ShopArt ArtShop 2 - Artist's BriefThe first ShopArt ArtShop conceptual Arts event was held in the little village of Gunehar in Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh, India in March-April 2013 with 13 international emerging artists and was a resounding success. To start with, the venue itself saw more than 6000 walk-in visitors, a huge number for a first time arts event. It also put ShopArt/ArtShop and the venue ‘on the map’, literally so. Finally it proved that there is a great acceptance for such a ‘non-elitist’ approach to arts and artists and arts events.
Now, ShopArt ArtShop-2 takes place again from 14 May to 14 June, 2016, and we are very proud that this rather unusual conceptual Arts event is going into its second installment and believe that this puts us well on the track towards establishing this as a permanent one.
SA AS-2 is about creation and presentation of Arts to a broad public.
In today’s Art world, how can a contemporary Arts event be implemented and under what external conditions must artists work so that the work they create is accessible by different sections of the society simultaneously?
To experiment with some of the major issues facing the Art world and its disconnect with society at large, our approach is to merge different methods into an inclusive event that is relevant on several levels:
-- the actual SA AS residency, paid for entirely by us, invites 10-12 conceptual artists to live in a village for a three-week period and work in/with the spaces the village offers (such as: primarily empty, economically unviable shop-spaces; hence the name of the project) in front of curious and sometimes prying villagers and visitors.
-- the actual week-long exhibition, which not only demonstrates the end result of the artists’ work but also incorporates typical local ‘mela’ elements, concerts, performances, screenings, podium discussions etc. to reach a broad cross-section of the society.
-- an innovative, virtual and interactive internet platform called netArt that (1) enables the artists on the ground to demonstrate and archive the creativity process and interact with virtual visitors and (2) which enables virtual visitors, including web artists, to access the village, experience the proceedings, interact with artists and, in the case of some, create own new ‘virtual shops’ on the platform.
-- finally, SA AS-2 on Tour, during which we intend to take some of the work created here to different locations, galleries etc. around the world in a modified and actualized version in a series of follow-up exhibitions. Some of our ‘ArtShops’ are specifically conceptualized with this continuity in mind.
Conceptual Arts in the context of SA/AS
SA AS believes that if the concept/idea is clear, uncomplicated and ‘openly’ implemented, it enables the observer to relate to the Arts in a wholesome way rather than just technically or aesthetically and also, it takes arts out of its otherwise elitist and secretive spaces to open it up to a larger public (which was proven during SA/AS-1 by the villagers who generally had no exposure to art before the event). India as a modern country needs a vibrant modern arts scene. Conceptual Arts haven't been explored to their full potential in the country yet and a broader definition of what consists arts (painting, sculptures, handicrafts) and what and whom it is for is the need of the hour. There is a gradual emergence of exciting new artists in India but the arts are still conceived in traditional ways, either as handicraft or for psycho-socio-political objectives.
Our aim is to demonstrate and document every aspect of the creative process: from the inception of ideas to the actual thought and work process to the final emergence of the exhibited Artwork.
Unique features of SA AS:
1. The artist is present, i.e. accessible throughout the creative process
2. The process of creating Arts is transparent and inclusive
3. The artist is at a risk (of failing)
SA AS Artists need to be:
-- Aware of and understanding of global contemporary art trends
-- Uncompromising in their work
-- Integrative of rural folks/villagers and local themes in their work
-- Incorporate local materials and methods in their work
-- Able to transcend, through their work, all three levels: rural-India, urban-India and the global.
(Please note that SA AS is not primarily about collaboration of artists among each other, but collaborating with villagers. This is not one collaborative project but 10-12 different projects, or ‘Shops”. A cross-fertilization of ideas between artists is desirable but not a condition.)
The conceptual framework of SA AS makes participating artists’ face some serious challenges:
-- the artist is required to give up his usual work place and surrounding and move to a village for a month
– the artist is required to work ‘openly’ in front of curious and sometimes scrutinizing visitors during the formative period of the work
-- the artist is required to document every aspect of the work process on the internet platform and interact with followers of this site
-- the artist is required to incorporate local ideas, sensibilities and materials into their work
-- the artist is required, in a limited time, to create an artwork that upholds critical scrutiny by a diverse public, from villagers to art critics to followers on the internet
The foremost quality an artist required is the ability to think in a broadly conceptual manner and develop an artistic idea that can deal with some of the following questions:
-- What is this village?
-- How does it relate to urban India?
-- How does urban India relate to such villages?
-- How does it relate to the world as a whole?
-- What can this village give to the world?
-- What does this village need from the world?
-- And finally: how can my particular project offer solutions, build bridges, break down boundaries between the world I come from (generally urban), the world I am in now (rural) and the world as a whole (global)?
The daily practice during the 4 weeks of SA AS puts the artist in precarious situation because of certain requirements.
The first sets of ‘rules’ have to do with implanting yourself into the everyday routine of the villagers, becoming one of them. By becoming ‘just a shop-keeper’, the otherwise rather elitist role of an artist is demystified. The symbolism is that just like the village welder, carpenter or shop-keeper, the artist too is a working person:
-- creating a ‘shop’-space in one of the empty shops or spaces
-- giving it a ‘shop’-name
-- putting up a sign board of your ‘shop’
-- ‘opening shop’ daily and using the space for the project and as a space of interaction with villagers and visitors
The second set of requirements has to do with demonstrating that creating complex art-works does not necessarily need complex logistics. It is no use if we bring in complicated and fancy gear into the village that do not reflect the ideal, logistical and material realities on the ground:
-- live in the village and incorporate as much of the village into your work
-- see how much of cross-fertilization of ideas is possible
-- use as much of local materials as possible (you will have a limited budget)
-- use local artisans for your project if necessary
-- find local solutions to logistical problems
The third set of requirements has to do with certain emotional boundaries of villagers we don’t want to cross since we want acceptance and inclusion.
-- An Indian village is not the place to create explicit works dealing with sexual or religious themes that might offend the villagers
-- The behavior of artists in the village should be respectful and uncontroversial
-- Generally, it is important to remember that our first connection has to be with our immediate surrounding and its people. All projects must be on some level accessible and appreciable to the village people.
Gunehar is a small village just off the popular paragliding destination of Bir-Billing in Kangra District, HP. The village lies at the end of the motor-able road and, surrounded by pristine paddy fields, mountains and streams, is the ideal venue for an Arts event. The concept of SA/AS is very inclusive of the villagers, which makes them willing partners and stakeholders in the project. It is culturally and historically vibrant and artists can draw a lot of inspiration from the location. The people are mainly Gaddis or Bara Bhangalis from the interiors of the mountains with many very distinct cultural traits that have been partially submerged through ‘mainstream’ India. Finally, there are a lot of interesting empty shops and large open spaces for artists to work and for the final exhibition to take place. Gunehar is ‘just off’ the main tourist towns around here and as such it is possible for artists to work without much disturbance, yet it is easily accessible to those who are interested in arts and interested in visiting the event.
What’s in it for the village, Gunehar?
-- establishing Gunehar as an alternative destination associated with arts and meaningful living rather than mass tourism -- exposure to conceptual thinking through interaction with artists and participation in projects -- economic incentives (renting of otherwise empty shops/spaces to SA/AS, setting up of own shops/stalls during final ‘mela’, etc., general betterment of living standards that come through responsible tourism) -- entertainment for villagers, interaction with visitors
The 4tables/Frank Schlichtmann
Frank started the 4tables project 8 years ago with the aim of creating a space for alternative and meaningful living. The 4tables project has grown from a small gallery and café to now include village beautification activities, restoration of traditional buildings, interactive village activities and, of course, SA/AS. The village itself now hosts an Art gallery, an ecological boutique hotel, a fusion restaurant and other infrastructure that has been carefully planned and implemented in a manner not to destroy the fabric of the village yet develop the village into an alternative destination based upon the idea of quality, responsibility and non-destructive development. Frank was born near Hamburg, Germany, and came to India for the first time when he was barely 4 years old and has been coming back to India on a regular basis. Before a set of coincidences would have him settle down permanently in the small Himachali village of Gunehar with his little son, Frank has worked and lived in 3 continents: Europe, Asia and America. He has been part of numerous projects related to the Arts, Culture and Hospitality but it was through his settling down in Gunehar and the founding of the 4tables project that he could start putting his vast experience into cohesive practice.
Frank chose the village because of its relative ‘unspoiltness’ and also because he believes that in a truly globalized and interconnected world, a small village can be as valuable as any other place.