YOKOHAMA TRIENNALE 2020
As the 7th edition of the Yokohama Triennale is set to open in Japan, Francesca Ceccherini sat down with Raqs Media Collective to discuss their curatorial strategy, and how the exhibition has developed online, in print, and elsewhere.
On July 17, 2020, the 7th edition of the Yokohama Triennale opens.
But the Triennale has been running for a while now, beginning in November 2019, with the launch of Sourcebook: a print and digital publication introducing the sources that the Raqs Media Collective – Artistic Directors of this edition – have put together in the process of their curatorial research. What used to be a period of anticipation has now turned into an integral part of the project itself, effectively reimagining the space-time of an international art event. We are invited to take part in a journey through visions, trips, landscapes, stories, that Raqs has called a plurality of complexities, “each drawing from and into the other,vibrating divergent and convergent lines.”
In conjunction with the Sourcebook, Raqs Media Collective has also organised Episōdos, conversations with communities in a variety of sites.The first of the series, Episōdo 00 “Sharing Our Sources”, commenced in Yokohama in November 2019, with other instalments taking place in Hong Kong and Johannesburg.
Francesca Ceccherini: Your concept for the Yokohama Triennale can be imagined as a sort of dynamic architecture expanding itself in multiple directions, fluid and migrational. What is the role you give to the material that appears in Sourcebook?
Raqs Media Collective: The logic of working with sources has grown over the last five years. Through sources, we are creating a condition of enquiry aiming to investigate and think with the world. Sources are imagined to keep alive the condition of the making of the discursive, and the milieus that this is creating. In our vision, sources create a conceptual and affective zone where everyone is welcome. For example, at the Shanghai Biennale (2020), we worked primarily with two sources: cinema and science fiction. Cinema as source was taken from a filmmaker in Bengali language from the early 1970s; and for science fiction we looked at a writer from China. The heritage these sources bring creates a link between the public, the artists, and us.
With a group show at MACBA, Barcelona, in late 2018, we experimented further with this process and brought in sources that orchestrated nine distinctions in cultural, ecological, technological, and political moments. These nine sources were related to each other for reasons other than belonging to specific disciplines or geographical or temporal connections. The connections were to be invented. For example, a robot suicide can find a link with an inter-species painting of the early 19thcentury, or a mathematical question on acoustic reason, or a 16thcentury treatise on love.
With the Yokohama Triennale we are proposing sources and finding our way into an entanglement with each other, creating possibilities for a fresh account of time, of disparate geographies, and yet still with recognisable cultural sensibilities. People are writing variously about the Triennale right now – sharing things about conversations, and the world, drawing from the sources. It becomes an expanding dialogue, becoming a polylogue. The sources became a conversation site with the enlarged world and a kind of guide for the entire process. We think a discursive milieu is getting created around them, which the public and the artists are crafting and soldering “together”.
FC: In reading the Sourcebook we do indeed embark on a journey: the sources are collected from different periods, cultures and geographies. From the abyss to outer space, from origins to contemporaneity. You refer, for example, to the TV white noise that allows us to “listen” to a fraction of the cosmic microwave radiations left over from the Big Bang; or the way some corals respond to the toxicity of the sun's ultraviolet waves by reacting with bio-luminescence; elsewhere, you explain how a 16thcentury Indian manuscript proposes star-gazing as a form of medicine for the care of friends.
Each of these stories has a strong relationship to luminosity. Where does the need to create a space for luminosity come from? What are the meanings you give to light as a metaphorical, natural or artificial element?
Raqs: We started to think differently about light when we realised that many images of history and aesthetics, conceived at different times and in many places, literally encounter one another through the power of light. We questioned ourselves about what light and its power are, and what they represent. Often light becomes more than something you are surrounded by; it can be an occasion to look at the infrastructure of life itself. Light is a powerful metaphor that is used in several cultures, especially in the Semitic religions. It gave rise to the dichotomy, luminosity-darkness, which allows us to look deeply at the belonging that the question of light brings with it, and what it has meant. In our conception, light becomes a process of awareness, curiosity, and understanding.
Luminosity becomes a space where cultures and materials can speak to us in a different way. This phenomenon can occur while thinking about friendship, the biological behaviour of some marine species, or in watching stars in the night sky. When we are in the space of luminosity, we are able to look at reality differently – not at what it lights up, but why it glows in the first place.
In addition to what you mentioned, an example is the blinding-flash experience of the atomic bomb viewed by a young boy in Nagasaki who then decided to initiate scientific research to intercept toxicity in aquatic bodies through light reaction. We think about those kinds of processes as luminous scales, because different things can be linked to luminosity, unexpectedly. The concept of luminosity that we are introducing at the Triennale in Yokohama is related to an awareness that is without masters and with mutual recognition.
FC: Some of the Episōdos conversations on the discourse of justice have already started. Could you explain what the idea behind the Episōdos is, and how they are meant to take place? What kind of communities are participating in them? What are you gathering from these situations, and how is that fed back into your curation of the Triennale?
Raqs: Episōdos are a temporal concept; visually you can think of them as crystal thickets. The Triennale in Yokohama becomes a temporal opportunity to expand discourse with the public, bringing various people inside this movement of co-thinking.
We have been working for several months with different curators and artists on a rubric called “Discursive Justice”. We could say that the “Deliberations on Discursive Justice” (which is what this tributary of the Triennale is called) is a kind of mechanism for conversations that bring into question the forums and modes of claiming, and the dispensing of, justice. The proposition is that the condition of contemporary art is an active site where we can deliberate on the long durée and troubled questions of justice artistically, discursively, and performatively. The Deliberations are enunciated especially in three of the Episōdos. There are other Episōdos as well. “Institute for Tropical and Galactical Studies” splices and re-stages the collections of the Yokohama Museum of Art (YMA). “Printing Sound” works on collective creation, Masaru Iwai invites collective and individual cleaning actions in the Museum and off-site.
There is a reason we thought about Discursive Justice (DJ) – to enlist specific questions and create a suspension of time. With the brilliant DJ team of Michelle, Kabelo, and Lantian, we spoke about what costumes, sounds, or environments, in different moments, become decisive for justice and its discourses. The idea is not focused on a production of content, but on the proliferation of sites and backgrounds in the discourse of justice, to relate to the way “speech” can be made possible with all its potentialities.
Just today we read “Notes on Credibility” from the African-American graduate students of Harvard Design School: the text is a statement to question the credibility of institutions in the matter of institutionalised racism. In this text we can glimpse the mechanism of the production of infrastructure towards discursive justice. We bring up this instance to alert us as to how voices appear, such as at this moment in the US context where millions of voices need to, and are, expressing themselves. The question students are asking is: how can a school create a new infrastructure for voices that is capable of responding, and which can resonate? This way of developing the discourse of justice becomes a deliberation on justice itself, an attempt to make speech gather and change infrastructures.
FC: At the end of your Sourcebook you describe the Triennale as a “site- and time-specific” exhibition. This concept opens up reflections on the possible ways of curating, producing, and sharing an artistic project. Can performativity be a curatorial strategy?
Raqs: To answer your questions, we want to outline a difference. The linear narrative of ritual spaces of discursivity is not sensible across milieus. There are many places where there is no privileged condition of the theatre, or the church, or the museum. We think that the lines are more irregular or crooked, and they do not fit into simple geometries of transitions. For example, in India, there are many different sorts of museums and these spaces are sometimes frosty, sometimes fraught, and sometimes take unexpected turns. Everything remains unstable and contingent. The evaluation of infrastructure is something we are looking at because around it coalesces a site of discursivity in society, and the ability for people to be part of something and to develop it together. In this sense our relationship with the curatorial form, wherever we are working, is one of exploring this question of site, and the infrastructure of discourse.
Everything depends on the way we understand the nature of platforms and moments, and what kind of discourse we are producing. There is no discursivity without performativity. We consider performativity as a curatorial strategy; it is present in every curatorial gesture. It is important to observe how things are transforming. In this regard, it is also meaningful to discuss the quality of the passage of time, how we are able to evaluate new times or new orders that belong to it. This is what we mean when we speak about “time-specific”: it is an invitation into disorder and confusion as you enter an open enquiry.
FC: Did the recent health emergency cause fundamental changes to your organisation?
Raqs:We are living in a strange situation. We cannot move from India because of the sanitary emergency, and the situation here is getting much worse. We are working from our homes, and the installation (of the exhibition) is still far away. The digital allows us to make the installation happen, and the experience of the exhibition somewhat accessible. Now the challenge is to no longer consider the digital as a secondary space. The online space permits a shaping of our sensory and cognitive reality during the Covid lockdown in an unparalleled way, but also in a highly patrolled way, and that has manifested itself shared all over the world.
The important consideration with the digital platform we set up is to turn it into a significant site of experiencing the Triennale. We have to affect the way we watch the screen; the relationships with the artists and art works, and the institution itself has to be at least somewhat re-calibrated. A different temporal exhibition is going on: not an exhibition in space but an exhibition in timethat will appear online and this is what we are now trying to focus our attention on. We are satisfied with the way the on-site is shaping. In the actual space, we have to respect the guideline of a limited number of people with specific distances; it is really rare for an exhibition of this scale to be installed with such measures. We are handling the situation day by day, but we are working with an efficient and committed curatorial team.
The low numbers of people who will be allowed to access the exhibition will alert us to the perception of how we think about exhibitions per se under these new conditions. We expect that discretionary parameters and different geometries will play out in the readings of the artworks.
Link to download the Sourcebook: https://www.yokohamatriennale.jp/english/2020/concept/source/
RAQS MEDIA COLLECTIVE was formed in in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. The word raqs in several languages denotes an intensification of awareness and presence attained by whirling, turning, being in a state of revolution. They practice across several forms and media; they make art, produce performances, write, curate, and occupy a unique position at the intersection of contemporary art, philosophical speculation, and historical enquiry. The members of Raqs Media Collective live and work in New Delhi, India.
Exhibitions curated include “The Rest of Now” (Manifesta 7, Bolzano, 2008), Sarai Reader 09 (Gurugram, 2012-13), INSERT2014 (New Delhi, 2014), “Why Not Ask Again” (Shanghai Biennale 2016-2017) and “In the Open or in Stealth” (MACBA, Barcelona, 2018). Their work has been exhibited at Documenta, Manifesta,and the Venice, São Paulo, Istanbul, Shanghai, Sydney, and Taipei Biennales. Their prospective, “With an Untimely Calendar” was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, in 2014-2015. Other museum solo shows include the Isabella Gardner Museum (Boston, 2012), CA2M (Madrid, 2014), MUAC (Mexico City, 2015), Tate Exchange (London, 2016), Fundacion Proa (Buenos Aires, 2015), Laumeier Sculpture Park (St Louis, 2016), the Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester 2017), Firstsite (Colchester, 2018), K21 (Dusseldorf, 2018) and the Mathaf (Doha, 2019).
FRANCESCA CECCHERINI is a curator, scholar, and writer based in Zurich. She has been part of the Contemporary Locus curatorial team since 2012, and Exibart magazine since 2014. She is the curator of the international project One by One by Filippo Berta, Italian Council winner 2019.