During their 2010 residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
, the Raqs Media Collective experienced a private flashlight tour of the Museum galleries at night. This unique perspective inspired the artists and helped to inform some of their new work titled The Great Bare Mat & Constellation, opening September 20, 2012 at the Gardner Museum and on view through January 7, 2013.
The New Delhi artist trio, the Raqs Media Collective, (Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta), created two distinct installations in the special exhibition galleries. The Great Bare Mat & Constellation refers to a carpet, a surface for the staging of conversations, displayed at the foot of The Vinegar Tasters, a two-part 17th century Japanese screen from the Museums Collection. The carpet's repeated motif, woven by a group of expert Bulgarian weavers, indexes the constellation of the Ursa Major (The Great Bear) against a background drawing, that traces the exchanges between the three personal computers of the Raqs Media Collective and the world during one hours time. Raqs members view time as a measure of change and are interested in thinking about how our sense of time as human beings has accelerated, fragmented, and intensified in this century. The intense criss-crossing patterns of the carpet demonstrate the intricacy, complexity, and global quality of contemporary communication set against the ancient and leisurely nightly pass time of star gazing.
Pieranna Cavalchini, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Gardner Museum, said she views Raqs as responding to the collection as if they were mending the torn fabric of time. In Art as in science today knowledge and research are inseparable from ethics and ontology. The particular and the universal are in constant communication, Cavalchini said. The work of the Raqs Media Collective is rooted in this way of looking at and being in the world. They pay attention to every passing second as if it were an infinity, and the heightened attention they bring to bear on what the collection contains invites us to reconsider how we look at art itself. It is wonderful as a curator to be able to bring this thinking and sensibility to the museums collection and to our audiences.
The second installation in the Special Exhibition Gallery is a silent, looped-digital projection that animatesthrough a series of subtle alterationsthe many photographs and film stills the artists recorded while in residence at the Museum in 2010. The images of the projected video reflect onto an adjacent gallery wall, where a luminous array of shiny metal surfaces mirroring distinct narratives, create a conversation between images in the mind of the viewer similar to what can happen while walking through the galleries of the Museum at night. During their flashlight tour in 2010, the Raqs Media Collective were struck by how faces, bodies, mythical beasts, birds, and monsters seemed to float and hover in the twilight of the dark museum. The objects that appeared anchored to provenance and meaning by day came alive during in darkness recombining themselves in all sorts of unusual ways.
Through their experience as Artists-in-Residence, the members of the Raqs Media Collective explore the way in which the Gardner Museum treats time, accumulates images in the mind of the viewer, curates a special experience of intelligence, and creates encounters between art and music. The exhibition will extend into a set of four 'exchanges' in Calderwood Hall each involving four speakers, with Raqs members as moderators. Each exchange will reflect on a theme which the Raqs Media Collective has chosen as a response to their time spent within the Gardner Museum. The themes refer to a specific attribute or quality that the Raqs Media Collective found in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and are meant to be interpreted freely by the speakers.
In addition to their exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Raqs Media Collective will teach at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Their course intends to provide students with the unique opportunity to work closely with Raqs Media Collective. It will explore and activate lines of inquiry and tension between art, science, philosophy, history, urban theory, and other disciplines. The course also seeks to collapse the student-professor divide in the hopes of realizing the potentials of conducting vigorous research, art-making, and curation through participation and collaboration.
Raqs Media Collective
Formed in 1992, the Raqs Media Collective consists of independent media practitioners Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. The group has been variously described as artists, media practitioners, curators, researchers, editors and catalysts of cultural processes. Their work, which has been exhibited widely in major international spaces and events, locates them squarely along the intersections of contemporary art, historical enquiry, philosophical speculation, research and theory - often taking the form of installations, online and offline media objects, performances and encounters.
Based in Delhi, their work engages with urban spaces and global circuits, persistently welding a sharp, edgily contemporary sense of what it means to lay claim to the world from the streets of Delhi. At the same time, Raqs Media Collective articulates an intimately living relationship with myths and histories of diverse provenances. Raqs sees its work as opening out a series of investigations with image, sound, software, objects, performance, print, text and lately, curation, that straddles different (and changing) affective and aesthetic registers that express an imaginative unpacking of questions of identity and location, a deep ambivalence towards modernity and a quiet but consistent critique of the operations of power and property.
In 2001 Raqs co-founded Sarai at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi where they coordinate media productions, pursue and administer independent research and practice projects and also work as members of the editorial collective of the Sarai Reader series. For Raqs, Sarai is a space where they have the freedom to pursue interdisciplinary and hybrid contexts for creative work and to develop a sustained engagement with urban space and with different forms of media. They have had solo exhibitions at The Tate Britain and Frith Street Gallery in London; Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels; Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, The Taipei, Liverpool, Ogaki and Venice Biennales, as well as curated "The Rest of Now" and co-curated "Scenarios" for Manifesta 7 (2008).