Monday, February 6, 2017

Interview: Suresh Jayaram in conversation with Art writer and former pupil R Dhanya at 1Shanthi Road.

1Shanthi Road does not need an introduction in the Art world. It has been the most vibrant and consistent Art space in Bangalore in the last decade and incidentally it also celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. On this occasion and the publication of the book ‘Making Space for Art’ which contains retrospective and critical essays by eminent thinkers and artists, Suresh Jayaram its coordinator opens up with an interview.  

 RD: In retrospect how has 1Shanthi Road studio impacted the Bangalore Art scene?

SJ: I can reverse the question and also talk about how Bangalore itself has impacted 1Shanthi Road as in, the Art scene. 1Shanthi Road (henceforth referred as 1SR during the interview) by itself is just a space, an Art space. By opening up the space itself it has a different dynamic. I personally believe that a space is spiritual real estate. If a space is opened up things will happen there. It will have a catalystic reaction on the surroundings. If one space opens others will also emerge. The uniqueness of 1SR  is that it cannot move from its address and because of its identity. The space is built on Shanthi road after which it is named and its uniqueness also comes from the fact that it is situated in a middle class locality in the heart of the city. It has multiple functions as a studio, a gallery and home. In terms of impact it has pushed the boundaries of how art is made, seen and experienced and dialogued upon. The impact has been slow but definite. There have been art teachers who have told their students ‘not’ to work like 1SR artists (works that are not confined into the academic structure or teaching capacities). It is also a space that has given courage to artists to do many edgy and out of the box art.

RD: How have you managed to keep 1Shanthi Road a democratic space?

SJ: 1SR is democratic even in its core agenda where it believes that anybody and everybody are welcome. An artist from Gulbarga or one from New York is the same to me. Everyone gets the same coffee or tea or lunch. We have always kept our doors open which again is a sign of democracy. It has also hosted shows which might not be seen in conventional galleries where they might be censored. Shows of the LGBT community, art containing nudity and films that are censored and nude performances have all had a platform in 1SR. The freedom of the artist to express is sacred here. It is also open to all nationalities. It is a neutral space wherein an artist comes, occupies and creates something out of the neutrality.

RD: How do you balance an artist led independent space with a commercial and sustainable module?

SJ: The most challenging thing is to keep it sustainable. We have to keep the overheads very low. Financially this keeps my expenditure for living a comfortable life pretty low since I need to think of how to run the space. My space coexists with 1SR. I live in 1SR and 1SR lives in me. If I don’t have the money 1SR will not run. 1SR trust (Visual Arts Collective trust) does not have a corpus amount. Most of the revenue comes from residency programmes and personal donations of artists and well wishers (I am grateful for this and hope they continue this goodwill). It has been most difficult to keep it sustainable. We do it by budgeting and restricting our expenditure to less than 50,000 rupees a month. If there are artists coming for residency six months a year we have to make the revenue last 12 months. That’s means that even if the walls need a fresh coat of paint (“like it does now”) we have to do without it.

Also we do not take any commission from the artists for selling their works. We only take a ten percent handling fee or a work in return. There have been years when I had to borrow money to run the space. It isn’t easy.

RD: How has 1Shanthi Road managed to create a network of audiences beyond the Art fraternity? There are dancers, litterateurs, theatre actors, film makers, Art enthusiasts amongst your audience. 

SJ: It has been mentioned that it is due to the hospitality that 1SR provides that the crowds arrive. Hospitality runs in my family. My parents were very generous people and they always had an open house. When artists came to eat here my mother told me that she was very happy that I was continuing the tradition of keeping an open house and feeding whoever happened to come by. Other than food we have an ear for all of the young artists and even seasoned curators problems and even though we might not be able to solve it it’s a non judgemental space wherein one can share ones feelings. It is a nurturing space and you might get a cup of coffee or some food and a bed to sleep when you are lost and in need of solace. To quote Gandhi, “We keep our doors and windows open.”

RD: How has the praxis in 1Shanthi Road pushed the boundaries for young artists in Bangalore? And how?

SJ: To start with many young artists got the opportunity to collaborate with artists from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who came on residency to 1SR. I see to it that we support the local artist community. When such collaborations take place there is a lot of apprehension and hesitation at the outset. But in the end they take to one another, experiment together and have come up with most astounding out of the box artworks. We focus more on the process than the product. The experience, the material the ability to use any material and even fail is what 1SR has given the local young artists. There is no fear of failing here.

RD: Can you physically and financially replicate 1SR elsewhere as a sustainable art space?

SJ: I doubt its physically being replicated due to its uniqueness. The architecture is a collaboration between architect Mitha Jain and myself. Multiple things are happening at the same time here. For example we are talking here and downstairs a show has just opened and people are coming in. The space adds to this multiplicity of energies.

Financially it is difficult. If there is a corpus amount it is possible. There are many empty old buildings and homes available where it can be recreated. Especially in non- urban cities like Pune and Pondicherry or Chandigarh. It is very important to also have a collective voice. Even though it looks like I am running 1SR there are so many people behind me, backing me like Shiva, Harsha, Mona, Devi and an as yet unknown Ramanna who comes and cleans at 6 AM in the morning. More importantly there needs to be a collective vision for the city and an individual vision to run the place at all odds and keep it going.

RD: Please share your experience of working with Sri Lankan artists during thevery period the country was embroiled in difficult political circumstances.

SJ: I personally had a very enriching experience working with the Theertha Artists Collective. It was a most important project for1SR working with a neighbouring country we had a difficult relationship with. The Sri Lankans we met have been extremely kind and generous. We reciprocated the generosity by inviting them here and collaborating with them for three long years. The culmination of Sethu Samudram project as it is called was a book that has been published on the experience and the dialogues that took place between us. The war and turmoil feature in many of the art that was produced during this collaboration. More than the meeting of nations the friendships and bond between individuals has been most important. I can land in Sri Lanka any time and be invited into their homes and I keep 1SR just as open to their coming.

RD: What are challenges in running 1SR and how do you foresee the future?

SJ: Finances have been the biggest challenge. To keep it going we have to largely depend on foreign funds or foreign artists coming on residency. The Indian Government has not supported us. I think corporate funding could help us but we need to develop a different approach to attract their attention. I think with a public-private partnership it can be taken forward henceforth. My family has provided the land for the space so the public funding will have to come from the artist’s community and CSR policies and Government support. The future is bright and open to possibilities. We need a second rung of individuals after me who will have the same enthusiasm and passion to work and the openness to let the space be the way it is and also bring in new energies and new ways of thinking working and creating. Next year we plan to strectch our activities further by having Curatorial projects, Arts appreciation and Arts education programmes.

RD: How do you deal with art politics, censorship and the academic art space?

SJ: Academic artists and cutting edge artists have both been welcome here. When it comes to interpersonal relationships and group politics I don’t entertain them. I listen to everything but not respond to it. I stay open to everybody’s ways of thinking and listen to them but don’t react.

 There is no censorship here. We avoid censorship by not publicising our activities further than the artist’s community. There are possibilities that a goon might end up coming to thrash the space considering the political situation in the country.