Programme highlights from Edinburgh Art Festival 2014 group show Where Do I End And You Begin?
Shilpa Gupta on the major group show exploring ideals, myths, legacies and possibilities inherent to the Commonwealth
This article is from 2014.
The ideals, myths, legacies and possibilities inherent to the Commonwealth are explored in a major group show at the City Art Centre. David Pollock speaks to artist Shilpa Gupta about one of Edinburgh Art Festival’s most ambitious projects.
‘It’s about the relationship that gets developed between two entities when they come in contact, be that affection or friction,’ says Shilpa Gupta of ‘WheredoIendandyoubegin’, her light work which gives this major new group show its name. ‘The meaning of the work can allow one interpretation to inform another, for example a relationship of love and friction between two lovers can be extended to that of greed and need between the colonised and coloniser.’
It’s this latter relationship which the exhibition named Where Do I End and You Begin has been designed to play upon. Gathering together many cultural strands hanging in the air, from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to the second Scottish Year of Homecoming, this Edinburgh Art Festival show sees five curators from across the Commonwealth each gather a group of artists to exhibit from within their spheres of knowledge. The result should be a show which illuminates approaches to contemporary art around the world, and which reflects upon the effect of a certain type of shared — presumed or actual — cultural history. But it isn’t as straightforward as all that.
‘As a general rule none of the work in the exhibition speaks specifically about ‘the Commonwealth’ per se,’ says Richard Hylton, writer and curator. ‘It’s more the case that the ideas of history and the present and the legacies of migration, colonisation and Empire are tacit signifiers of amongst other things ‘the Commonwealth’. For example Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater examine the politics of land rights and ownership against the legacies of colonisation in Canada. By comparison, Emma Rushton and Derek Tyman consider the privatisation of Scotland’s common lands. These and other artists’ work explore the ways in which the past and the present are inextricably linked.’
Nowhere are the roots of the Commonwealth more problematically located than in the subcontinental region, a pre-partition landscape which curator Vidya Shivadas wanted to explore in lieu of just an ‘Indian’ space. ‘We had a lot of brainstorming on how to approach the theme,’ she says. ‘How does a mid-20th century international platform that speaks of our common colonial past make its way into the present? How do we relate to it in today’s context of accelerated globalisation? We also reflected on whether the term ‘Commonwealth’ could be given a new lease of life, relating to more egalitarian notions of the commons, where communities and individuals focus on ethical co-habitation.’
She points to the work of Arpita Singh and Masooma Syed, two female artists from India and Pakistan of different generations, whose works converse with one another in this context. ‘Masooma’s cardboard and paper constructions and Arpita’s watercolours talk about labour, play, fantasy in the making of the self, working often with complicated and at times antagonistic genealogies.’
Then there’s Amar Kanwar’s ‘The Sovereign Forest’, which focuses on the large scale mining and privatisation of resources in the state of Odisha, a huge and expansive work which comprises handmade books, photographs, video projections, pamphlets, more than 200 varieties of rice indigenous to that area and ‘The Scene of Crime’, a slow-motion projected montage which displays a visceral experience of the places where the struggle for this space is being waged.
‘What’s really exciting is also where the installation will be displayed, at the Old Royal High School,’ says Shivadas. ‘The building was conceived as a venue for the Devolved Scottish Assembly in the 1970s, twenty years before Scotland’s Parliament was established, and in this year Scotland will hold a referendum to decide its future in the UK. ‘The Scene of Crime’ will occupy centre stage in the old Debating Chamber, making visible the struggles of marginalised communities and their stakes in the process of democracy.’ She says Kanwar’s work focuses on human rights and political issues in India, Burma and elsewhere, while also foregrounding the power of poetry and aesthetics in driving political movements.
For Gupta’s part, the emergence of her career came with a growing boom in Indian art in the mid-1990s, which in turn coincided with the increasing influence of globalisation upon the region. ‘The scene has since grown with many new galleries and there’s been a slow growth of private museums and foundations,’ she says. ‘A lot of art created in India is no different from anywhere there are schools of modernist art alongside conceptual work, but the difference is the lack of state patronage which then fails to attract contemporary practitioners who in turn function in small groups. It also means that the dominant practice in art schools which are mostly run by the state is modernism.’
What effect does she think the legacy of the Commonwealth has had on her life and work, if any? ‘We live in a glocal world where the local and global are constantly playing with and against each other,’ says Gupta. ‘When I was growing up it was already fifty years since Independence and transformation had seeped well into the system. In the 90s a pragmatic outlook in accepting one’s multiple histories had already set in and there was a sense of looking forward rather than being burdened by an unequal past. For example, at that time English pop songs dominated the club scene and Hindi numbers were uncool. Ten years later, Hindi remixes completely took over and the dance floor was hardly empty.’
City Art Centre, 529 3993 until Sun 19 Oct, free. Offsite projects at Old Royal High School, Easter Road Billboard and Edinburgh Art Festival Kiosk (nightly from 10pm) until 31 August, free.