Over the last two days away from the Critical Writing Ensemble’s programme, parties have taken place, speeches have been made and numerous visitors – from international gallery Directors to local school children – have come to ogle the offerings of the third edition of the Dhaka Art Summit. With numerous new faces joining the audience, everyone crams into the cosy confines of one of Shilpakala Academy’s seminar rooms in anticipation of the third day of talks. Gathered around a large round table with others tentatively perched on plastic garden furniture chairs, the second day was introduced by TAKE on art’s Editor-in-Chief Bhavna Kakar who reminds every one of today’s topic, The Political Unconsciousness of Art Writing, which will address the various political concerns of art writing while looking at the art practices that have informed them.
To open the day’s papers, Art Historian, Curator, Critic and inimitable expert on contemporary art, Geeta Kapur commences her paper, Forms of Address: Personal testimony, public engagement, which focuses on the importance of texts and documentation in the work of Rummana Hussain and Jitish Kallant to the historical, political and ethical dilemmas of our time.
Discussing the central role that witness testimony has in twentieth century politics, Geeta talks of how Rummana’s work discusses and addresses political and religious issues within a feminist paradigm, closing by reading a series of questions from one of her performance scripts “… did her father permit her … are her beliefs an escape … has she heard her description of her … is she you …”. Going on to discuss artist Jitish Kallat’s public notice projects and other works related to it, Geeta uses his work as an example of how public address can be used as a rhetorical mediation inserted into the discourse of an artist’s address. On closing, Katya quizzes Geeta on the matter of the afterlife of words; are Rummana and Jitish’s words for the moment or are they designed to resonate? A highly relevant thought as we consider the purpose of our own words as art writers.
Next up is Mariam Ghani’s performative, part-text based presentation of audio-visual material pulled from her ongoing project What we left unfinished. Mariam’s long-term research, film and dialogue project comprises of five unfinished Afghan feature films shot, which she has embraced as a kind of aestheticisation of politics, by using documentary as an art practice. Although Mariam’s films are fictional, they include documentary footage blurring the distinction between making political art and art that is political. Having been developed from archival practice, the project adds another layer of discussion to the use of archival material in perhaps a way that Filipa Ramos’s reviews of unseen exhibitions did.
As Turkish Curator and Writer Ovul O. Durmusoglu pull up a chair at the head of the table, she passes comment on how the Dhaka Art Summit as a space which opens up the possibilities of the way we make exhibitions. Ovul’s paper, Rebranding Mesopotamia: The Inextinguishable Fire, discusses the flow of media information which forces us to address the reality of war in our everyday lives. Taking the time to discuss the issues of ‘resistance chic’ Ovul’s slide show compares images of female guerrilla fighters and high street fashion which imitates their uniforms. Highlighting the issues of Western media and ideology and how images are circulated, Ovul warns of the trap for the artist or curator in an analogy of how art can become branding by taking the audience to a moment before the artistic thinking, when the curator/artist formed their position or thinking.
Following on from lunch, the crowd expands further until the room is almost at the point of bursting as Nabil Ahmed opens his paper, Earth Poison: Environmental Writing as Militant Research, in which he talks about his practice of combining video, performance and sound art to address the writing of the world as an accumulation of catastrophic events. Using Bangladesh’s issues with arsenic contamination of groundwater as an example, he delves into his ongoing research with the Forensic Architecture research project team at Goldsmiths University London. As Nabil comments on his thoughts of the atmosphere as a part of the landscape, it brings to light the issue of how critical writing can sometimes hone in on one issue inadvertently dismissing the connected issues surrounding its topic of discussion.
As the next speaker, Maria Lind, the Director of the Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm swaps places with Nabil, with no time for questions (due to the overrunning of lunch) the crowd exchange thoughts with one another. After an introduction from Bhavna, Maria dons her extra-large round eyeglasses to read from her paper, Metabolistic Writing which analyses how the past few decades of abstraction has been dealt with by art as a subject matter mirroring the economic, social and political condition of the world around us. Reading from Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, Maria demonstrates what she describes as ‘metabolistic writing’, a performative and generative way of producing text.
Going on to explain how she nearly gave up on art writing feeling it was time to do something else, Maria later realised that coming to a subject from the perspective of different fields, such as architecture or design can bring a very different perspective to your approach, siting the artist who works across multiple fields as an example. Is it possible that obscurity can sometimes bring clarity to a subject in the way that expertise cannot?
To conclude the day’s papers, Rosa Martinez enthusiastically explains the reasoning behind her paper, Fear Nothing, She Says: When Art Reveals Mystic Truths which is discusses the exhibition she curated of the same name. Embracing the audience with her wit, Rosa explains how the exhibition is an invitation to overcome obstacles and fears by opening up new developments of global ethical and aesthetic awareness, closing with the thought; ‘Art is a kind of knowledge, a form of wisdom and an exercise of power. In art we must seek the presence and the meaning that transcends the visual’.