Art News & Views

Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology – A Cradle for Creative Excellence


By Meena Vaari

Started in 1996 in Bangalore, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology has become the byword for experimental art in India. Srishti collaborates with individuals and institutions with fresh and daring ideas, reports Meena Vari.

In her opening address to a new group of students, Geetha Narayanan -Founder-Director of Srishti said, “One is not here to be taught but to learn”. That, in essence, is the spirit of Srishti everyone here knows that they are part of 'a community of learners.'

Started in 1996, by a group of educationalists, designers and artists, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology was conceived as more than just being an undergraduate college for art and design. The vision was to make it a vehicle, which would challenge students as well as the faculty to rethink their creative practice and notions of Art and Design. In many ways it has succeeded.

Education and Research remains the core activity at Srishti. Since the beginning, Srishti has been pushing itself through its programs to get a grip on the contemporary creative practice and media developments. One of the ways in which Srishti has been doing this, is through collaborations and networking with similar organisations and individuals around the world. These ensure a constant stream of unique artists working in new artistic practices, new mediums for practice, research areas and products. What it looked at, was how to constantly keep innovating and changing, while responding to the current needs and opportunities as they emerge around us.

The projects at Srishti can be categorized as Experimental, Relational, Dialogical, Tactical and Entrepreneurial.  Most of the projects go from being one, to the other. Experimental projects sit on the edge of artistic practice (art-science, new media or technology, tracking signs from the cultural and political codes of everyday life). Relational projects, which derive their origin from the term 'Relational Aesthetics' coined by Nicolas Bourriaud, are “an art that takes, as its theoretical horizon the sphere of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an autonomous and private symbolic space”. Dialogical projects are socially engaged, they are inclusive, sometimes facilitative, sometimes reflecting the society. Tactical projects make the invisible visible; bringing the audience closer to the creation  gaming, interactive platforms. Entrepreneurial projects experiment with operating models which link learning, entrepreneurship and innovation in setting and running creative industries.

New Media Practice was introduced into the curriculum in 2003.  Srishti framed a short interim semester between the two main semesters during an academic year, which was an interdisciplinary space for students from any discipline to join workshops and master-classes, run by artists, designers and artist-researchers in new and experimental media practice. Sound, Light and Community Media was introduced in 2004, with art and science being initiated in 2006. Interactive media art was introduced in 2005 and radio was also introduced at the same time. Srishti was invited for a campus exhibition at Ars Electronica in 2005. Ars Electronica is a festival for art, technology and society held in Linz, Austria every year since 1978. The exhibition that went to Ars was called Tana-Bana Designing Substantive Freedoms. Tana-bana can be translated as 'warp and weft' and is meant to evoke the ideal of the 'integration of communities or societies'. The Tana-Bana exhibition (curated by Geetha Narayanan) was extensive and occupied three floors of the Kunstuniversitat (University of Art) in Linz. One of the best Srishti exhibits from Ars Electronica 05 festival The Lowlands Project by Vaibhav Bhawsar was also shown at the Digital Transit exhibition in ARCO 2006. Here is a quote from an Ars blog written by a visitor to ARS Electronica on September 8, 2005 - “A sampling of people met and their work, starting with Meena Vari from the Srishti School of Art and Design in Bangalore, India on the airplane from Frankfurt to Linz. The University of Art in Linz serves annually as a venue for exhibitions by art colleges from all over the world. This year their exhibition was called Tana-Bana, which translates as 'warp and weft' and is meant to suggest 'the integration of communities or societies'. Interesting exhibit and it certainly made me think about the level of student work that I can ask of my students in Philadelphia. Hope for more contact with them in the future.”

The interest in New Media, experimental and hybrid media led to the setting up of Center for Experimental Media Arts in 2007. The founding members were three artists-in-residence, Yashas Shetty, Gabriel Harp and Zackery Zenfield.  CEMA was supported by Ratan Tata Trust for the first three years. Yashas Shetty started ArtScienceBangalore as a pedagogical experiment in hybrid art practices in 2009. It consisted of participating foundation year students at Srishti, artists, designers and scientists. Their interest was artistic and design interventions in Synthetic Biology. Through the years the group has gained critical acclaim in both the science as well as in the art contexts. In 2009, it was the first artist group to participate in the prestigious International Genetically Engineered Machines competition at M.I.T.  For the competition, art students worked with scientists at the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) to create bacteria that produce the smell of monsoon rain. Combining a Do-it-Yourself or "jugaad" aesthetic, along with a rigorous approach to scientific methodology, as well as drawing from varied arts disciplines as performance, public art-the group's work has entered into the realm of creating new discourses at the intersection the arts/design and biotechnology. The group now focuses on issues around the impact of biotechnology on ecology. Their work was nominated for the Golden Nica Prize at ARS and was awarded an honorary mention at ARS ELECTRONICA 2011.

Since 2006, Srishti has also been working in the area of Space and Cosmology. Artist Joanna Griffin has been artist-in-residence and has been leading this project Srishti organized the first International Space and Culture conference in 2007 in collaboration with National Advanced Institute of Science, Arts Catalyst, London,  Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology and ISRO in 2007. Through her work, she introduced students to the world of cosmology, space, popular science and art. In 2010 Srishti collaborated with the Indian Space Research Organizations (ISRO), the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Raman Institute of Research, Visvesvaraya Industrial &Technological Museum and the Planetarium for a 10-day festival on Astrophysics called Kalpanaye Yatre (KY). This year, NASA has selected a third-year-student from Srishti, one of 20 from around the world, for a mission design challenge.  She was one of the members of the KY 2010 Srishti team.

Another project, which has gained international recognition over the years, is the Kabir Project started by artist-in-residence Shabnam Virmani.  Started in 2003, the project has been an enquiry into the spiritual and socio-political resonances of Kabir's poetry through songs, films and conversations. Kabir project has been supported by Ford Foundation.

Over the years, Srishti has become a lab for people who share an understanding and want to develop Art and Design practice as a trans-disciplinary practice. The scope, for students and faculty reaches beyond that of traditional Art and Design research, and they look for more than just producing engaging artworks and design products. Perspectives range from everyday practices of living, to the humanities, physics and to cosmology, from ethnography and science to art, and from engineering to marketing.

The work of final graduating students always reflects a range of issues that contextualizes today and characterizes art and design research in order to create sustainable solutions. Confronted with the increasingly complex subjects of concern, and problems of our times and the extensive exposure they get at Srishti, they engage in new ways of thinking. Two projects to mention at this point which started as Diploma Projects/Thesis Projects are Street Catalyst by Aniruddha Chandrakant Abhyankar and Blank Noise by Jasmeen Patheja. Both started by using Tactical Media Techniques and involved the community at large. There was a massive response to both the projects and even today they are very popular. Blank Noise started in 2003, as a public art project that looked at eve teasing (harassment of women in public spaces) and Street Catalyst started in 2009 deals with the cleaning of the city by the public themselves by making the cleaning a design project.

Sometimes taking projects to the next level of experimentation and execution becomes difficult, as Srishti School is a private college; and there is no separate funding available. Inspite of the oscillating tendencies of support, Srishti continues to push the boundaries of pedagogy through its different Centers located within Srishti- Center for Research in Education and Training (CERTAD), Center for Public History (CPH), Srishti Innovation Labs (SLABS) and Center for Experimental Media Arts (CEMA).

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