Goshka Macuga, When Was Modernism, installation view at Rivington Place 2008, photo: Thierry Bal / www.iniva.org
Macuga’s art installation is being displayed next to a piece by the Cairo-born artist Anna Boghuigian, as part of the exhibition Tagore's Universal Allegories. The idea behind the show is to revise Rabindranath Tagore's approach to art, culture and to other subjects including ecology, education, cosmopolitanism, nationalism and the universal, in a contemporary setting.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), born in Calcutta, was a poet, polymath and the first non-European author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature (1913). Commended for his many-sided literary activities, most notably poetry, he was also strongly involved in activist and educational endeavours. He was partially participating in the Indian nationalist movement, although in his own non-sentimental and visionary way. Tagore was the founder of an experimental school, university and utopian community at Santiniketan, West Bengal, where he tried his Upanishadic ideals of education.
It is this educational project that the two artists are responding to at Iniva – both have made use of artifacts including books, documents, photographs and sound recordings from the specialist library of the Tagore Centre UK, to the effect of providing the audiences with direct access to Tagore's work and teaching, as well as rendering their own interpretations of his legacy. Shown in separate galleries, the two installations are conceived in relation to one another and include overlapping elements.
Goshka Macuga revisits and reworks her project from 2008, When Was Modernism?, an installation that evokes Kala Bhavana, the art college at Santiniketan, which the artist realized after her visit to there in 2006. With stone benches arranged around a tree, the piece echoes the outdoor campus of Santiniketan, while a display of discarded student test pieces can be seen as fragments from a little-known history of modernism extending across different geographies and time periods. The continuity of materials and aesthetic allude to the school's early modernist roots in the 1920s and correspond with formal exercises Macuga undertook as a student in Poland.
The corresponding piece by Anna Boghuigian, A Play to Play, will incorporate elements associated with Tagore, encountered during the artist’s frequent visits to the school. A small stage in the centre of the space will elicit Tagore's love of theatre and directly reference one of his plays, the allegorical The Post Office. This element is going to be paired by a bookshelf with volumes of Tagore's poetry, drama, literature, essays, as well as Boghiguian's own sketchbooks and works produced by the artist during her stay in Santiniketan.
Located at London’s Rivington Place, the Institute of International Visual Arts was established in 1994 to address an imbalance in the representation of culturally diverse artists, curators and writers. It collaborates with both cultural producers from a number of backgrounds and the public to generate visual arts-related exhibitions and events, as well as maintains the extensive Stuart Hall Library for arts in the multicultural field.
Sources: iniva.org, The School of Wisdom database, ed. AM 24.09.2013