Art in Public Space Lab 1
Reflections by Sumona Chakravarty
Art in Public Space: A Critical Reimagining took place in June in Bangalore, India. This four-day intensive lab was co-organised by Maraa and Primary, and brought together collectives from across India to share practice and take part in critical conversation around the politics of arts practice in public space. Here, Sumona Chakravarty from Hamdasti reflects on the gathering.
While the workshop was titled ‘Art in Public Space’, the intent to rethink these words and imagining new ways of framing our practice was embedded in the impetus for this gathering from the start. As we listened to each other’s presentations over the first three days, there were as many points of departures as there were intersections across our practices. However to me there seemed to be a collective need to discard the notion that public space is central to our practice. In fact, by the end of the three days of presentations we gathered all the post-its generated by everyone and divided it into three categories – Practice, Publics and Public Space. It was proposed that we form groups and think through each of these larger themes, however funnily enough nobody really wanted to this about public space as an entry point into framing our work. It seemed too limiting and we needed a more layered, networked, interconnected framing.
In search of a more fitting starting point for our practice at Hamdasti, I substituted public space as an entry point with the idea of public moment. Looking back at the presentations from the other participants also reinforced this notion – it seemed to me that we were all in our own ways working to create a moment of publicness. Some by creating ritual space, or by realigning the relationship and movement of bodies in space, creating a new encounter, triggering friction, building a sensorial experience or a moment of play. These moments occur in public spaces but also in galleries, schools, homes workshops etc. For Hamdasti creating publicness translates to creating experiences where one can engage with the other and examine their relationship to a space in a new light. I strongly feel that its not so much our intent to place ourselves, our art or our practices (entity 1) in a public space (entity 2), but to work towards this publicness.
Just as we found that creating a distinction between art (entity 1) and public space (entity 2) was unhelpful, the distinction between an artist and publics seemed equally obsolete as a way of framing our work. Instead of the artist-audience, artist-community binaries, we tried to imagine new models, describing a network of relationships and hierarchies between the different people involved in a project. This allows us to acknowledge the power dynamics, shifting roles and contending interests. It also prevents the artist from absolving themselves of any relationship to the people who encounter or engage with their work and hopefully encourages us to think more intentionally of these relationships and our role with respect to this network. This system often has the artist at the centre, but also leaves room for imagining new ways of collaboration and exchange between multiple individuals or groups involved in a project. It also challenges us to think about taking on different roles at different points of the project, and acknowledge the relationship between different people in the network outside the artist-audience relationship. It also helps us think of who is missing or left out of this network.