Gayatri Sinha: This notion of curating an exhibition on the scale of Kochi biennale, how do you see this, what does the proposition mean to you?
Sudarshan Shetty: Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it before it came to me. After having said yes to it for various reasons, it seems to me that it will be an opportunity to get out of the limits of my own practice; maybe it will help me on having a fresh perspective on my limitations as an artist. It will give me access to so many other things and a reason to meet people even outside of the ‘art world’ and to enter their spaces.
GS: In a sense it is a year off from your own practice, looking at other practices, other environments. And that perspective will shift you out of your own work into multiple worlds.
SS: Possibly, I will be looking at various ways of arriving at what could the biennale be. And this could take several months or even extend to the time of the biennale. I do not know yet. I have already begun, through a series of conversations on understanding tradition and contemporaneity are but the same thing. And one of the questions that emerged through the three conversations that I’ve had so far is that could it be a biennale in progress? If it’s about making and dissemination then what does that dissemination mean? As the mission statement of the biennale suggests that it is a people’s biennale and that’s the cue I must begin from. How do you bridge the gap that is in between this contemporary art space and outside of it?
GS: I’m very interested in what you’re saying about the separation from yourself and your own practice but also arriving at yourself through the pursuit of the biennale. It is as if the biennale and the self somewhere merge. Is this is the first time you’ve ever thought of something like this, of separating yourself from your own practice and looking from the outside in?
SS: With my work, yes. I’ve been trying to look at this issue of what does it mean to put out an object within a gallery space and where does that object come from and what are the expectations of that space. I’m saying this because very often if you look at traditional art per se, the way the traditional art is made and performed is often at loggerheads with the expectations of a space for contemporary art, as we know it. I’m not very well equipped to articulate on the subject but I have a general sense, for example how would you introduce ‘traditional’ ways of making and dissemination into a space that is dedicated to contemporary art.
GS: But cannot the idea of the biennale be more generous, more inclusive. Can it not be defined according to the strengths or opportunity of this ground? The ground must be the defining factor rather than just a moving concept, which will attach itself temporarily and then move on. Cultures are born like this, an idea attaches itself and then it strikes roots into the ground. I think one of the crises in India is what to do with these systems of knowledge that are there but seem to be floundering at the moment in terms of their general direction. That whole concept of nation space has become less in which they received a lot of oxygen and energy and the grand events like the Festivals of India are no longer there. Is there an accommodation for them in what we call the contemporary space?
SS: That’s exactly why I’m seeking for people whose work is about this mediation. It’s that mediation I’m interested in and how it proposes a reflection on contemporary life. There are people already working and thinking about it for decades and there is a lot to take from there in terms of how they have been able to mediate it and present it in a space that is meant for contemporary art. Having said that, I do not see the traditional and the contemporary as opposite positions.
Your question also points at the role of a curator. The image of a curator, as we know has come a long way from being a keeper of objects in the museum to this central figure who is a creator of knowledge and culture. The question is whether it is possible to sidestep that and can the role of the curator be seen as one of a host or a facilitator.
GS: Let’s talk about art, where the object orientation is very strong. Conventionally, you do need to occupy space, with objects.
SS: I’m looking at a way to approach the thematic from the outside of contemporary visual art practices. I imagine that these conversations will evolve into something that will provide me with pointers to look within contemporary art practices in the region and across the world that could be a part of the biennale. My first response was to put together a list of artists, but while I was doing that it was clear that this was getting over right now. I know what would work with what. It had to be a little more challenging than that. These last few days I have been thinking a lot about Raul Zurita, the Chilean poet. He had come to India and after having heard a performance by Parvati Baul, in an interview he said “…there was an emotion there before words, before language. Perhaps there was a form of universal communication that existed in the past, in cultures and religions, a point when we actually understood one another. And that point is what eventually became art, poetry. A point that recalls when we understood one another”.
GS: The difference between performance and visual art: in performance the main affect is emotional that is what you carry away, with visual arts that is not always the case. Readings can be more theoretical…
SS: Somewhere we have moved away from it, maybe because a lot of us learn art through a perspective of occidental history. But, I have a sense that through conceptualism and minimalism there is this attitude to make it as threadbare and objective as possible, that it must come from empirical evidence and that you constantly remain outside of the work. I think that needs to be challenged somewhere. I am interested in things that hover between the real and the imagined.
GS: How do you do that in your own practice?
SS: I hope that it has those emotional evocations and I think it works in my own work in a sense that, it’s always referential to something and the fact that it is a representation. And what does representation mean, if an actor is acting out something there is a reference to that emotion which is presumably acted out and not real, but in the way it is received could be real in someone’s imagination. So, can those positions be somewhat inclusive in the making of a work.
GS: The first works we saw by you were sculptural and material with a strong object orientation but you seem to be moving away to more performance-oriented work for yourself.
SS: Yes, I’m working on a video, which includes actors, I don’t know if I am moving towards it in that sense. I’ve been a cinema buff, so cinema is something I wanted todoaftercompletingmystudiesinpainting,which I couldn’t do. So, I think this is one of my unfulfilled desires coming through. And I’m building a set right now. It’s not a very functional kind of space and you can’t find it anywhere else, it still looks like it could be old, but is newly made. And is built with old recycled material. Playing with notions of time, of what is old what is new. The video is about building this set.
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Image courtesy of the artist
Title: I know nothing of the end, 2012, hand-carved teak wood, acrylic, submersible pump, water, 138” x 138” x 144”.