Specialisation Studies | Anuj Daga

Living in a Metaphor - Curatorial and Exhibitory Practices

Primary and high-school education in urban India is predominantly geared through the sciences. Such a mode of education happens to engage feebly with the cultural centres that cities may afford. Most young adults in India may never have visited their city museum. The many students who come from smaller towns often hardly have any cultural spaces like museums or galleries within their place of growing up. This lack of access to the chamber of humanities - quite literally - results in the redefinition of what one means by an “exhibition”. The closest definition of an exhibition for anyone detached thus, from the cultural sphere would be the ‘mela’ - a temporary burst of activity, food and shops mostly organised in a place around the time of an event. For the urban subject, the recent interpretation of the exhibition is also the various ‘conventions’ that are organised for network and exchange between business professionals; or the fairs that are organised amongst certain communities in neighbourhood halls and banquets. While these forms of exhibitions are subsumed largely into the logistics of the market of selling, this course introduces students to forms of exhibitions that are produced through certain institutional structures within the sphere of arts. These include museums, art galleries, cultural institutions and allied spaces which dialogue with their counterparts offering soft channels for exposure and education. Such spaces institutionally locate curation within certain frames of art historical and academic references. Here, structures of display are referencing each other, as well as historically.

The course on ‘Curatorial and Exhibitory Practices’ ran its third cycle this year. The first three weeks of the course were dedicated to slow reading of texts and responding to exhibitions from archives as well as those they have seen in person around the city. In this period, students developed a frame to analyse the premise and environment of the exhibition, understand impulses of collection and archiving, observe methods of organising and displaying, expose to the various formats of exhibiting and thereby understand the process of curation and its spatial questions. These stages were accomplished through rigorous observation, discursive analysis and writing reviews of exhibitions as well as readings. Over these assignments, participants were expected to familiarise themselves with the language of humanities and the arts and delve into the mechanics through which metaphors get produced.

The third week was focused on looking at curatorial practices and untangling the idea of the “curatorial gesture”. A curatorial gesture is the subtle expression by which the intended audience of the exhibition is slid into the curatorial inquiry - by modes of the spatial or programmatic. This gesture finds expression in the overall planning and manifestation of the exhibition in different degrees, giving the inquiry a value and depth of encounter. These aspects were studied and demonstrated in the consideration of the various curators’ works. By the end of the third week, participants were asked to bring ideas or questions that they would potentially like to explore within the framework of an exhibition. Upon a round of discussion, similar themes were clubbed together into groups in order to formulate a curatorial team. Thereafter, these groups were asked to work on a curatorial note that lays out the premise, inquiry and methodology of the curatorial process. This phase consists of writing and research; collection and organisation - in short building an archive within which the curatorial concerns can be held together.

The last week was spent in consolidating the archive, identifying potential sites for display and mounting the overall exhibition while responding to all the aspects discussed over the weeks. In this process, students build layers of meanings, place their exhibition within a physical and social context as well as create strategies of effective communication through methods of installation and design within available space. In this cycle, 19 students participated, and produced three exhibitions in groups:

  1. (Un)filtered - This exhibition investigated the ways in which people use filters through their digital interfaces in order to mask or mobilise desire. The exhibition was placed in the studio space which was understood as a site where everyone is operating through an image. The layout of the exhibition was a series of six screens that exposed filtered faces gathered from different social networking applications to understand how people project themselves to comfortably survive their social and moral lives. Passing through categories of caste, class, gender, specie, colour and so on, the viewer is made to face a mirror, left to decide whether it reflects their own image or another assumed filter.

  2. Seasoned - This exhibition looks into the way in which the planetary aspects of climate change come to be negotiated at the individual level in the contemporary world. The exhibition brings together objects produced in response to the changing climate. These could include portable battery operated fans, thermal adjustment devices, specially designed umbrellas to mitigate lashing rains, exhaust-embedded garments and such other objects that are themselves signifiers of being seasoned. The exhibition was curated within the innermost space of the Director’s room which, to the curatorial team, was a space that was simultaneously evident and inconspicuous within the building - much like the subject and object of climate change itself.

  3. Type Walk - In this exhibition, students aimed to look closely into the design of typographies that have come to subconsciously shape our aesthetics of registering communication. Type Walk brings together objects that are primarily products of communication whose key content is letterforms. Some of these include the newspaper, the calendar, the seven-segment display watch, the LED display and so on. Other objects include the Nataraj pencil or the Parle-G biscuits whose identity is distinctly embedded into its typographic branding. These “type-forms' otherwise lost in the informationally charged environment were installed along the staircase flights of the school, where viewers were coaxed to walk along with letters and indulge into their histories of design.

More information on the above exhibitions can be found on the course website here.