When did the collective/group start and what was the intention of the collective/group?
The idea of Cona germinated from the shared studio situation in Borivali, wherein some of us, both artists and designers felt the need to initiate a discourse around each one’s practice, to create an adda situation, to dissolve the heirarchies between art and design, to step down from this exclusive position of being ‘artists’ and open up the space for cross pollination. Our aim predominantly was to set up a parallel pedagogical structure for the younger generation.
Cona, as the name suggests, is situated at the corner/edge of the city wherein it doesn’t just aim to become a ghetto situation rather attempts to become a bridge between the vernacular and the sophisticated thus highlighting the art district of Mumbai.
How was it supported in the beginning and what is the source of funding now?
From the time of it’s inception, it has been funded by it’s founder members Shreyas Karle and Hemali Bhuta. Cona did get some support through residency programmes in the year 2012-2013 due to it’s collaborations with Prohelvitia, Inlaks India Foundation and Triangle Arts Network. This helped us sustain the space and organise a few events. Cona, now in its second year has received a substantial amount of support from the art fraternity and The Shroff Foundation. We are in that phase of the Foundation where we would definitely need more and more support, financial as well as towards the programming, from both individuals and organizations in order to diversify and think afresh everytime. We don’t want to get complacent with our limitations, rather challenge them with newer people coming on board.
What are the current activities of the group/collective? How has the collective/group evolved since it is started?
The past one year, we have collaborated with many organizations including Gasworks, Creative India Foundation, Japan foundation etc. this has helped us get connected to international artists, curators and thus bring in an exchange amongst students, artists and curators through such events/presentations. Also we soon started Sunday sessions which involved group discussions of students works. These students came from different art schools across Mumbai, thus allowing a free flow of ideas and dialogue amongst them as well. This also somehow broke the heirarchy that certain older institutions have had since long. These sessions were always followed by presentations by young and mid-career artists and their art making process. These kind of situations allowed an easy access for the students to their seniors and broke down all the inhibitions
As one of our artist-in-residency rightly coated, “as an artist run space, it has the flexibility to keep drifting, keep floating like a small boat... and it could change directions swiftly unlike a big cruise ship, whose course is structured and has very few possibilities of changing.” This kind of fluidity works to our advantage, also the flexibility to join in and walk out, to be the source of inspiration for others to initiate such spaces.
Thus we have further evolved with certain programming as we have moved into our second year. We have introduced more workshops for artists/art students wherein the discourse could seize to be single dimension, rather branch out into multidisciplinary practices. This again is directed towards pedagogical practices and our attempts to be a self-sustainable model, to be neutral, to be unbiased, to be democratic , wherein our intentions and idealogies don’t get contaminated and we retain the sanctity of being outside but yet within the system. These workshops are aimed to create a discourse around the grammar of art making. Besides about sustainability, we are also trying to set up a CONA Design cell which will allow individuals to continue making work without succumbing to the art market.
Is it a temporary group/collective i.e. does it come together for a particular event only?
We don’t know whether to call it a collective…are a bit scared of such terms but could say we are just individuals who come in and go out free flowingly as per our needs and availability. There is no binding, no forced commitment. Two founding members have remained constant until now with the others coming in and going out of it. Cona has never expected itself to be a permanent situation, we would rather want to be like flowing water, not contaminated by stagnation. That's how our programmes evolve too. We have no set rules, no set structure, may be no permanent space as well. We don’t function as an exhibition space either, rather we would want to be distant from being one as that would bring in another set of politics.
What kind of space does the group/collective work in? Please elaborate on the public or private space context in which the group presents its work.
We don’t work as an exhibition space and our space is clearly working towards pedagogical practices so we would rather focus on projects related to them. Invited artists on residency are also selected on those basis wherein either they are involved in such activities in their own respective countries or have been involved with teaching practices there. Our space is as much public as it is private. We haven’t and don’t intend to make projects which are public interventions for the sake of it. Rather we consider the initiation of CONA itself as an intervention and something that could bring in a slow but a gradual change in the system/society. We have already had great amount of interest from some individuals who are from other backgrounds, from the community around. This isn’t going to happen overnight and one may not see the change as it is not result oriented. It needs great amount of patience, conviction and commitment.
Hemali Bhuta and Shreyas Karle
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