“to reshape some histories, to bring back the forgotten others, to reassess and alter the already hazily known, to redefine some standards of writing and our understanding, thoughts and feelings of an era lost. More importantly, to allow this man to breathe his words […] Memory, collectively lost, can now be somewhat regained.”
These thoughts are taken from the last pages of the publication The Art Critic dedicated to the Burmese born, India based critic and artist Richard Bartholomew. The words come from Bartholomew´s son Pablo, and they eloquently comment on the power of his fathers archive, in particular his writing, to critically build different pasts. Bartholomew´s thoughts do more than address the urgent need to fortify the interlinking of art historical narratives - many forgotten or simply unknown - within the South Asia region, but they inspire us to consider their impact beyond it. And they do more, since they demand that we persevere in new ways of nurturing critique that will strengthen regional histories of immense richness to the world.
To do so we must nurture structures of empowerment, knowledge sharing and production, within which micro-histories will not just claim their place within macro-histories but also contribute to their revitalisation.
It is on the wings of this impulse that Diana Campbell Betancourt, Artistic Director of the Dhaka Art Summit, together with Katya García-Antón, Director and Curator of OCA, Office of Contemporary Art Norway, Chandrika Grover Ralleigh, Head of Liaison Office India of the Swiss Arts Council – Pro Helvetia, and Bhavna Kakar, Director of Take on Art Magazine are launching the CRITICAL WRITING ENSEMBLE as part of the Dhaka Art Summit 2016. The project is curated by Katya García-Antón, Director and Curator of OCA, with the collaboration of Antonio Cataldo, Senior Programmer of OCA. Research into the processes and structures that could help to empower writers today has been a part of the curatorial practice of Katya García-Antón in recent years. She was commissioned by Pro Helvetia – Swiss Arts Council in 2012-13 to devise a programme for the discussion and activation of critical art writing in Switzerland involving cross-generation peers across the linguistic regions and traditions of the country. CWE has drawn from this valuable experience, repositioning previous thoughts and positing new questions within the context of the Dhaka Art Summit, as well as the histories and currencies of the South Asia region. CWE takes a cross-regional approach and has been developed in collaboration with Bhavna Kakar, who in addition to convening with the peers in Dhaka, also developed CWE-1 in an official partnership with Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, by organising a series of discussions and workshops amongst regional peers during the month of December 2015 in the lead-up to CWE II at the Summit. Finally, in 2017, CWE will be developed as a further iteration within the context of Nordic Europe through a programme held in OCA, Oslo.
CWE therefore brings together peers from the South Asia region and across the globe, into different working constellations to share writing histories and knowledge with each other, experiment together, and produce new critical impulses regarding art writing, which will be compiled in a specially dedicated publication with wide international distribution.
Such an endeavour is positioned within a local therefore as much as a global framework, in more ways than one, for not only is this a project of some urgency regionally, it reminds us of the fact the crisis is a global one. Art writing has for some time endured challenges which vary in nature across the world. In some parts there are less places in which to write critically and experimentally about art and art history, there is less and less financing for this, there is less and less time; in others whilst platforms for writing may actually be on the rise, their value and impact has declined.
Writing is by nature a lonely endeavour, but under these conditions, art writing is being pushed to the margins and alienated from the central and critical position it should have in our societies, as will the immediate contact it should have with our audiences. If this decline continues, art histories around the world will homogenise and the immense richness and diversity of our cultures, essential to rewrite and reimagine present and past histories, will loose their critical edge as the very voices that should build it, which should experiment it and reinvent it, disappear over time.
CWE seeks to foster a community of art writing peers working together. Breaking the isolation that characterises much writing practice, the platform hopes to create a lively environment for intellectual exchange.
CWE seeks to connect art writers experience and knowledge of regional and national writing histories, across the South Asian region and other regions globally.
CWE II seeks to develop these relations through a four-day platform of presentations, panel discussions, lecture performances, group debates and readings, within the context of the Dhaka Art Summit, its exhibitions and talks programmes.
Calendar: 3-4th Feb, CWE Sessions I & II
5-7th Feb, Dhaka Art Summit
7-8th Feb, CWE Sessions III & IV
Daily Schedule: 10.30-13.00: Morning Session
13:00-14:00: Lunch Break
14:00-16.00: Afternoon Session
Locations: Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy’s Dance Auditorium
Dhaka Art Summit’s VIP Lounge
CWE views art writing as a practice in its own right. Writing in general is strongly shaped by the contexts in which it is practiced and where it appears, and so the platform will consider discussing writing in a variety of historical and formal contexts.
CWE will count on access to the Asia Art Archive that will be on site in Dhaka.
CWE will publish the material presented during, and derived from these sessions and distribute it internationally by Mousse Publishing. The publication will include a variety of contributions from all peers.
Wednesday, February 3rd 2016
Welcome and Introduction
The Ensemble will be launched on Wednesday, 3rd of February with a welcome speech and introduction by Katya García-Antón and Chandrika Grover, together with Diana Campbell Betancourt and Bhavna Kakar.
Session I: Al Fresco – Writing within and against the Art School
The Al Fresco session focuses on the relationship between textual practice and paedagogical histories.
In the morning of Wednesday, 3rd February, CWE will embark on its first session with an experimental classroom – inspired section, by Anshuman Das Gupta. Das Gupta, faculty member of the Art History department in Kalabhavan, Santiniketan (Visva Bharati University) will discuss the singular approach of art pædagogy and its relation to text, at Santiniketan as envisioned through its founder Rabindranath Tagore. Fostered through a pædagogical programme devised by Tagore’s right-hand man Nandalal Bose (1882–1966), Santiniketan represented the sum of ancient Indian theories of æsthetics, Tagore’s humanist and universalist ideals transcending demarcations of national borders, and the debates on nationalist and Pan-Asianist ideologies initiated by many a luminary in the orbit of the ashram: Okakura Kakuzō (1862–1913), Sister Nivedita (1867–1911), and Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1947).
Chus Martínez, Head of the Institute of Art at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel, will discuss a series of recent texts in which she has reflected upon the relation between art practice, institutions and education in the years to come.
In the afternoon Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Shukla Sawant, based in New Delhi, will present her recent work on art writing in Bombay in the early 20th century by looking at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai and artists/writers associated with it (some who were colonial functionaries but had a dual address in English and Marathi to cater to two different language publics).
Writer and Curator Filipa Ramos (currently editor of Art Agenda, London) will re-imagine traditional pædagogic formats, and standard exhibition review analysis, with a reading relating to an imaginary visit through an exhibition we haven’t seen, but which we can experience through the eyes of an absent spectator.
Yin Ker, an educator and researcher on Southeast Asian and Buddhist art based in Singapore, will explore the legacy of Santiniketan pædagogy in the work of Burma’s most important exponent of modernist practice, painter Bagyi Aung Soe. Following his return to Yangon in 1952 and over the next three decades, through illustration, which, in place of the virtually inexistent gallery and museum, served as the site of avant-garde artistic experimentations, he examined the linguistic rationale of a plethora of pictorial idioms, ranging from the ukiyo-e to cubism. In innovating new idioms, his non-figurative illustrations published in Shumawa Magazine in January and February 1953 provoked a furore which saw traditionalists branding his art as “seik-ta-za-pangyi,” meaning psychotic or mad painting – an epithet that would become synonymous with Aung Soe’s works as well as modern art in general in Burma. Ker’s presentation will share the challenges of developing an adapted narrative of his art which defies the conventions of art and art history.
Q&A and closing notes for the first session will follow.
Location: Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy’s Dance Auditorium
Thursday, February 4th 2016
Session II: Staging Words and Flowing Letters
This session examines the various literary forms of art writing and the archival relevance of more informal accounts within art criticism.
The Staging Words and Flowing Letters session will commence with Belinder Dhanoa. Dhanoa is a writer and an artist, and currently teaches Creative Writing at the School of Culture and Creative Expression at the Ambedkar University, New Delhi. Dhanoa will read excerpts from the script she wrote for artist Vivan Sundaram´s exhibition-as-play 409 Ramkinkars that opened in Delhi in the spring of 2015. The performative exhibition paid homage to one of India´s most charismatic artist, Ramkinkar Baij, and his work as innovator of sculptural form in the space, re-visiting the creative milieu of sculptor-painterscenographer- theatre artist Baij.
Quinn Latimer is an American poet and writer based in Basel and Athens, and currently editor-in-chief of publications for documenta 14. Her work pays special attention to the literary format of the letter as a space of criticality and community occasioned by the intimacies of its address. In this session she will read from and discuss the work that comprises Anthology, a forthcoming collection of critical prose, poetry, and more hybrid texts that move between genre, and pull from history letters and ficition. She will specifically explore the form and function of the refrain, its serial ecstasies and political possibilities.
Delhi-based artist and writer Rosalyn D´Mello was a central part of the research that enabled the publication in 2012 of The Art Critic – a historic selection of the art writings of art critic, poet, writer, painter and photographer Richard Bartholomew (b. Tavoy, British Burma, 1926, d. Delhi, India, 1985). D´Mello will present a lecture performance addressing significant points in Bartholomew´s poetic and literary legacy, from the period of the 1950s up to the 1980s which offered an insider’s account of the little known story of Modern Indian Art.
In the afternoon artist, cultural writer, activist and Dean of School of Visual Arts at the Beaconhouse National University at Lahore Salima Hashmi, will read and comment on letters of her father Faiz Ahmed Faiz to address the power of the epistolary form as a critical tool for resistance.
Curator, critic and CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto, Chantal Pontbriand will discuss the book Performance & Performativity, which she recently edited. This is the second of four anthologised volumes dedicated to the artistically unconventional and theoretically cutting-edge Parachute, a magazine that Pontbriand launched and founded in 1975. Performance & Performativity brings together seminal texts written throughout the first twenty-five years of the magazine which sought to develop new critical language that could deal with performance.
Writer Nida Ghouse has been conducting research on the Soviet funded multi-lingual Afro-Asian magazine Lotus, a forum for short-stories, poetry, review of books and literary essays. Lotus was a quarterly magazine which for its time was a ground-breaking literary/artistic cum political expression. The writers of the journal placed themselves in relationship to the broader social and political mechanism of imperial powers. Youssef el Sebai, was the journal’s first editor, and the journal came out of the Afro-Asian Writer’s Association, a group of African and Asian writers who spoke a multitude of languages and met in Tashkent in 1958. Ten years later this organisation would launch a journal called Afro-Asian Writings, which would go on to become Lotus. Lotus was published from Cairo and Beirut and was produced trilingually in Arabic, English and French.
Q&A and closing notes for the four sessions will follow.
Location: Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy’s Dance Auditorium
Sunday, February 7th 2016
Session III: The Political Unconsciousness of Art Writing
This session addresses the various political concerns of art writing while looking at the art practices that have informed them.
In the morning of Sunday, 7th February, CWE will open its third session with NY based artist Mariam Ghani, who will activate the session with a performative, part text-based presentation of the audiovisual material of What We Left Unfinished – a long-term research, film, and dialogue project centered around five unfinished Afghan feature films shot, but never edited, between 1978 and 1992.
Turkish curator and writer Ovul O. Durmusoglu will focus on the flow of information that builds our disjointed everyday lives to address the reality of war and its virtual manifestations. Starting with the reading of contemporary cinematic and installative propositions she asks urgent questions about our future within and outside the arts.
Artist, writer, curator, and team member of the Forensic Architecture research project based at Goldsmiths, University of London, Nabil Ahmed will hold a lecture which combines video, performance and sound art to address the writing of the world as an accumulation of catastrophic events.
The afternoon will restart with art historian, curator, and critic Geeta Kapur, an expert on contemporary art and theory and noted for her many accomplishments in curating and art criticism who will lecture on the importance of texts and documentation in witnessing and testimonials of the paradigmatic of the historical, political and ethical dilemmas of our times. Starting from her manuscript Public Address: Citing Installation and Performance Art she will question the readability of texts in enhancing historical and political consciousness, and the fragility of such instances when annotating trauma, loss, and mourning.
Drawing from her curatorial research on abstraction, and from a number of texts by various intellectuals and artists, Maria Lind, Director of Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, and Artistic Director of the 2016 Gwangju Biennale, will consider how in the past few decades economic abstraction was primarily dealt with by art as a subject matter or theme which increasingly mirrored the economic, social and political condition of the world. She will analyse how this system affects spatial and temporal concepts, and the writing of a future within it.
Artistic director of the international biennials of Venice and Istanbul Rosa Martínez, based in Barcelona, will follow up by discussing her recently curated exhibition Fear Nothing, She Says. When Art Reveals Mystic Truths, which revises the verse by Teresa of Jesus, transforming ‘Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you’ into the simpler ‘fear nothing,’ which it then relates to the novel Détruire, dit-elle (Destroy, She Said) by Marguerite Duras. The exhibition is an invitation to overcome obstacles and fears by opening up to the new developments of global ethical and æsthetic awareness and, in the work of historians and curators, to critically analysing the changes produced over the course of time by understanding how images condense fears, hopes and beliefs, and undermine the ideological codes of an epoch. In the words of Martínez, “Art is a kind of knowledge, a form of wisdom and an exercise of power. In art we must seek the presence and the meaning that transcend the visual.”
Q&A and closing notes will follow
Location: Dhaka Art Summit VIP Lounge
Monday, February 8th 2016
Session IV: Entangling and Disentangling Printed Matter
This sessions discusses the diversity of writing histories developed through art publishing platforms and their contribution to the construction of criticality within the South Asia region and beyond.
On Monday, 8th February Aunohita Mojumdar, editor of Himal Magazine, Kathmandu, will commence the morning and CWE’s very last session by speaking about the responsibility of the writer and the theatre of war by bringing to light stories of everyday reality in territories of conflict and violence.
Paris-based writer and philosopher Paul B. Preciado (curator of public programmes for documenta 14) will intervene in the programme ex-situ with a reading of Testo Junkie, a book addressing what he coined as ‘pharmacopornographic’ that affects the politics of the body and of sexuality. Testo Junkie was conceived with writing in itself as a performative device and using activism as a research methodology to move beyond academic writing.
Drawing from recent research and from her work as an editor of the independent international journal OnCurating, Dorothee Richter, Head of Postgraduate Programme in Curating at the Zurich University of the Arts, Zurich, Switzerland, will discuss hybrid curatorial models to address experiences of working across online and offline platforms.
In discussing art reviews from India’s post-independence period, Paris-based art historian and curator Devika Singh (who is currently writing a book on artistic practices in India between 1947 and 1991) will highlight the importance in locating Indian art within a transnational history of modernism.
Sharmini Pereira will discuss her project Raking Leaves, a complex cosmogony of forms of commissioning, writing, publishing rooted in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sharmini will discuss the critical writing options this project has catalysed in relation to the socio-political and art historical context of Sri Lanka.
During the afternoon, Mike Sperlinger, Professor of Theory and Writing at The Academy of Fine Art, KHiO (Oslo, Norway) will focus on the forgotten history of Tracks, a magazine edited by artists and consisting artist’s writings, in the 1970s in New York. His presentation will consider the forms of criticality that place when the practitioner places him/herself at the heart of discursive creation.
Conceiving it as a site for raising and debating issues, Depart magazine’s editor Mustafa Zaman will offer the raison d’être behind the art quarterly published from Dhaka, Bangladesh, whose principal aim is providing critical reinforcement to the burgeoning art scene of the country.
Q&A and closing notes will follow.
Location: Dhaka Art Summit VIP Lounge
Please note this programme may be subject to change.
Download the Critical Writing Ensembles full Schedule Here