Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Space to Alter Alternative Practice

Bangalore’s 1Shanti Road has become a famous adda for artists, art lovers and connoisseurs who would like to see and practice art radically different from what one sees generally in the galleries. Abhiram Poduval sheds lights on the activities of this magnetic art junction.

‘Do not touch the art works’, a sign board on the gallery door says. Sofie Haesaerts, a sculptor from Belgium who has been working as a resident artist here is giving her final touch to her exhibition ‘Defying Gravity’. Her vertical sculptures of fabricated materials and found objects are geared up to attract the visitors. Sadanand Menon, a distinguished cultural critic, writer, journalist and curator is on his way to this place to show a film and talk on the esteemed dancer Chandralekha. The house is getting all set for the party after the opening. Visitors are driving in to get the glance of the exhibition and the film. I am eager for further actions and dialogue. It all happens in a fine dusk of November at 1shanthiroad studio/gallery, an informal /alternative space for the visual arts, creative collaborations, and new-media experimentation which is administered by an organization named Visual Art Collective.

What is an informal space? I am sure it isn’t an obscure space where anybody enters and swiftly changes him or herself into some casual cloths or behaviors. It is neither a space where you go with a grounding to pretend as relaxed as possible. What does it take for a place to be named as informal? 1shanthiroad is a paradigm for this. It is run by Suresh Jayaram, and a host of other young artists and curators working in the visual fields. Suresh has studied and headed an art institution-Chitra Kala Parishad, Bangalore (CKP).

“1SHANTHIROAD resulted from the frustration of the current model of how much of art and culture is presented by galleries, institutions, and other organizations in the city,” says Suresh Jayaram. For the first time, I came across an architecture which completely deconstructs the concept of private and public spaces. A senior student from CKP once sat here and made a call to her friend to meet her in some café. But the friend said she would come to 1shanthiroad only so that she can smoke a cigarette here. Union Health Minister’s act of ban on smoking in public spaces provoked smokers to ponder differently about the notion of private and public spaces. So the girl from CKP conceptualized 1shanthiroad as a private space. Ask Suresh Jayaram, he might say it is not his private property anymore. Anyway, this is how ‘hypothetically’ 1shanthiroad wrestles between the notion of private and public spaces. This may mislead the argument about informal space. But it very much supplies to the debate by providing the reader with a small introduction to 1shanthiroad.

The informality of this space begins from Suresh himself. “It would have been difficult for me to carry along such a space if I had a nagging wife and screaming children in my house,” says Suresh. He had built this space on an existing terrace of his mother’s house and keeps talking about the struggling period when he had to convince his family about his intention of building such a space. It turned out to be like this, where there is every time something or the other keep happening at this place. Everything becomes discursive here. For young students and art practitioners, this space becomes an abode which critiques and analyzes their practices in terms of fundamental and conceptual levels. Accessibility becomes the prime element of this space thanks to this. In Indian contemporary art practice such discursive palettes have to develop parallel to art schools because almost all art schools still fumble around the authoritarian politics and personnel discrepancy of teachers.’1shanthiroad’ has been actively supporting alternative programs and art residencies collaboratively with Khoj International Artists Association and many other international art agencies. It has successfully contributed to make the visual art scene in Bangalore what it is today. But the current crisis is the need to sustain this space, provide basic infrastructure and salaries to working staff etc.

1shanthiroad is located in the almost at the centre of the city, near the historic Lalbagh garden off Double road. The yellow name board for Shanthi Road is almost attached to the gates of house No.1. The spiral stair leads to the space where the Bangalore art finds its repose. This is not a white cube but is almost a maze. The street has a very close attachment with the building since it stands touched to the road. When you are walking down on Shanthi Road, be alert, you might just step inside ‘1shanthiroad’. This space is a discovery of open and built spaces.

The renowned architect Meeta Jain, who had apparently won wide acclaims for this construction, constructed this multidimensional scheme of architectural formation. The building is a maze which moves through interconnected courtyards leading to different quarters of the house and you end up reaching where you actually started. Luminous use of natural light, the presence of a Badam tree which is the prominent element in the whole architecture and the found doors and windows from demolished old buildings; all these are major elements of innovative architectural construction. It interlaces various ingredients without a monitor and manipulates its utility into varied prospects in order to make the space more than just ‘a space’. It doesn’t have to alter its utility every now and then according to our interventions. It remains as it is. We change when we happen to be there. Simultaneity is the prime factor with which diverse activities can happen in different niches and planes. It provides a sense of discovery when you voyage through the alternating closed and open spaces. It has got its conscious reference of multiple spaces from the Mughal miniature paintings.

The mission of 1 shanthiroad is to engage people to collaborate and work in the space, and to develop and various other gatherings to build momentum as a group of people. It is already a well known space among artists who think of alternative ways of practicing with their body of works and also among those who do not think like that. The concept of an adda or sarai works here as many artists, writers, performers and many others make it a point to visit 1shanthiroad when they are in Bangalore. Dasharat Patel, B V Doshi, Sadanand Menon, Abhay Sardesai are some of those names who had visited this space the previous months. Others who have passed by are Vivan Sundaram, JohnyML and local prominent artists like N S Harsha, M. S. Umesh, Babu Eshwar Prasad, Surekha, Sheela Gowda,Pushpamala Shanthamani, Shyamala, Nandesh etc. Local artists and connoisseurs, friends and pals of Suresh, the neighbors to see the architecture; all find some instance to twitter in. They just wish to pop in so that they can get a glimpse of what is happening here as there is something or the other keeps happening here, not because they heard from somebody that there is always a ‘meals ready’ board hanging in the kitchen.

Eric Winer’s well known book named ‘Geography of Bliss’ talks about 1shanthiroad, “Shanti, it turns out, is a Sanskrit word that means ‘inner peace’. Maybe One Shanti isn’t the anti-ashram after all. Maybe it’s just another kind of ashram.” When art and artists face thier decisive existential crisis in terms of market, 1shanthiroad still says “MEALS READY”. Within lot of logistic and financial constraints, 1shanthi road attempt to promote dialogues within alternative art practices. This becomes an informal space where we can experiment and most importantly there is a liberty to be failed which the ‘formal spaces for art’ doesn’t promote. When everybody want the totality and its profit, 1shanthiroad promotes the process of art making and the aspect of participation rather than contemplation.

Originally published for www.artconcerns.com

No comments: