An insight into the Process : Students Biennale

An insight into the Process : Students Biennale


An Exercise, Experiment and Experience Experience

By Pranamita Borgohain Students Biennale, an extended programme of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, started in 2014 with the second edition of the main Biennale. It has already gained much popularity among the young art practitioners and the art aficionados who keep exploring for the future artists of the nation. The project runs in collaboration with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) and the Foundation for Indian Art and Education (FIAE) with the support of Tata Trust.

students biennale extended programme

Mattancherry, Bazaar Road, Fort Kochi

Having worked as one of the curators for the first Students Biennale in 2014, one thing has been very clear in my understanding that SB is always beyond selecting the best of art works or just spotlighting on art productions. It is more of an exercise to initiate a dialogue with our art institutions and the practices. It could also be said that the project has been an experiment in curation that aims to question certain aspects of our art education system, to promote a dialogue and discussion rather than to present a definitive position. And of course during such process, questions and concerns arise over the boundaries between curation and education which sometimes becomes increasingly blurred and questioned.

One of the curators Aryakrishnan Ramakrishan expressed The learning of the process is that it is an engagement with different institutions, histories and movements over a long period of time, where different agencies including me are trying to push the limits of each others. This has made all of us (the students, faculty and me) to reflect and reframe our own practices to make it more comprehensible to the other .

Students Biennale 2016 has got an adequate incubation time of about more than a year to plan, prepare and execute the SB display unlike the first edition in 2014, when the total time-gamut was not more than three months. This edition has traversed the journey with a series of discussions, workshops and performances in between as a year long process. Numbers of colleges have grown from 37 to 55, students from 300 to 470 and venues from two to seven; the process has extended to a long in depth research whereas the number of curators remains the same i.e.15 and each of them working with 3-4 colleges. We have spotted a good number of multimedia works this time which is probably due to better resource facilities provided by the KMB team with SBs increased support collaborators than the previous edition where the curators were bound to shrink their choices for selection and execution.

anantart trials cultural translation

'Displacement with the Trials of Cultural Translation'- a collaborative project work, SB 2016, Mohammed Ali Ware House

One of the young curators Rajashree Goody said 'For me, the Students Biennale 2016 began the moment I stepped into art schools, and the workshops were definitely where the spirit of this initiative lay. Its never been about selecting art or one particular artist, because I believe the power of this lies in leaving aside these competitive notions and focus on nurturing young artists as a group on experimenting, collaborating and pushing their practice in fresh new ways, whatever they may be '.

anantart collaborative workshop

Collaborative workshop and interaction of one the curator, SB 2016 with the students in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa

Faiza Hasan who has been a curator for both the editions shared 'Since this time it was a longer association it helped us a lot in better relationship building with the process, and more learning time which was really energizing. The time span not only helped to build an artist and curator repo but also enhanced the relationship amongst the co-curators to put up a show together' . She further added 'SB for me was a great exercise to learn and work with students, institutions and meet other art practitioners. And on a larger picture it is more interesting to see all of us coming together to a place like Kochi and working collectively .

Aryankrishnan who was also there in both the editions also pointed out 'The long duration definitely helped to plan better, moreover this time there were also special projects covering new regions and institutions along with an award 'KBF Young Curators Curatorial Award of a 16 months fellowship'.

artists curator working

Artists -Curator working together, SB 2014, Kochi (left), SB 2016, Kochi (right)

The young curators driving the project were from a varied background, some are academic research students, some fresh graduates to few are more experienced ones, the spectrum of their professions including research, art practices, architecture, art magazine editorship and curatorship. Vidya Shivadas, Director, FICA who has been involved in mentoring these curators and also in their selection processes explained 'We wanted this variation in our choice to bring in different perspectives by these youngsters as curators. Moreover most of our art schools are devoid of these varied disciplines, so we felt that this process of incorporation would be interesting by bringing these diverse groups of people and also introducing the students to disparate modes of curatorial and art making research and practice'. She further specified 'SB apart from the amalgamation of art education and art practice, exhibition and institutions, the project also puts much emphasis on training these young curators and bringing in new modes of art learning structures '.

SB 2016 has been titled as Later the Atelier Ate Her, taking a cue from a poem written by one of the curators Sarojini Lewis during a workshop. 'Since there was no fixed curatorial theme, we chose this title which is about consumption and being consumed and at the same time sounds playful' stated Vidya Shivadas. The exhibition spread across historic Mattancherry area, Bazaar Road of Fort Kochi which begins with Fadi Hall leading to Mohammed Ali Warehouse, Temple Property, Heritage Arts, M.K Traders, Kotachery Brothers & co. and Arjuna Art Gallery. Taking one through the swarming lanes of Bazaar Road and choosing old abandoned ware houses and wrecked godowns as exhibition venue, Kochi Biennale definitely breaks the notion of a conventional art gallery space. No doubt that each venue within the Students Biennale embodies the unification of multiple ideas and concepts from each of the curators. The numerous anecdotes brought together by these youngsters combine with the vanishing histories of the old debris adding more stratums to it. The rustic raw look of these wall spaces definitely adds on to the viewing experience plating it as inimitable and momentous.

Mohammed Ali Warehouse

Mohammed Ali Warehouse SB, 2014

Though there is no set formula in curation of visual art but in a curatorial experimentation the crucial question is whether it is experimentation on the creation of the art by the organizers of the exhibition, or with each other. Thus the curator has to strongly intervene and make him/her more visible in the project. The first venue Fadi Hall where the exhibition starts gives one an experience of an actual class room environ where one of the curators Paribartan Mohanty brings in an archive of classwork with paintings, drawings and sketches that document the art institution they inhibit.

Interestingly there was another wall of œstudents works including nude sketches, a practice that was officially abated by many art institutions in India due to censorship and moral codes had found its way in the hostel common room of the institute Govt. College of Art & Craft, Khalikote as a raging ritual, thus finding another pedagogical process of learning human anatomy.

wall students works

Work documenting the building of Govt. College of Art and Craft, Khalikote, SB 2016, Fadi Hall (left) Capturing the lost practice of Nude Studies in art intuitions, SB 2016, Fadi Hall (right)

With each passing venue the intensity and magnitude of the exhibition increases. Each curator has worked within their own areas of interest and their engagement with extremely varied sites. While one curator presented a museum of labor through the personal histories of art students; another has built an archive of their struggles based on gender and caste. If someone enquired into the idea of sites and spaces and how the artists react to it, another was interested in looking at its institutional history; some explored the liminal spaces or what lies in between the syllabus. Some curators had chosen the works produced out of their collaborative workshops, while others stick to individual artists creation. Some curators used more textual references while some relied only on visuals. Sumitra Sundar one of the curators cited ˜We had been given this autonomy as curators on crafting our curatorial framework and also on our individual presentations though the ideas had been shared with all involved .

anantart post entropy

Installation, ˜Post-entropy: field notes by COA, Delhi, MK Traders, SB 2016

ravi kumar art

˜A dog is a dog a mural by Ravi Kumar Chaurasiya of JMI , back wall of Muhammed Ali ware house, SB 2016

One of the curators Sarojini Lewis who worked with the North Eastern colleges said ˜The colleges played a minor role in my project . Her emphasis was on local networking and artists studios which might be an interesting outlook in a curatorial experimentation, but doing so we are in peril of missing some important aspects of an institutional / pedagogic study which is the basic model of the project. Especially going through a studio or collective which has formed only few years back instead of a Govt. College which have been running for decades might give a fallacious picture. Neither the faculty members nor the students of the Govt. College of Art and Craft, Guwahati were aware of the project or any workshops except those (students+alumni) who were a part of the studio/ collective (considered as an institute). Dilip Tamuly, Head of the Printmaking Department of the college mentioned 'I am the most active member in the college and I am present every day, I am sure no interaction happened in our college and its really shocking, although last edition we had been considered' . However the name of the institute was officially mentioned in the SB 2016 institutional list. May be a joint study between the formal and an informal school would have given a rational stance. Regarding an enquiry of the inclusion of private colleges in this edition Vidya stated 'Though we have included a few private institutes this time still the main focus will be on Government colleges only, however the process is very fluid and changes might be there at times'.

class photograph workshop

˜A Class Photograph- a collaborative project work from a workshop, SB 2016, Temple Property

By working on the ground level SB put fourth many fundamental questions like what is an art school, what constitutes 'student work', where the institution is located and what are its possibilities? Each institute is unique, placed under different geographical and socio-political condition; with varied histories, some running since colonial times while few are newly setup schools in the last two decades and so are their art practices influenced by their own localities. But during this process all the participating students are united in this enquiry where they challenge their existing educational methods and other institutional crisis of our country and question the role of an artist in our society. Since many of our art institutions follow curriculum based art education and rarely encourage experiments in art, SB comes out as an excellent platform for such students to experiment and experience. During the year long process of SB 2016, words and ideas had been exchanged between different art institutions through collaborative projects and discussions. Many students from across the nation travelled to Kochi for performances, collaborative projects and installations. The Students Biennale bringing together art pedagogy and art practices, exhibition sites and art school structures, itself becomes a multilayered project which needs time to be comprehended by a first time onlooker.

students art work

COA student working in Kochi, SB 2016(left) AUD student working in Kochi, SB 2014(right)

anantart collaborative mural work

A collaborative mural work by AUD and JMI students, SB 2016, back wall of Mohammed Ali Ware House

The project is still in its evolving stage and will need a lot of nurturing and support, this year many prestigious art bodies have already joined their hands as collaborative and educational partners. FICA has definitely played a major role in guiding and facilitating the curators with ideas and workshops for both the editions. Deepika Sorabjee from Tata Trust, one of the main funding bodies of this edition has been very cooperative and closely associated with the project keeping a tap on its growth and challenges in each stage, said by one of the curators.

In the coming years the project can really come out as a ground-breaking transformation in our art didactic system, realizing the importance of art learning and bringing in the true meaning of being an artist. SB brought together numerous art institutes from across India under single canopy, which were completely different from one another, but still shares traits of similitude. And this conflicting feature of being distinctive and yet being similar has been deftly compiled by fifteen young curators as Students Biennale. The project definitely bestows innumerable hopes, desires, aspirations and self-assurance among both the students and the curators. As KBF President Bose Krishnamachari spoke in a press conference ˜The SB will channel the energies of the Biennale platform into the Indian art education system, challenging students to go beyond the constraints imposed by both curriculum and exhibition .

PC: Pranamita Borgohain, (SB 2016 Curators- Aryakrishnan Ramakrishan, Paribartana Mohanty, Adwait Singh, Noman Ammouri)

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