• ‘First Draft’: a two day Pop-Up Show | New Delhi, India

    During the Building Bridges exhibition in New Delhi, last February, Sonam Chaturvedi and Tatjana Henderieckx joined with three other artists, Charlot Van Geert from Belgium and  Priyank and Priyesh Gothwal from India, to put up a new, experimental exhibition, sharing ideas, drafts, projects, and showing them to the public. 

     

    'First Draft' participating artists:Tatjana Henderieckx, Priyank Gothwal, Charlot Van Geert, Sonam Chaturvedi, Priyesh Gothwal

    Happenings are of the everyday, performances of the here and now; an unceasing cycle of continuities and discontinuities is a moment, an event, a happening. Like the layering of text to reinforce drafts to finalize a piece of writing, or like the dressing of an armature, the First Draft, an exhibition of works in progress, decided to expose its unfinished contradictions, abandoned ideas, past experiments, unscripted compositions, and shifting thoughts, overshadowed by the speculations and improbabilities of the maker. Like the temporal disposition of all occurrences, this happening popped up one evening and withdrew the next, appearing only to those who risked to negotiate through the busy IGNOU road to view it.

    While Ushmita Sahu was curating Building Bridges -an international digital alliance between thirteen young emerging artists from across boundaries, with the generous support of Emergent Art Space, the show reflected on the consequences of a globalizing world. Two artists already participating within this project along with three others, began to ideate in a parallel capacity and spontaneously decided to put up a show, curating the space as a collaborative response to each other’s thought processes. The site-specificity of some of the works, foregrounded the binaries of space and installation participating within one another to impart a spatio-temporal experience. As a humble guide to the spectator, titles, tags, labels and details were retained within copies of hand-drawn maps of the floor-plan with approximated locations of the displays on site, yet prevented her/him from limiting her/his imaginings to accompanying instructions. The injected sense of incompletion to the display provided room for multiple approaches to observation, interpretation and imagination. The instantaneous dismantling of the show regards the temporality of a work in progress, the immediacy of gestures and the materialization and dissipation of ideas.

    The space is primarily consumed by two-dimensional planes, of photographs and screens, but for Charlot’s sculptural objects. These installations defined through outlines and flat planes with the use of wood and metal, convey a sense of reflected summaries and semblances of the photographs displayed across them. The unmouldable materials of metal and wood, susceptible to damages, retain marks and scratches in their physical fabrics as irreversible wounds. For Charlot, these very marks is what gives the object its former character, a new identity, and embracing these mistakes is her contribution to a happening and a constant becoming.

        

    Tatjana has a story to tell with every still she captures, where she configures the everyday mundane, repetitive contours with suggestive impressions. Capturing the animate and the inanimate in an interworking space of communication, Tatjana and Charlot persistently respond to each other’s works by collaborating to find meaning through the existence of the other. Could Charlot’s be a reference to the materiality of a past as a vague remembrance that is all that remains in space and time, as an intangible fading thought, or the recovery of a blind memory, with reference to Tatjana’s photographic compositions as fields of instant visual awareness and impression?

    Sonam approaches the concept of time and memory with a number of experimental digital aids and poetry as a result of a sporadic stream of thoughts and a lingering fatigue in the present. A house across the street was suddenly demolished one morning, the abrupt nature of this operation which vexed the memory of a house that seemed unscathed only yesterday, but ceasing to be today; once there, now gone, to remain in reminiscences. To cope with the absence, she tries to recuperate the house through virtually imagined reconstructions, choosing simple aids in Photoshop to generate more dimensions to the memory of the house -to erase the past and make her own web of angles, to erase again and try anew- in the process necessitating the spectator to assume and anticipate the movement of the lines in the video of a work-in-progress screen-recording propped up on the wall. The gradual entropy of her surroundings steers her designs to develop into webbed networks to possess walls and spaces between wires, to hold onto –only more fraily- continuities and discontinuities, like the failing memory. The sheer webs only come into view as one looks closer at her archival prints, suggestive of the invisible inbetweens of inhabited three dimensional spaces not visible to the naked eye unless closely interacted with. It is, she states, a “bridging of the gap between coherence and incoherence.”

        

    In an oneiric state of occurrences, her flickering, intermittent thoughts within busy traffic-infested neighborhoods, are translated into poetry. Physically undeterred but mentally strained, a long string of unmatched text is wrapped around a pillar with one end hanging loose on the floor. The viewer is necessitated to pick up the loose thoughts, stretch them as she/he pulls away from the pillar to a corner of the room, to read and relate to them. The resounding of the cacophonous outside within the calm interiors while clutching onto a string of evidential text in hand, stagnates the performance of the reminiscing spectator.

    Priyesh and Priyank in a collaborative effort bring to knee-level display, strips of photographic visual narratives incorporated with text as fictitious subtitles. Individual stills of landscapes as images in themselves are stitched together or superimposed to generate broken, yet linear panoramas as if captured from multiple points of view from a speeding means of transport. With the camera sometimes subjected to unsteady perception, the resulting fragmented parts deceive the idea of a single linear landscapic narrative, but is held together with the fictitious subtitles to create a whole.

    The display of these horizontal formats at a lower chapter of the wall induces discomfort in the spectator as he sweeps across the length trying to view the exhibits. The artists see this as a process into performance initiated by the position of the work and executed further by the spectator himself.

    To experiment with works in progress was to further the idea of constant configurations and disfigurements to a work of art, to be able to expose a process in order to gather viewer-responses and assessments, as references before the making of a final work of art - which it cannot really become if it is involved in a cycle of a constant becoming. The forthcoming stages of progress will be a post-First Draft project, with the energy of such impromptu pop-ups undoubtedly pushing the young artists to challenge the conventional structures of exhibitions and displays: experimenting with equally prompt ideas itself converts these exhibition spaces into larger art projects. The show was constantly balancing between the aspects of the curated and the uncurated, allowing the artists an encounter without mediation. The arrangement of the works and the execution of the show in its rawest form found interest in the minds of the viewers, generating dialog within the transient of the happening.

    Shalmali Shetty

     

    Shalmali Shetty has a BVA in Painting and Printmaking from the Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU Baroda (2015) and a MA from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (2017). Concurrently working in technical art capacities and writing about art, she intends to coalesce her practice and theory in the production of the curatorial. She is a contributor for Bigart, Artdose and TAKE on Art Magazine, among others.

     

     

  • CREATING ‘COUNTERFEIT’ | London, UK

    Four young London-based artists’ leap into the world of professionalism with the planning and development of their own group exhibition, 'Counterfeit'.

     

    The Counterfeit team: Ambar Quijano, Florentine Ruault, Amelie McKee, and Heyse Ip

    Early in the morning, I peer through my computer screen into a small bright space with white walls, where four young smiling faces huddle around to fit into their afternoon picture. The image freezes and our jokes crack, as we try to brake the digital ice and bridge the time difference between us. Slowly, the conversation picks up speed and I begin to gain a sense of this group, their energy, close-knit relationships and ideas.

    I am skyping with Amelie McKee, Ambar Quijano, Heyse Ip and Florentine Ruault – four London-based emerging artists, all on the verge of graduating from Chelsea College of Art. Over the last year, they have been collaborating for their most recent gallery show: “Counterfeit” – which could be seen from the 6th to the 17th of March 2018 at the Bermondsey Project Space.

    While coming from very different practices and backgrounds, a year ago, they identified the idea of “counterfeit” as an intersection of their interests. “Our work isn't something that is completely fictional, but neither is it real” Heyse explains. “it’s got this sense of in-betweenness. It exists in a separate realm. Being kind of fake but almost passable as real… The word counterfeit isn’t normally used for art. Unless it refers to faking a painting, or something that creates monetary value. In our case, it’s more about other sorts of values we can falsify or play around with… Peoples viewpoints of these different types of information.”

    Coming together and developing the Counterfeit project

    Ambar Quijano and Amelie McKee, «Untraceable Origin #56» 2017 Aluminum cast, wood, and steel, 60x125x150 cm.

    As first-years at Chelsea, Amelie (b.1996, France) and Ambar (b. 1995, Mexico) bonded over their “love for making things”, including welding and constructing their own kiln underneath a bridge at the Thames river side. It was here that the Thames’ many myths first triggered their joint fascination for storytelling and media representation. Especially one tale intrigued them: The massive media coverage and contradictory reports on a whale that was stranded in the Thames and died. Their work ‘Replicas of Bio-structures’ plays with these different versions of truth and media representation, as well as incorporating “real” and “false” found objects from the Thames riverbed.

    Through the frame of the Skype image behind the four artists, I glimpse another quite deceiving sight. An image, that were it not for its wooden stand, almost appears as another smaller room. It is one of Heyse’s (b. 1997, Hon Kong) “Model Models”: a large photograph of an architectural model, void of all detail. As Heyse puts it, his “standing sculptural images”, aim “to create an alternative empty space”

    Florentine (b. 1996, France) explores a very different kind of alternate void. By photographing cities of the world, stripping them from all color and culturally relevant detail, she produces digital drawing in black and white, drastically exaggerating as well as revealing the homogenization of urban landscapes.

    Florentine Ruault, «Morning Tube»  2018, Mounted Fine Art Print, 420x594mm

    Making the Exhibition

    I am fascinated by this passionate bunch. As young artists on the verge of graduating, I ask how they brought this exhibition into life, outside of the familiar university structure.

    Florentine describes the struggle of finding a gallery space: “We basically divided all of London into four sections. And then we made duos. We walked around each neighborhood, each gallery. We talked to people, got email addresses, sent out our proposal. And I think the first thing that we realized was that it wasn't that easy. Because galleries were booked for a long time. Often a year in advance. And we wanted to do our show in four months. I think through this process, we all realized what such an exhibition entails to do”. To tackle time pressure and wide range of seemingly never-ending tasks, the four learned to work together as a team, splitting tasks on administration, the catalogue, the search for sponsors... All four describe the intense bonding experience, that taught them the most about each other’s backgrounds, needs, goals and ideas. “We were all very emotional and demanding about what kind of show we wanted to put on. It was not something we were going to hold back on.” (Ambar)

    Heyse Ip, «Model Diptych», Two inkjet prints on two standing wood frames, 80x120x118.9cm

    A main goal and challenge for the group was being able to create “something that would have some longevity.” Amelie explains. “A lot of shows that happen in London, especially with people our age, are just on for a night, maximum a day, and then the show comes down. That does not allow you to meet a lot of people and have conversations. Have people see your work over a longer period of time. It was important to us to do something that we felt had a bit more impact. And wasn’t just a night with drinks.”

    Finding sponsorship for such a project wasn’t easy and spurred fundamental questions about the sustainability of art and their careers. “That was a moment where we were weighing our financial options. What do we compromise on and what not? Should we get a job to finance the exhibition? But then, I think that's one of the struggles you have to face as an artist: Do you find something else to sustain something that is not auto-sufficient? The idea was quite frustrating. Because we all work a lot and put a lot of energy into what we do. We really want to do this. But at the end of the day, there's only so much you can handle.” (Florentine)

    Thanks to persistent outreach, the four were able to partner with the Bermondsey Project Space, a non-profit gallery in the heart of London’s art district, just a block from the well-known White Cube gallery. They even managed to collaborate with various sponsors to cover the cost for rent, the exhibition catalogue and drinks - an empowering experience for these emerging independent artists. “Creating this exhibition helped me a lot. It’s changed how I perceive my work and how I perceive Amelie, Ambar’s and Heyse’s work. And also, how I see my future. I used to be scared about what was going to happen after graduation. Because it seems to be this emptiness of I-don’t-know-what-I’m-going-to-do. This experience made me feel more secure, because it proved that we can actually do something. And we don’t have to wait for the art industry and whatever institution. We can do stuff ourselves.” (Florentine)

    Ambar in dialog with Erick Lárraga, in front of Florentine’s «Street View 1» as part of her Super Cities series

    After a year of work, many challenges and breakthroughs, Ambar, Amelie, Florentine and Heyse were ecstatic to finally be able to share their work with family, friends, teachers and the broader public. The opening night of counterfeit was a great success. “People we didn’t necessarily expect showed up. It felt like a really warm atmosphere.” says Ambar. Amelie reflects on the importance of being able to exhibit their work in a physical space: “I think nowadays sharing our work on Instagram and our websites, we get responses, and then people will comment. But I think what this type of view gave to me was that conversation and more time in front of the work, one-on-one. It felt like people loosened up a bit. It was more informal. And not only Florentine, and Heyse and Ambar, and I connected, but we also managed to bring together other people. That was my gift from the exhibition.”

    Visitors observing Heyse’s « Model Diptych » at the Bermondsey Project Space

     

    Concluding Thoughts

    After an hour of lively Skype conversation, I close this window into one of London’s emerging art spaces. I am impressed by the perseverance and level of reflection of these four. Congratulations on this major project. We hope to see more from you soon on EAS!

     

    To learn more about the artists’ work see:

    Heyse Ip: @heyseip

    Amelie McKee: @amelie.mckee

    Ambar Quijano: @a.quijano.a

    Florentine Ruault: @florentineruault

     

    Vivien Ahrens, a young writer and reporter for Emergent Art Space, is a cultural anthropologist from Munich, Germany, now working as an educator in Madison, WI, US.

     

     

  • ‘Construction/Deconstruction: The Work is Present’ | Karachi, Pakistan

    Join Pakistani artist Imrana Tanveer on a tour around museums of the world, where her handsome tapestries are virtually hanging from the ceilings of the museum halls, in her work 'Construction/Deconstruction: The Work is Present'.

     

    Palazzo Ducale, Mantova, Italy

    I am so pleased and thrilled to present my work ‘Construction | Deconstruction: the Work is Present’, which was exhibited in the very first Karachi Biennale, curated by Amin Gulgee, that took place in October/November 2017 .

    ‘Construction | Deconstruction’ was conceived as a two year tour exhibition in several galleries and museums in USA. The curators of the exhibition were Imran Qureshi and Saamia Ahmed Vine, and the US organization that was involved in the promotion of the tour exhibition was International Arts & Artists. The project was in planning and fund raising phase since 2012, and the tour was supposed to take place between 2017 and 2019. It has unfortunately been cancelled.

     


    Were there specific reasons for its cancellation?

    Only what we received from the director of International Arts & Artists, David Furchgott:  “Despite receiving initial interest and investing all our best efforts, we were unable to get a single American museum to make a firm commitment to host the exhibition. Those few museums which were interested, but not committed, could not fit it into their budget or schedule”.

    Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany

    Unfortunately, since no museum committed to the exhibition, we have to leave it at that, until we can come up with an alternative plan if anything is possible

    We love the boldness and courage of your project: your beautiful tapestries hanging in museum halls around the world. Your project is a wonderful example of art that crosses borders and boundaries, that infiltrates through the thick walls of both old and new museums, bringing inside the textile artworks of a young Pakistani woman, crossing cultures, genders, and generations. What was the inspiration behind your work, and behind this project?

    After the cancellation, I proposed my work ‘Post Betrayal’ to be re-titled  Construction/Deconstruction: The Work is Present’. It was displayed at the Karachi Biennale 2017, and it was the same work that was supposed to tour in the US but was rejected: it shows my works displayed in different museums, both in the US and in other capitals of the world.

    The Louvre, Paris, France

    Given that the tour exhibition was not going to happen, the idea was to showcase the work through social media, tagging those museums and galleries on Facebook, Instagram and the other social media. As the world has shrunken to become a ‘global village’,  and every thing is just a ‘click’ away, the idea of the tour exhibition could be redefined into a virtual tour exhibition, i.e., the art in the age of digital, technical and virtual reproduction.

    It seems like, with the right lighting, you could see dots of light on the ground or walls of the rooms.  Have you intentionally left holes in your hanging fabrics? With specific meanings?

    Yes, they are actual holes!  The earlier work was developed after I purchased the camouflage fabric. The market from which I bought the fabric used it to make canopies for shelter from the sun and to cover goods on trucks in bad weather conditions during transportation. The parachute camouflage is also used for tents. I wanted to use that canopy, and the process of punching holes by overdoing and repeating the process of punching rivets numerous times: thousands of small metallic rivets punched on camouflage tent representing bullet holes. The purpose of the tent is to protect and provide shelter and the rivet is used to strengthen it, but the overdoing of the punching changes the purpose. I wanted to represent our own behavior and attitude towards the safety of the state and borders.

    Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

    While the recent display questioned the idea of art practicing, interactivity and commentary on ‘definition of arts’ as norm, it may create a new conceptual understanding and combination of different techniques, production and display methodologies.

    What is the meaning of the name you have given to this work?

    ‘Construction | Deconstruction’ refers to the cancellation of the tour exhibition, to the tremendous amount of time and energy that invested in it and then wasted.  ‘The Work is Present’ was inspired by Marina Abramovich’s ‘The Artist is Present’. Even if the tour was cancelled, the work is still there.

    Do specific museums have a connection to the meaning of your project? 

    I firstly thought of presenting the work only in U.S. museums, as it was planned for the tour exhibition. But while discussing the idea with the chief curator of the Karachi Biennial 2017, Amin Gulgee, I decided to add other worldwide museums/galleries, to expand the idea further and let the work go round and square.

    Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlottesville, North Carolina, US

    You mention that your work is also intended as a commentary on normative definitions of art. Can you tell us more about this?

    It is commentary on art practice, on the tremendous amount of work, time and care put in realization and conceiving of the project.  This is also to illustrate the mêlée an artist goes through for galleries and museum representation.

    Do you think that in our contemporary age we need a new definition of art, or should we do away with attempts to define art, normative or otherwise?

    It is always tricky to try to define what is art, and what is not. We need to scrutinize its definition through time, culture, history and representation. The concept of evolution can be very helpful here. The definitions and the practices of art keep evolving.

    Tate Modern, London, UK

    “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

    -Marcel Proust
  • Lost and Found Objects: Between Art and Monotony | Delhi, India

    New Delhi artist Sonam Chaturvedi shares the inspiration, process, and meanings of her artistic practice. We are happy to publish it here, courtesy of the Utsha Foundation Blog.  Sonam's work 'Time, Thoughts .... Incoherent' has been part of the Building Bridges three-city exhibition, and it is still in view at the Gallery Sumukha in Bangalore.

     

    Lost and Found Objects: Between Art and Monotony 

     

    isn't it good sometimes
    to be stuck in traffic
    and stay
    stuck
    not reach
    the destination
    destiny
    anywhere

     

    i have an orange
    in my bag
    it travels with me
    to work
    and back home
    i always forget
    to eat it
    it stays
    in a corner
    of my bag
    i like it
    there
    stuck
    waiting
    while i
    listen to the impatient
    honking cars
    flickering lights
    people with music
    in their ears
    and games in their hands

     

    but
    the orange
    stays
    sitting in it's dark
    warm
    corner

     

    waiting

     

    At last I had to throw the orange, it started decaying. But I bought more to carry in my bag, as there was something missing, the bag weighed lighter and I didn’t like the emptiness.


    This article is primarily about my practice, and touches on some personal thoughts and everyday experiences which stimulate my works, including the work I did in the residency at Utsha. The above images are of an impromptu installation at a group show at NIV art gallery, New Delhi. I had used the above poem for this work, which is an echo of my daily struggles and journeys. I installed it around a pillar as a never-ending stream of thoughts portraying the journey connoted in the poem; there is also a performative act at play while viewing the work.

    I was once confronted with the question: what do you do in life apart from art making? I didn’t understand the question then, and even now I don’t, because everything I look at, I do, I’m constantly thinking in terms of expressing myself through art. When I was in Mumbai for a residency, every evening I would walk two miles from my studio to bandstand, aimlessly wandering, just to touch the ocean and catch a glimpse of the drowning sun. I would always return with my pockets filled with random objects thrown by the waves for me. At the end of the residency I had an accumulation of sea shells, broken terracotta, marble icons of gods and stones studded with sea animals which gave off a rotten smell and lingered for a very long time in my pocket. I was unsure at that time what I would do with this small museum, but during the transition from Mumbai to Bhubaneswar my ideas also travelled, and I brought this carton of objects with me to Utsha. It took sometime to unpack the ideas, but eventually the memories attached to these objects slowly consumed the whole premises of Utsha.

    The work is titled Lost and Found Memories; it is a mixed media installation consisting of 10 parts/objects,
    scattered over in Utsha. The objects I collected are a marker of a journey and/or an experience, like
    diary entries which remind us of a certain event in the past and how much we’ve changed through time.
    The objects were collected from the coastal line of Mumbai and left in Bhubaneswar and in the sea at
    Chandrabhaga beach in Konark.

    The display was done to create an experience of finding the works or chancing upon them, just the way I had found these objects.

    There is a memory attached to each object which makes it valuable and personal to me. This work is about leaving these objects back in nature but at a different place, and in exchange gathering something to mark its departure, which includes another object, sound, thought, impression, photo, video, et al.

     

    Lost and Found Memories is a series of exchanges which do not cease with time, since it is intrinsic to me and my obsession with collecting. The work is progressing with new objects collected and left, to collect further.

     

     

    Sonam Chaturvedi (1991) is a visual artist living and working in Delhi. She has participated in various group shows and residencies within India, including residencies at What About Art?, Mumbai;  the Utsha Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Bhubaneswar; and group shows including a show curated by Meera Menezes at Bikaner House, Delhi.  She has been an active participant in the Building Bridges project and in the three exhibitions, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore, that have marked the conclusion of the project.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • ‘Folk Games in the Outskirts of Lahore’ by Ammar Faiz | Lahore, Pakistan
    'Bandar Qilla' still by Ammar Faiz

    Pakistani artist Ammar Faiz is sharing here the videos he produced for his Master Thesis in Visual Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan.

     

    'Bandar Qilla' by Ammar Faiz from Emergent Art Space on Vimeo.

    'Folk Game in the Outskirts of Lahore'

    My work addresses the adaptation of human behavior to the changing roles of the viewer and the viewed.
    I focus on the daily lives of ordinary people in my immediate surroundings, and in the process I record the evolution of their comprehension of personal and public spaces. To that effect, my work hinges upon the sociocultural anthropological approach, which compares and correlates people and their surroundings, and explores the ways they make sense of it as narratives.
    My research process entails visualizing such narratives through a time-based medium, such as a camera, juxtaposing environments and personally significant objects.  I therefore create narratives from the observer's point of view of these person-to-person and person-to-group relationships.

    'Gharmas Ghori' by Ammar Faiz from Emergent Art Space on Vimeo.

    With the evolution of my practice, I have created this series as an investigation of the origins of local/folk games (lok khed)
    of Lahore such as Gharmas / Kamas Ghori, Chug Chug, Body Body, Bandar Qila, Pito Gol Garam and others,
    which are increasingly becoming absent from public memory. The creation of these videos also serves
    the purpose of creating a lasting archive of these games.

    They were chosen as a topic of investigation primarily because of my interest in the fact that these games
    have indefinite, undefined and shifting rules, since they have been transmitted orally.
    Hence the desire to keep alive the memory of their practice.


    'Body Body' by Ammar Faiz from Emergent Art Space on Vimeo.


    In September 2016 Ammar presented this work at the
     'New Wight Biennial', 
    University of California, Los Angeles, in the group exhibition 'Eye Spy', together with a large group of artists from South Asia and the Middle East. 

    The show  "... illuminated a covert mecca of thoughtful artists expanding the perimeters of their cultural norms. Looking beyond the media-driven imagery attached to these regions of the world, this exhibition offers a candid view through the artist's lens' (from the curatorial statement, by Nasim Hantehzadeh and Sarah Malik)

     

    'Bandar Qilla' Snapshot by Ammar Faiz
  • The Portals Project | San Francisco, CA / Herat, Afghanistan

    An amazing project that is allowing face-to-face conversations between people across distances around the world.

    The San Francisco Portal at Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA [Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Litak, SF Portal Curator]

    On a beautiful, clear breezy day and within sight of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, we walked through fresh dew on the grass of Crissy field to an average sized, metallic gold storage container. We found the door open with a dark curtain containing the magic within: “a cocoon­-like setting to imply safety, time, permission.”1

    We, myself and fellow EAS staffer, entered to find an entirely black room, apart from the far wall completely occupied by a large screen. Upon the screen was a life­-sized video feed of two seated young men. They both smiled and waved as we entered. It made me think about this gesture. A smile and a wave, both are friendly, welcoming, even caring gestures. These two men didn’t know us. They had no idea who we were, yet, in the following twenty minutes, they extended their space, their stories, and their understanding to us.

    Exterior of the golden shipping container with a list of locations of other portals [Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Litak]

    They introduced themselves as Herat's Portals Project curators from Shared Studios. The San Francisco portal curator, Anne­-Marie Litak, later described her experience working with curators across the country and across the world. “There is such a variety [of perspectives] with all of
 these curators [currently 30 in 22 sites worldwide]! The constants are the curiosity, the patience, and the immense heart that I see in these other organizers. It is tricky to disarm strangers; it takes a certain kind of casual love of Other. I am really inspired by the warmth, inclusion, and dexterity that I witness in these curators. The differences I see­­--oh, everything­­--dress, directness or shyness in conversation, education or ideas around ambition, relationship priorities, sexuality norms, religious beliefs, family dynamics, involvement in politics, sense of possibility or lack thereof. It is really astounding.” 2

    In the same vein of sharing cultures and embracing differences, Emergent Art Space
 also uses art as a gateway to conversation. EAS’s global focus is on building communications, across culture, transcending language barriers through art.

    The curators in Afghanistan, Khaled Salar and Saied Habibi, communicated with us in English and have traveled past the borders of Herat, Afghanistan, from where they were in a portal themselves. Saied is from Iran but moved with his family to study. Khaled started travelling to the United States when he was a student as part of an exchange program and continues to travel for work. They both work with people by day, as a soon­-to­-be professor and educator of teachers, respectively. I admired the effort they made to bridge the gaps in communication and was inspired to put aside my reservations of not being able to relate to their lives.

    Exterior of San Francisco Portal with instructions [photo credit: Uji Venkat]

    We eventually delved into a conversation about teaching and the wonderful privilege it is to get to work with students, to be able to witness their “aha” moments and build circumstances where their creativity thrives. Saied and I found common ground in math and problem solving. We even enjoyed trying to convince Khaled of math’s beauty and virtues.

    By the end we mentioned the weather. But it’s not like when you are in the same place
 as someone and you talk about the weather. This wasn’t small talk. Anne­-Marie says, “sometimes, I could see how it's a shame to not be able to share a conversation on the surroundings--­­to refer to little details and jump into a conversation from there. The surroundings can still be described, though!” 3  This wasn’t an exchange of pleasantries. This portal is an isolated space, yet it transported us to a common ground, like an embassy, a sort of ceasefire or peace zone between two nations, but instead between people.

    The weather was vastly different between fall in San Francisco and Herat. But weather is something we have all talked about. We all know what the sun is, what it feels like. What it is to be cold. To wear layers. To get a runny nose from the chilly air. There is common ground among all people.

    Sharing laughs, likes, and dislikes, we formed a bond with the Afghani curators in the twenty or thirty minutes we spoke. There wasn’t a moment of silence, wondering what to say next. There was no moment of wondering if what we were sharing was valid, useful, or necessary. There was no end goal and perhaps that was precisely the point.

    Anne­-Marie suggested entering the conversation without expectations of what it should be, and to dispose of the idea that we were entitled to a particular beauty in the conversation.

    Participants and conversations within the portal connecting people of all ages and races to other parts of the world [Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Litak]

    Part of creating an open space is asking questions without imposing an answer, not imagining that this conversation will be at all like any other we have ever experienced.

    We fear that we would not be able to connect with people in different social, political, and economic circumstances. People vary in their race, culture, experiences, and background. But instead of creating connections and seeking to understand what we do not understand, we shy away from what we do not know.

    Founder of the Portals Project, Amar Bakshi, says, “the most important facet of this whole project was the association with the world of art. The idea of purposelessness. Because people came to the portal like you would come to a painting or a sculpture. [They come] out of a sense of curiosity, hoping to be filled with joy, or ambivalence, or boredom, or ecstasy­­ but not to necessarily to get something. Not to get a date or get a job. And that association of purposelessness also allowed people to create their own purposes for the space.” 4

    The San Francisco Portal at the Presido in San Francisco, CA [Photo credit: Uji Venkat]

    The SF Portals Project is providing an opportunity to people of all backgrounds. The portal started as a “standard intermodal shipping container: because it’s secure, it’s accessible, it’s not that expensive, and it’s uniform.” There isn’t a requirement for prior understanding, expectation of what the conversation should be, or end goal. In creating the Portals Project, every detail from the location to the physical space was intentional in creating this atmosphere.

    Importantly, it is also open to all socioeconomic statuses, as it is free and in high­-traffic, publicly accessible open spaces. Anne­-Marie quotes Jonathan Herrera in her explanation: "‘If it is inaccessible to the poor it is neither radical nor revolutionary.’ We need all voices, all types of people, teaching each other. Those without homes, those with several houses, those that talk, those that listen, those that need to be heard...you already know. The chaos of the plaza! The only real, free education out there.” The portal not only gives people permission to express themselves fully, but is also unlike the public sphere, where people fear the recurrence of injustices they've faced.

    Participants and conversations within the portal connecting people of all ages and races to other parts of the world [Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Litak]

    Making connections and learning outside of one’s original capabilities is a driving force of the project. With the expansion of communication comes the expansion of accessibility. “This project is inherently about people: the difficulty and the beauty of sparking a conversation with a stranger. The black interior focuses the conversation on the individuals' performative habits, their dress, their presence, their ideas--­­how they act when they can't monitor their own appearance, or refer to just anything around them. It provides more visual information than, say, a confessional, but the same intimacy of being in an enclosed space, away from the stream of activity outside.” 7

    Litak hopes that if people disagree or have questions about this work, they do reach out to Shared Studios, but they don’t come empty handed. She encourages participants to first analyze the problems they see and think of what they would do differently, and then do it! We don't have enough action taken in the world.


    Participants and conversations within the portal connecting people of all ages and races to other parts of the world [Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Litak]
    The San Francisco Portals Project was previously set up in Crissy Field and outside the Officer’s Club in the Presidio. For interested participants, it has now reopened at Bulldog Tech Junior High School in East San Jose.

     

    You can find out more about the Portals Project at this website: https://www.sharedstudios.com

     

    Notes:
    1  Interview with Anne­-Marie Litak
    2  Interview with Anne­-Marie Litak
    3  Interview with Anne­-Marie Litak
    4  Amar Bakshi on re:publica ­
    5  Amar Bakshi on re:publica ­
    6  Interview with Anne­-Marie Litak
    7  Interview with Anne­-Marie Litak

     

     

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