Footnotes from the Untimely Calendar (Asamayavali) by Raqs Media Collective

 

The Untimely Calendar or Asamayavali as it is referred to in Hindi is a solo exhibition of Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective held at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi. The title of the exhibition emerges out of the Raqs’ preoccupation with the questions of time, specifically with the idea of ‘untimely’. [1]

Borrowing from Frederic Nietzsche, Raqs stages untimeliness as a method of engaging with the chronology of calendar time, and a possible way of being in and inhabiting the contemporary. The philosophical framework of Nietzsche finds resonance in the current political scenario situated in New Delhi.  The exhibition is conceptualised through a self-curatorial approach of the collective, working with the National Gallery of Modern Art as a location, and the potentiality of the Retrospective as an exhibition format.[2] The site of Jaipur House within which the exhibition is situated, is a building with significantly long corridors leading to a number of exhibition rooms. This historical building is transformed here into a mise-en-scene: an extensive compilation of multiple scenes and sequences, unfolding into a scenography. As the viewer navigates from one work to the other, installations combining: moving images, photographs, sculptures, paintings and drawings appear, acting in this way, as a multiplicity of scenes, contextualising the spectatorial engagement with a recent history of their practice. However such an exhibition design might also bear the danger of disorienting the general museum going public; leaving them puzzled in the mis-en-scene and their experience by and large incomplete.

One would even see this as: an experience perhaps intended by the collective to consider new forms of political and aesthetic action in the society. To address this aspect, Raqs have provided multiple entry-pathways into their exhibition, continuing in their subversion of ‘retrospective as format’. This has been realised through the initiation of public programs, where invited peers and freinds have provided walk throughs of the exhibition in an effort to bring different voices which could shed fresh insight on the works of art and the exhibition experience. This decision provides a self-reflexive retreat from authorship on Raqs’ behalf, shifting agency from the collective, to their audience. This action not only differs artistic authority within the context of the exhibition, but also engenders active spectatorship and a break from passivity while viewing.

As practitioners who persistently argue for the fluid conception of the world that looks beyond the frame of the nation-state, the mounting of their biggest show ever in  career so far at National Gallery Modern Art  is firstly ironic in its location and certainly as their provocation outlines – untimely. However, this exhibition does act as an extensive introduction to local audience of Delhi to a variety of practices Raqs has been involved, considering very limited work of theirs has been shown  here in India. As a premise the exhibition certainly opens up the definitions of what contemporary would mean today; even while working in a deeply bureaucratic institution such as the National Gallery of Modern Art. Interestingly, this is happening at a time when conservative, right-wing government in India holds sway.

I would like to end this small note by returning back to the idea of working with retrospective as a context that on the one hand signifies looking back in time; and on the other demands giving a comprehensive account of the past that is being considered. While the Untimely Calendar manages to circumvent this question through its framing and exhibition design, it is worthwhile to consider whether this coming together monumentalises the practice of Raqs, something the structure such as a retrospective is known for and something which the collective has always contested.

Notes

[1] The idea of the untimely proposed by French philosopher Frederic Nietzsche is first referred in his Birth of Tragedy where he speaks of untimeliness, as a condition of being out of joint with time, against the historical fever of modernity. This fever is considered to be in accommodation with the present, and to be contemporary is to be out of joint with the present. It is by being out of time that you can actually perceive things that others cannot. Ravi Sundaram, ‘Has the Moment of the Contemporary Come and Gone?’, Field Notes, Asia Art Archive, Issue 1, 2012 http://www.aaa.org.hk/FieldNotes/Details/1192  (Accessed  June 25, 2012)

[2] This approach is quite in contrast to that of Raqs’ curated exhibitions such as the Sarai Reader 09, hosted at Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon, India in 2012-13. With over 120 artists the SARAI READER 09 engaged with the idea of prolonged duration where the exhibition space was transformed into studio for over nine months without a necessary focus on producing a finished product. Raqs Media Collective, Sarai Reader 09, Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon, Haryana, India, 2013-14 http://raqsmediacollective.net/curation.aspx (Accessed Jan 29, 2015) .

Asamayavali/Untimely Calendar, 2014, solo exhibition, NGMA, New Delhi, 2014-15.

All Images are Installation views from Untimely Calendar exhibition. Courtesy and copyright of Raqs Media Collective and Project 88.