not just for the Indian school system but are also contributing to the way art schools and art education is being thought about across the world. Over the year this group of curators could gain expertise on art education. So it was important to develop questions for it.  They ended by saying that the curators should make an exhibition that they would like to spend time in and spend time with. 

More Information on Workshop Facilitators
Prof. Dr. Andreas Vogel (1968):  Head of Department, Design and Fine Arts, Bern University of the Arts HKB Andreas Vogel received his doctorate after studying Art History, German Literature and Urbanism at the German Universities of Konstanz and Bonn in 1997 at the University of Jena with a study on late absolutism urbanism. This was followed by activities at various museums, including 1999/2000 as curator of the <Kunstverein Konstanz>. From 2001–2015 Andreas Vogel worked at the F+F School for Art and Design in Zurich: from 2001 to 2009 as head of foundation program <Gestalterischer Vorkurs> and as a lecturer in the field of art and cultural history. He became vice director in 2009, then from 2011 he was director of the F+F. In 2015 he changed job and became Head of Department <Design and Fine Arts> at Bern University of the Arts HKB. As a journalist and author Andreas Vogel was responsible for various books and catalogues on architecture, art in public space and contemporary art, including publications on Ian Anüll, Kühne/Klein, Christa Ziegler, Constantin Luser, Jörg Niederberger, Clare Goodwin and many others. Important curatorial projects are <A Tout Prix> at FriArt Gallery (CH–Fribourg) in 2007or <Um jeden Preis> at Helmhaus Gallery (CH–Zurich) in 2008, or – on behalf of the Arts Council Pro Helvetia – the staging of the publication series <Cahiers d'Artistes> at the SwissArtAwards in both 2010 and 2011 at the Basel Art Fair. From 2006 to 2014 Andreas Vogel was member of the Art Commission of the City of Zurich and is currently a jury member of the Guggenheim-Prize Commission.

Sandi Paucic Born 1963 in Croatia. MA in Art history at the University of Zurich. Artist and teacher of Art history since 1989. 1992-2000 scientific collaborator at the Swiss Institute of Art Research in Zurich. Deputy project leader of the publishing project 'Biographic dictionary of Swiss artists' between 1993-2000. Several publications on Swiss art. 2000-2011 director of the F+F School of art in Zurich, since 2011 co-director of the F+F School. 2002-2014 Co-organiser and curator at 'K3 Project Space' in Zurich. Since 2008 curator of the Helen Dahm Museum in Oetwil - Switzerland. Co-author of the official Swiss curriculum for art and design schools on the level of higher professional education. Since 2011 Project leader for the Swiss contributions to the Venice Art and Architecture Biennale at the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.