Augmenting Practices @ Khoj
by Premjish Achari
‘Augmenting Practices’ is a cutting edge curatorial effort by three young curators namely Akansha Rastogi, Rattanmol Johal and Leon Tan at the Khoj International Residency, New Delhi. Pitching his arguments on this project, Premjish Achari looks at the cutting edge practices promoted by Khoj through residencies and exhibition projects.
Since the late 90’s Khoj has stood for the promotion of alternative practices in contemporary Indian art through its various curatorial and artist residencies. Definitely residencies were not a new phenomenon in India when Khoj took off. We have had a rich history of artist residencies starting from the establishment of Santiniketan by Rabindranath Tagore which witnessed the participation of stalwarts like Ananda Coomaraswamy, Okakura Kakuzo, Stella Kramrisch and Nandalal Bose. Then collectives such as Calcutta and Bombay Progressives were movements rather than residencies though offering a platform for interaction. The founding of Cholamandalam, and Kerala Kala Peedhom has to be seen as conscious approach towards a residency culture. Today Sandarbh Samuha also performs a similar function. Institutions such as AAA, FICA and IFA are running successful residency programmes. But it also unravels the flaws of our profusely rich public institutions like NGMA, Lalit Kala, and National Museum, etc. to initiate and promote similar ventures. It also throws light on the negligence of our policy makers and politicians to realize the importance of art as a primary source in the construction of the nation’s past and symptomatic of contemporary reality. Apart from lamenting what could one do about it?
This essay is a critical engagement with Khoj’s residencies and its promotion of cutting edge practices in Indian art through exploring the three exhibitions titled Augmenting Practices by Rattanamol Johal, Akanksha Rastogi and Leon Tan as a result of their participation in the IFA-Khoj Curatorial Residency 2011. The residency was an attempt to train emerging curators with various artistic practices and critical writing. Khoj’s attempt to promote alternative practices is commendable especially when such practices subvert the very act of collection. This also allows the art public to have a radical option from the contemporary viewing and collecting practices. An exhibition in Khoj demands an active viewer participation and interaction. Rattanamol’s Notes on Art and Documentary (title shortened), has four documentary films by Monica Bhasin, Simon Chambers, Anirban Datta and Deepa Dhanraj, two videos from Samadrushti, photo postcards from Dayanita Singh and a text from Sheba Chhachhi’s installation Raktpushp address this particular disinterest/disengagement with the work of art. Rattanamol also questions the conventional projection of art world as a free space from censorship and policing by projecting subversive works. But in fact it is art world’s marginality or the distance from the socio-political movements which allows this free space. Rattanamol’s effort to showcase politically charged documentaries in an art gallery has to be lauded. This also allows engaging with the aesthetic dimensions of an activist documentary which qualifies it as a work of art, to understand the medium, content, relationship with the viewer, etc.
Akanksha’s Archiving the Studio is an important art historical exercise to document the artistic processes of Ranbir Kaleka. She calls this process as parenthetic exercise which allowed her to relate with the studio-space, interfering and interrupting like an intruder. Here the viewer can find many old sketches, preparatory works, notes, etc. of his paintings displayed through a projector. Thus it documents the various processes involved in art making. This is highly benefitting for an art student or art historian to understand the trajectory of Kaleka’s art making process which finally renders into his painted images sometimes superimposed with a video. A video displayed on the exhibition wall opposite to the stairs titled Document 1 shows Kaleka ascending the steps in his studio. Akanksha uses this video to highlight the movement, pauses and poises of Ranbir and juxtaposes it with the movements of the viewers. While the viewer stands on the floor Ranbir descends down to his studio to pursue the trajectory of his art making processes.
Leo Tan’s much promising Khoj Online: Experiments in Digital Curation which involved locating archival material from KHOJ on the world map using Panoramio, Google Earth and Maps appeared too naïve in execution. While the online accessibility of archival material is a major concern, the use of Panoramio Layar to generate augmented reality to achieve this purpose will be too simplistic. Because augmented reality demands a three dimensional virtual object integrated into a three dimensional environment in real time. Tan’s attempt is limited in just sufficing a two dimensional image into a three dimensional virtual world. When I was explaining the function of Panoramio and its possibility in supplementing additional details about a geographic area by layering photos on Google Earth/Maps to a friend he asked “so what? It shows me image and gives me a geotag. I want to explore it three dimensionally.” Thousands of images of ancient and medieval monuments from India are already layered in Panoramio allowing a visitor to view the images of the site. Tan is only extending the practice by situating contemporary art practices from India on global map. Augmented reality’s scopes are now widened to attain the user to see the real world, with virtual objects superimposed upon or composited with the real world. Therefore, AR supplements reality, rather than completely replacing it. Art Project is a wonderful initiative in this regard. It allows the users to explore museums and artworks in three dimensional spaces using street view technology. Many small websites in Kerala are now facilitating three dimensional videos of important temples from the region. It will not be far when internet users will encounter three dimensional viewing of the archival materials with contextual information from Khoj and similar institutions. This could also include, as Leon has pointed out, site-specific works by exposing the relationship between artistic activities and sites of production. Leon also mentions an important shortcoming in the Google Maps/Earth which settled him down to approximate locations rather than using precise details due to incorrect geotagging. Nevertheless, a geotagging camera will automatically embed the information and could solve this problem to some extent.
Khoj has also launched a project titled 1SAM aiming to create an augmented square mile of images and texts which could be accessed through Layar. According to Khoj these texts and images will enable viewers to share the same emotions and thoughts of others who were there thus turning this layar into a digital art work on the map. As a final remark I wish all the best for Khoj and its community outreach efforts and also for its promotion of cutting edge practices.