Raqs Media Collective: It is possible because it is possible
Forensic Architecture: Forensis
September 26–November 1 2015
Opening: September 26, 17h
Av. Pedro de Mendoza 1929
Raqs Media Collective and Forensis reflect widely on notions of the « present »; both groups are interested in using different perspectives to bring awareness to current problems encompassing globalization, cultural differences associated with the economy, global politics, and contemporary subjectivity. The diversity of new artistic practices widens the spectrum of how we think about art.
What does it mean to create images today, and how does history take charge of these images’ meaning in their various forms of production? In what form can art update the tensions that are produced by the « real » in our time? Can an exhibition transform itself into a forum for debate and participation? Can cultural institutions succeed in intervening in contemporary reality? In these two separately conceived exhibitions, Proa presents these questions as a means of strengthening interest in the aesthetic and political processes that accompany artistic research.
For the multidisciplinary group Forensic Architecture, aesthetic work cannot be separated from research, at once generating opposing discussions and politics regarding space, urban fabric, and the means to inhabit them. Making use of satellite maps, photographs, videos, and personal and public archives, they pose unresolved questions for our time. Forensis formulates these discussions to challenge the viewer and offer an active glimpse into cultural and geopolitical conflicts through an aesthetic lens.
Raqs Media Collective analyzes the effects of global capitalism, interrogating the personal and social spheres in which the contemporary unfolds. Raqs proposes a form of imagining in which both the linear organization of the world and the historical absurdity that it signifies are viewed, paradoxically, from the same perspective. The works of Raqs are an invitation to realize, in the face of the prospect of a stable reality, the possibility of imagining new utopian configurations or possibilities.
Both shows are accompanied by parallel series of activities, through which Fundación Proa sets out to revitalize discussions about the « present. »
Raqs Media Collective
– Curatorial Text
– Dialogue between Ferran Barenblit (FB) and Cuauhtémoc Medina (CM)
– Raqs Media Collective Texts (IT’S WRITTEN BECAUSE IT’S WRITTEN )*
Ferran Barenblit – Cuauhtémoc Medina
It’s possible because it’s possible brings together a series of pieces by Raqs Media Collective, an artistic group created in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi (1966), Monica Narula (1969) and Shudd- habrata Sengupta (1968). Located in New Dehli, Raqs Media Collective, is a thinking laboratory that uses the aesthetic as a starting point for social and political reflection. At present, the Raqs collective carries out installations and performances, as well as editorial, curatorial and eduational projects through different approaches such as sociology, geography, mathematics, industrial design or urbanism. The origin of its name refers both to the word used in Persian, Arabic and Urdu to define a state of meditation, and to the acronym in English «Rarely Asked Questions», a wordplay with the better-known FAQs «Frequently Asked Questions»- that we find on so many websites.
«It’s possible because it’s possible» is an irrefutable statement against a defeatist determinism. This title becomes an appeal or a sort of manifest. Contrary to the non-determination of I would prefer not to expressed by Melville in his work Bartleby the scrivener, «It’s possible because it’s possible» is a categorical, almost imperative, statement on the possibility of going from potential to action. For the Raqs collective, possible and probable are distant concepts: that which is imagined might happen, because, in fact, it is already happening once stated. A possibility that breaks away from many of the certainties we generally accept unthinkingly and which lead us along the labyrinth of hegemonic thinking. In line with this, the exhibition analyses the work of Raqs Media Collective as one of the possibilities of practice, criticism and invention, while also constituting a live refutation of a certain determinism that we appear to be set on. This «possibility» also becomes a call to action against the apparent obligation to accept impositions, whether resignedly or not.
In Raqs Media Collective there is a will to extend the universe of discourse by creating tools through imagination and speculation in order to create new ways of thinking and experiencing. Each work, each allegory, each reflection and each image and artefact created by Raqs represents an impulse that is currently necessary: to prevent criticism from being confused with complaints and impotence, to challenge the logic that is perceived and prevails in the world as if predestined, in spite of being closed and worn out, just because we live in an apparently trium- phant system.
One of the most prominent axes of the exhibition is the question of time, or in other words, how the sequence of events is organised and the systematic regularisation between work, rest and leisure in modern-day society. In capitalism, time is a fundamental notion, as it is possibly the only exchangeable currency with a sure value. A value that is directly related to our condition as mortals, meaning therefore, that it is a finite asset.
In the work of Raqs, time is the battlefield that takes place in the body of each worker, as their time is divided between work and leisure, on consuming stimulants such as coffee or tea to sur- vive or adapt to the production machine.
Raqs sees reality as a constant field of learning, open to both the FAQs –frequently asked ques- tions-, and the less comfortable RAQs –rarely asked questions-. In its piece Firm of RAQS and FAQS, 2014, the artists installed an information desk at which the public could ask either ques- tion type. In Ask the person who sits next to you, 2012 they even went so far as to do without the middleman. This is perhaps the most ambitious objective that Raqs Collective Media pursues: for each one of us not just to be receivers, but also to become generators and re-distributors of meaning.
Dialogue between Ferran Barenblit (FB) and Cuauhtémoc Medina (CM)
CM: It’s possible because it’s possible… It’s not entirely wrong to start the conversation by commenting on one of the project’s conclusions: the title. I don’t think it would be absurd to say that, in general, establishing an exhibition’s name is like getting one of its first results, even when the title comes at the beginning, which was not the case for us. One hears “It’s possible because it’s possible” and knows oneself to be faced with an appeal, a sort of manifestational act. That title encodes an understanding of Raqs’s work and offers it as an affirmation of the possibilities of practice, critique and invention as a living refutation of determinism. In each work, in each allegory, in each reflection, and in each image that Raqs has created, there is an impulse that, today, is otherwise as rare and necessary as fresh water: to keep critique from getting confused with complaint or impotence, to challenge the logic that perceives the world and operates in it as though it were predestined, closed and spent, subsumed and domesticated, just because we are living under globally triumphant capitalism. If one reads Raqs’s texts and explores their images and artifacts, if one accepts the pedagogical and active acts in which they involve us as participant observers, what one perceives, before any particular ideas, is an extraordinary plea for the complexity and plurality of the realities that we are living, both through the energies of the living and for the echoes of the dead, and the intensity that inhabits the battle that occurs between social systems, our desires and bodies, history, the other beings on the planet, words and images. I know few artists, thinkers, or cultural agents who have the ability to share, with real camaraderie, the decisive sensation of feeling the world as abundance and enigma.
FB: The coincidence in thinking of the importance of working with Raqs originated in another project from 2010 in which you were involved, through El Espectro Rojo, and which was also seen on both sides of the Atlantic: Critical Fetishes: Residues of General Economy. A complex exhibition, in which the notion of the fetish was reprised as a concept wherein Enlightenment thought and colonialism come together, reinforced by their relationship with the mechanisms of desire, and, in turn, actualized in a moment of unstoppable, object-producing industrial expansion. The exhibition combated the foundations of that thought by showing works and processes that act at the margins of efficiency and the search for profit, or that establish dissident economic and symbolic systems. It included a work by Raqs, the Communist Latento (2007), which was one of the nodes of the exhibition: poetic ambiguity passing through one of many possible futures. “It is not desirable that the future be captive to the present,” they said at the time. That possibility reappears now in this title: a possibility that breaks much of the normalcy that we habitually and uncritically take for granted, and which leads us through the labyrinth of singular thought. “It’s possible because it’s possible” is an antidote against the “There is no alternative” ignited by Margaret Thatcher, which has since continued to spur on the acceptance of impositions, resignedly or otherwise. “It’s just plain common sense,” the possessors of the truth insist. This title encloses Raqs’s ambition to broaden the universe of discourse, to celebrate its multidimensional condition, not only by exploring pathways, but also by generating tools through imagination and speculation to make new ones appear. This is why I am so fond of their meticulous indetermination, their definition of a broad field of action, where individual and collective emotional and political elements interbreed. To Raqs’s way of thinking, possible and probable are distant concepts: I think it matters quite little if that which is imagined comes to pass, because, in fact, it is already happening upon being enunciated. Perhaps that is why one of the ideas present in this exhibition is that of time, a notion that is absolutely fundamental to capitalism, possibly the only convertible currency with a secure value.
CM: What’s specific about the problem of time in Raqs’ work, which is certainly one of the most prominent thrusts of the show, is that it is much more than a theme: it is the referent for a multitude of battles that are liberated from a cosmological and geological plane, like that of the interrogation of our interaction with history and histories, under the field of class struggle that is produced in the body of each worker and subject of modernity by ingesting stimulants like coffee or tea, or in the resistance or adaptation to the productive machine. The way, for example, that the clocks in Now, Elsewhere (Escapement) (2009-2014), which, with this show, Raqs has produced in Spanish, explore a division of the day into hours of affect and desire, wanting to suspend the subordination of our organic and emotional life to a time segmented into mechanistic and abstract measures. Among the many threads of memory and living theorization involved in their film essay The Capital of Accumulation (2010) is the preoccupation with the subsumption of the living in the binomial of species and spaces, and of history and living experience, under the continual violence of capitalism’s instrumentalization. Beyond posing the need for a repeated visitation to the past of revolutionary history, and a familiarity with its ghosts, what the film seeks to posit is confidence in the solidarity between the resistance of the forces of the living in nature, and living resistance in politics and history, a mirroring that is probably marked by the slogan of another piece: Revoltage (2010). For Raqs, time is not, for critical reasons, an abstract and therefore innocuous dimension, but rather one of the main social battlefields, a theater of class struggle at the microscopic level just as in planetary terms. Beyond the decisiveness of the perspective of time in relation to struggles around the extension and intensity of the working day, time appears as the principal object of political appropriation, of control of the living over the dead. Hence the continuous oscillation between historical times in Raqs’s work, in whatever medium: one of their tasks is to listen and to bear witness to the diagram of forces where the accumulation of value, which effects its operations in nanoseconds, is disputed along with the duration of the unfolding and sedimentation of species, ways of life and forms of sensibility over the world, which has a venerable temporality and which, like the multiple that Raqs has created as a kind of plastic block, poses a requisite that is so apparently difficult today, that of the condition of Waiting (2014).
Certainly, one of the motifs that make Raqs into a decisive referent for us is in that meditation, at once poetic, political and ethical, on the collision and vibration of the dimensions of temporality.
FB: The first thing that comes to mind when I think about exhibitions is, precisely, their relationship to time. The exhibition is a concept inherited from modernity, and which continues to be the principal form of contact between art and public. In fact, all of art’s attempts, starting with the avant- gardes, to destabilize it and bring it to crisis have ended up, paradoxically, getting presented in exhibitions: just like the museum institution, the exhibition institution has thematized their dissent. And there’s time as a key factor. The invention of the cinema arrived at the moment when modernity had been extended throughout the entirety of the West, with its demand for punctuality, for guidelines. Spectators all had to sit down at the same time in the theater and to know when they would be leaving, which was compatible with the economic system’s demand that all workers arrive punctually to their stations. (On top of that, it would also manage to make everyone feel the same thing at the same time, to make them laugh and cry in unison, but this is a parallel question.) The exhibition is different, by turning the decision of how much time to devote to it toward the individual. The visitor can advance at his own rhythm, pause in front of what interests him and leave aside whatever doesn’t grab his attention, return to whatever he likes, or take a quick look around and leave the hall. At Raqs’ exhibition there will be those who walk through it in a few minutes, and those who devote a whole afternoon to it. Beyond that, I think that the exhibition will have as much of what is seen as of what isn’t seen. Their work is like a fine rain that gets into us little by little until we’re soaked. On a merely operational level, it has a dual point of entry, both intellectual—what you’ve called “situations of thought”—and emotional. I think that the exhibition is a place where all this can happen, and further still, where it should happen.
In Madrid, the exhibition will follow a circular route.
However Incongruous (2011) also begins from a reference to revolving. The rhinoceros we see has a bar, as if it were a figure on a carousel, a low-tech ride from another era. After giving it some thought, I have an idea of what that model is revolving around. Raqs’ rhinoceros is the colorful version of Dürer’s famous etching. Recalling this history is well worth a spin in our conversation. Exactly five hundred years ago, in 1514, Alfonso de Albuquerque, second viceroy of Portuguese India, attempted to tighten his diplomatic relations with Muzafar II, the sultan of Gujarat. The mission’s success was debatable, but it did obtain an interesting gift, a rhinoceros that was apparently given the name Gainda and which was swiftly sent to the metropole, Lisbon, where it arrived after a voyage of nearly four months. It was the first rhinoceros to have trod European soil since Antiquity, until then known exclusively through the narrations of Pliny the Elder. The expectations it aroused were enormous, and many were its misfortunes. It died when the boat that was transporting it was shipwrecked off the coast of Liguria, on its way to being delivered to Pope Leo X. Dürer never saw the animal. He completed his etching using an anonymous drawing, different written descriptions, including Pliny’s, as well as his own imagination. The success of this woodcut was unprecedented, possibly one of the etchings with greatest repercussions in history. For at least 150 years, it was their only credible description of this animal. Raqs reissued the journey of a rhinoceros from India to Lisbon, where it was exhibited a few years ago at the Fundação Gulbenkian, constructed on the grounds of an old amusement park where, surprise, there was a carousel. Curiously, now it will get back on a boat in Europe, headed for Mexico, let’s hope with better luck this time. The sculpture is the vision of some artists using another artist’s vision of something he never saw, in turn based partially on a drawing by an unknown party. This not only exemplifies Raqs’ way of working, but also emerges both as an invitation to chimerical imagination and as an insurgent, persistent reality.
When we organized the seminar in Madrid with Shuddhabrata, Monica and Jeebesh, a question was voiced: “How to be cosmopolitan without being colonized?”
Raqs IT’S WRITTEN BECAUSE IT’S WRITTEN
– The best kind of art, like the rain, invokes a re-ordering of the cognitive and sensory fields. It asks of its actual and potential publics to open doors and windows and let other worlds in. This re-ordering—subtle, slight, sure, sharp or soft as the case may be, whether it is a desultory drizzle across a few frazzled or jaded synapses, or the neurological equivalent of an electrical thunderstorm and sudden downpour—is why we bother with art in the first place. When it rains art, we do not reach for umbrellas. It makes sense to let ourselves soak, as long as we can, like children dancing in the season’s first rain.
– The artist also may or may not know all the things that every person will experience when they encounter his or her work; people bring their own histories, memories, scars and desires to bear on any work that they encounter. An artist cannot possibly know what these may be; in fact, when an artist works, he or she has Little or no intimation of how members of the public will get to know themselves when they face the work. The private language of the artist will never be the same as the private language with which the work will be “read” by its viewer. In this sense, the artist is like someone who writes a letter to a lover they do not know they have, in a language that they do not understand, without any guarantee that the letter will either reach its intended addressee or be opened and read, if indeed it ever arrives.
Like Don Quixote asking Sancho Panza to deliver to an unknown address a love letter written to a Dulcinea imagined only through desire,1 or like the lonesome forest spirit trying to inveigle a passing rain cloud into carrying messages to his distant lover in the opening canto of the classical Sanskrit verse-drama The Cloud Messenger2, artists often find themselves having to rely on mediators to even begin to become visible to their publics, their distant Dulcineas.
– An artistic action is the means by which humanity adjusts the infinity of being to itself. It necessitates the calling forth of that within human beings can participate in breaking the bonds of finitude, and act reciprocally to the plenitude of infinity. Rabindranath Tagore, in The Religion of Man, personifies this invocation as the “the angel of surplus” within human beings, the one who endows human existence with “…a surplus far in excess of the biological animal in Man, an overflowing influence that leads us over the strict boundaries of living, offering us an open space where Man’s thoughts and dreams could have their own holidays.” Although Tagore’s “angel of surplus” sings out to humanity to “rejoice”, in reality, the process of adjustment to infinity may be painful, pleasurable, abrasive, delightful, enervating or stimulating. Howsoever it’s immediate experience may be coloured, there can be no denying the fact that it transforms us from being “creatures” into becoming “creators” of the world. It enables us to make infinity speak through the language of contingency. Seen this way, an artist is the person who does not merely receive the world through her senses, but equally, the one who gives something back, sends something forth into the world.
– The action which we call artistic then has to deal with the fact that it exists in the interstices between senses of the self’s relation to the world: one possessed of infinity and plenitude and another constructed in response to constraint and limits. The politically committed are drawn to art because it offers them a mode of imagining realities other than the ones that constrain their being in the world, and artists are drawn to the arena of political action because their cultivation of a sensibility founded on plenitude is a resource that actually can have radical currency in an arena accustomed to the burden of constraints. This is what explains the traffic between art and activism.
– The value of a work of art consists of its ability to arrest, even if temporarily, the stream of purposive acts and dispositions that we bear as a routine of everyday life. It affords us, a moment’s respite from the strain of maintaining a purely functional, quantifiable profile within the boundaries of a conflicted and abrasive situation. This is not a dismissal of the mundane, but an attempt to seek substance, plenitude in quotidian things, gestures, acts as one sees with them, and through them, with a kind of “second sight” into a zone that is not pre-determined in terms of meaning by the way the world is administered and governed.
– A work of art does not have to conform to, nor confirm, the established order of the world. Were a work to be constrained thus, it would have to fit into an extant necessity in the existing arrangement of the world, much like a plug would fit a socket. When worn, it would have to be replaced, so long as the need for its presence existed, by an item identical to itself. Things of beauty, things that amuse and entertain or inform, may fulfil such requirements. No artistic gesture can trim itself to fill the absence co-incident with the void in a made to measure mould. On the contrary, the artistic gesture is founded on an intuition of multiplicity of sensations and perceptions to such an extent that it defeats the bounds that seek to keep it restrained.
– A dysfunctional world becomes obsessed with utility. Intriguingly, utility itself may be rendered dysfunctional because of the commonplace prospect of having to make utilitarian choices between a plethora of the identically useful, as in a supermarket aisle where we confront a hundred different shapes of the same mineral water. Similarly, a political language premised on the alienation of subjects from sovereignty overcompensates for its obvious disenfranchisement by its insistence on the primacy of representation. The combustive upsurge of insurgent crowds and masses are quickly, and urgently, sublimated by means of identity and unity: the enabling trick of representative politics trades the ambitions of leaders against the aspirations and practices for possible new configurations of collective life. The post-upsurge- state’s violence towards strikers, critics and dissidents bears out this fact time and again. In such circumstances, the freedom to be elusive and non-representable is sometimes the most dangerous thing for regimes in order to maintain the circus of their rule.
*The catalogue IT’S WRITTEN BECAUSE IT’S WRITTEN is an anthology of texts created by Raqs Media Collective, with a text curatorial by Cuauhtémoc Medina and images from the exhibition”.