April 22, 2020, New Delhi
Could you please describe the driving thought behind the biennial you are involved in?
The driving thought, with regard to an entity as polymorphous as a triennial, is not unlike driving a car. From the ignition to the brake, from combining acceleration and de-acceleration to seeing the bend in the road, and then to desiring a detour so as to rest, as well as being alert to the moves of momentum and potential brought into play—in short, to work on with concatenative force.
In nature, nothing acts in a pure, isolated, state. A combination of ‘impure’ states combine together into an activation analogous to an “entourage effect” (a debated concept in therapeutic pharmacology relating to cannabis), which argues that components act much better in a relational field of interaction and combination with others than in isolation. This gives rise to a milieu formed through force-fields of epiphytic play, contagious displacements, and contaminated alterations.
Many things happen, overlapping each other, intersecting with each other. Instead of one ‘destination’ for the drive, one could speak of getting somewhere unknown through an entourage of dispositional desires, curiosities, and vectors of inflection, and orientation.
The ‘driving’ concatenative force behind this edition of the Yokohama Triennale is an interplay between auto-didacticism, the luminosity of care and friendship, and toxicity. In our public engagement on November 30 in Yokohama, we launched the Sourcebook (see e-flux announcement, also for downloading the Sourcebook, https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/285255/yokohama-triennale-2020/) and argued:
We offer distant and proximate viewers, listeners, and readers of the 7th Yokohama Triennial in 2020 an array of sources. These are drawn from different periods, cultural milieus, and geographies, and are written by individuals and collectivities that have cared for life. These combine a patchwork of sparks and incandescence that can illuminate the journey that artists and co-travellers are embarking upon. The sources guide, inform, inspire, and riddle our conversations with artists, curators, writers, and everyone else interested in this specific journey. They act as catalysts that provoke us to think, to ignite, to learn, and unlearn.
Could you please discuss the following shifts: politicization and depoliticization, de- and re-centering of the West, the art-theory interface, and mediation strategies.
On March 4, 2020, we outlined the following in the next e-flux announcement (https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/314534/deliberation-on-discursive-justice-the-episdo-series/) about the Triennale:
The Yokohama Triennale 2020 initiates Deliberations on Discursive Justice as a transcontinental tributary which will investigate, write, and perform the aporias arising from assertions to equality. These are claims made with bodies, with words, with sounds, with costumes, with images, with instruments, and with shifting forums. The tributary draws from the insights of a minor strand in legal theory, which engages with the way people have been able to transform the courtrooms as forums to speak, and have been making the act of speech itself as the site for claims to justice…. These deliberations on discourse and equity, words and hunger, speech and bodies will evolve through the ensemble constituted of Michelle Wong (Hong Kong), Lantian Xie (Dubai), and Kabelo Malatsie (Johannesburg).
The ensemble argues:
There are songs for equality all over the world. Millions march down roads in Hong Kong. Thousands in South Africa discuss consent on Twitter. Women run households via smartphones from makeshift protest-tents blocking a highway in Delhi. Continuously unfolding events empty out prevailing discursive logics and rhetoric, populating the world with divergent sets of protocols and urgencies. Who hears, how is it heard, how is it not heard, and how is it read? The street makes itself a theatre of speech acts. The decisive question of "hearing" is to be deliberated on.
These brewing situations open a terrain of justice. They are intangible courts of poetic appeals, of argumentation through myths, stories, and care, and are not daunted by the Law; law is but one dialect. They are aware that law can act as a sanitation regime—hearing only its own voice, rendering all else as noise. But justice is a different language, one with which to break down the world and put it back together again. Prevalent discursive advantages are challenged with new ways of inhabiting the world.
We propose a party, a scenography, and a chase, as ways to enter this ferment and further the deliberation. We call in the carnivalesque and the masquerade, draw in the middle earth of healers and shamans, play with technologies of renewal and admittance, work with appeal, apology, gratitude, and indebtedness, practice the art of counter-monuments, and pose the discursive as a site of stakes & wagers, codes & limits.
Which curatorial formats are necessary to propose a space of radical democracy?
Radical democracy can hardly ever be planned for. Instead of templates, we could speak of infrastructure, milieux and mobile constellations of attraction and effects. A “milieu” could be seen as emerging through an assembly of concepts, dispositions, and affects—and that assembly emerges through a protocol and a procedure of sharing, listening, reciprocity, and co-presence.
Coming to what we have witnessed recently: the walking refusal of more than ten million workers to accept the terms and conditions of an inept and delusional state which administered a sudden lockdown in response to COVID-19 all over India—where they literally began walking hundreds of kilometers home. We have also experienced the earlier process (which began on December 15, 2019, and lasted 100 days) of the gathering of people in spaces to insist in a bodily way that citizenship was an evolving, transforming, and not an inert process. This is what is being referred to as the “Shaheen Bagh moment” after the place in Delhi, Shaheen Bagh, where a protest started by Muslim women against a discriminatory citizenship law became a catalyst for an extended joyous rethinking of citizenship by many kinds of people. This lasted until it had to suspend itself in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Through witnessing both these processes, and through our own ongoing reflections, we understand that radical democratic processes can rarely, if ever, be predicted into existence. They emerge, in affirmation as well as in refusal, by responding to eruptions that either make expressivity possible, or sharply curtail it. The point is to be sensitive to the fact that these conditions exist and that the forces unleashed or restrained by them play their part.
In the Sourcebook, we say:
The care of life and the care of self are not possible without care with toxicity. We have to think about our sickness, our offal, and our residues of the cycles of consumption and production without cruel partition, masked as destiny. Each hillock of refuse on the outskirts of a city represents a demand made by the present on the future, with no promise of recompense, until the archaeologists come calling. The splitting of the luminosity of care from the shadows of the toxic is detrimental to the future of life on this planet.
How to do art and curatorial projects in quarantine times, in states of emergency?
The State of Emergency seems now to be a normal state! As a category, it may have outlived its explanatory potency. The very notion of “normal,” as prior, posterior, or exterior to a state of emergency needs to be re-evaluated. We are in a period of embarrassed capital, and muddled up state-powers. The market has lost its mythical presence and looks banal, and in constant need of prosthetics. Now a rag-tag assemblage of global institutiond and autarkic despotisms will try to re-center billions of hearts back towards productivity.
In the Sourcebook, we outlined:
Life, the universe, the world, and the time of each day disintegrate and get re-constituted through innumerable acts, incrementally re-building through luminous care. Broken minutes are mended in the afterglow of time’s toxic debris. Life is a luminous autodidact.
Neither art nor aesthetics, nor politics, nor therapeutics, nor ethics, nor for that matter transport or medicine or policing or recreation or governance, can be seen as entities in distinct silos. Art in quarantine times has to embody the sense that our understanding of realities, and the ways in which we live, act, think, fall sick and heal, cannot be quarantined from each other. Not any longer.
The unfolding of the virus-induced understanding of the futilities of the phantasmagoric grip of sovereign power, and the futurities of endless growth, will both need artistic and curatorial attention.
Raqs Media Collective was formed 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. Raqs Media Collective take this sense to mean ‘kinetic contemplation’ and a restless and energetic entanglement with the world, and with time. Raqs Media Collective practices across several forms and media; it makes art, produces performances, writes, curates exhibitions, and occupies a unique position at the intersection of contemporary art, philosophical speculation and historical enquiry. The members of Raqs live and work in Delhi, India. In 2001, they co-founded the Sarai program at CSDS New Delhi and ran it for a decade, where they also edited the Sarai Reader series. They are the Artistic Directors for the forthcoming Yokohama Triennale (2020).