Critical Writing Ensemble: Day four at the Dhaka Art Summit

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As the fourth and final day of the Critical Writing Ensemble’s Second Chapter is about to begin, we wait for the traffic to allow people to arrive and gather within the confines of the conference room. As we wait for people to gather, the participants and audience’s chatter recaps on the previous three days papers and discussions, demonstrating a fervor for the day’s papers to begin. Following the topic, Entangling and Disentangling Printed Matter, the day’s speakers will discuss the diversity of writing histories developed through art publishing platforms and their contribution to the construction of criticality within the South Asia region and beyond.

The first speaker of the day is Aunohita Mojumdar, Editor of the Himal Magazine in Kathmandu and whose lecture will discuss the responsibility of the writer in the theatre of war by bringing to light stories of everyday reality in territories of conflict and violence. Questioning what we read when we read about areas of conflict while analysing the challenges faced by war journalists in areas like Afghanistan where the situation is over reported but yet under narrated. Perhaps the key question Aunohita asks the audience is how and where we make space to look at such issues with an Editorial neutrality?

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Devika Singh’s paper Indian Printed Matter after Independence discusses how her research uses printed matter as a point of departure to discuss the moment when art reviews were a critical site of transaction in India between the public sphere and contemporary art currents. Concentrating on the publication Marg, Devika explains how the magazine navigated the public sphere and explained its influence on numerous influential figures.

Highlighting Marg’s importance as a time capsule or memory bank, the magazine’s role in the progressive writing movement is unquestioned, Marg is still being published today. Although it was previously funded by the Tata Group, their involvement has dwindled in recent years, opening up the question of how progressive publications both fund themselves and maintain their editorial agenda.

The final paper of the morning comes from Dorothee Richter who is the Editor of the independent international journal OnCurating and also Head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating at the University of the Arts in Switzerland. Discussing the political and the social within the critique of artwork today Dorothee addresses the subject through her experience of working and writing across online and offline platforms. Although platforms like OnCurating are an important contribution to art writing and criticism, where and how we fund such platforms to ensure diversity in the voices who communicate through them is an issue which feels to have been swept under the carpet slightly throughout this Ensemble. As money circulates within society, what does this do or mean for art?

Following on from lunch on the Shilpakala Academy’s roof terrace, Sharmini Pereira opens her paper Location, Location, Location explaining how her organisation, Raking Leaves, commissions and publishes artist books from South Asia. Presenting three recent projects, one by an artist from Sri Lanka the other two by artists from Pakistan, Sharmini explains how each project is inhabited by its own political issues, particularly around where the artists are from. For Raking Leaves, where the artists are from is not of critical importance but it does add context to the criticality of the work.

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As the programme of speakers draws near to the end, Mike Sperlinger, Professor of Theory and Writing at The Academy of Fine Art, KHiO (Oslo, Norway) briefly examines some of the practices, histories and institutional dilemmas concealed by the seemingly innocuous grammatical marks which have become a popular attribute to recent art writing terminologies. Delving into what kind of relationship such grammatical marks might imply between art and writing through his paper The Artist’s Apostrophe, he talks of art writing as a genre and not a tool.

Using Tracks: a journal of artists’ writings, a little-known publication edited by American sculptor Herbert George as an example, Mike discusses how art writing should provide just enough information to maintain a critical difference without being too specific and questions how we achieve the perfect balance.

To close the four days of though-provoking papers, Mustafa Zaman closes the sessions with Art Writing from below: Transversality in the Country of Mistranslation which looks at the state of art criticism in Bangladesh while simultaneously examining its crucial reinforcement to the country’s burgeoning art scene. Discussing how the magazine he conceived, Depart, fits within the current Bangladesh art scene and how it achieves its aim of giving critical reinforcement to the scene, Mustafa draws on the complications of writing in English and Bangla, we are perhaps back at the perhaps also a reference back to the issue of being from a language raised previously by Nida Ghouse.

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Bringing the issues around art writing back to the country in which the four days of the second chapter of the Critical Writing Ensemble have taken place, it’s a reminder of how the issues facing critical writing across the globe are both parallel yet specific to their location and language. As Katya draws the sessions to a close by thanking all of the peers and the audience for their commitment and engagement with the past four days of papers while explaining the programme’s next steps, a clear demonstration of how important platforms like this are to the future of critical writing.

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