By Sun Shuangjie
"Time is our medium. Some artists work with oils, some with water colors and others with video; we are working with time," said Indian artist Shuddhabrata Sengupta at the newly opened Chronus Art Center on Moganshan Road.
The artist group Raqs Media Collective Photos: Courtesy of West Heavens
Sengupta, Jeebesh Bagchi and Monica Narula, known as the Raqs Media Collective (Raqs), are showcasing a series of thought-provoking artworks concerned with Shanghai at the venue, which marks the collective's first-ever solo exhibition in China.
Entitled Extra Time, the exhibition focuses on Raqs' investigations of time and temporality through diverse artworks that range from installation to performance, architectural ensemble, video and photography.
On launching the exhibition, Raqs also published their first Chinese book Kinetic Contemplations, which is a collection of essays by and about Raqs.
Invitation to think about time
On view at the venue is a double-screen video installation named The Vigil, featuring two goalkeepers in a football match between Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Lücheng in 2012.
A scene from The Vigil
Raqs asked a local TV sports broadcaster to set up cameras during the game to film the goalkeepers.
The 96 minutes of video reveal "the exhilaration, the exhaustion, long periods of waiting, the despair, the loneliness, the frenzy, the fear, the hostility, the laughter, the applause, the frustration, the remorse" of goalkeepers during a game, according to Raqs.
"We worked on it, edited it, and transformed it. We pose the question of time, and for goalkeepers, they have a very different experience of time," said Sengupta in an exclusive interview with the Global Times.
"A sense of time is what makes us human beings," said Sengupta. "Unlike other animals, we know time is not infinite, and that each one's time ends. And that perspective gives us a certain attitude."
Time has been a continuing concern of Raqs since it was established in 1992, and many of their works deal with this question of how time is experienced, about the politics of time, even about how time rules people and how people try to control it.
Photographic works from the series Calm Down, Madame
Reenactment of history
Re-Run is a video work that reenacts the scene captured by French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson in Shanghai in 1948, in which panicked citizens crowded before a bank to withdraw their money and exchange it for gold fearing currency devaluation.
Raqs reshot the scene two months ago at Shanghai Film Park, in which actors wore the clothes of the era and pushed each other in a similar crowd.
"This is as much about today," Sengupta told the Global Times, noting that Re-Run also responded to the recent global economic crisis. "The way we produce work is always to create these kinds of encounters between something that looks backwards, something that looks at the present and something that looks ahead."
Such a re-enactment of history is also reflected in a performance installation named Seen at Secundrabagh, which includes bodies, archival photographs, text, soundscape and video. Collaborating with Indian theater director Zuleilkha Chaudhari, the 50-minute performance offers a new approach to looking at a photograph shot in 1858 depicting the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The performance was shown twice on August 23 and 24, and was followed by discussions between the audiences and artists.
"We like to look at historical materials because history is to the world what memory is to me, so if you're trying to understand the world and trying to think about its memory, you have to look at history," said Sengupta.
Photographic works from the series Calm Down, Madame
Capitalism and postcolonialism
Raqs' contemplation of capitalism is also highlighted in several works on view at the venue, such as a series of photographic works named Calm Down, Madame or A Brief History of Capital, which feature a sharp contradiction between the lively scenes and deserted atmosphere of Expo Park during and after the event, and a number of plastic figures that resemble the running person featured in exit signs.
"Right now we are living in a time when everyone is feeling they have to go somewhere, because things are changing so fast," Sengupta explained of the plastic installation work The Imminent Departure of Anybody, Everybody, Somebody, Nobody, Antibody, Busybody and others.
Chang Tsong-zung, one of the founding fathers of West Heavens, a cross-cultural communication project which curated the exhibition with Chronus Art Center, spoke highly of Raqs, saying, "They offer profound contemplation of the world and they are equipped with rich social research experiences, thus they can address such grand topics accurately."
Raqs have been preparing for the exhibition since 2010. They paid several visits to Shanghai to get a sense of the city and its character. Last year, Raqs was also invited to lecture for one week at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.
"It has been a practice of colonialism, which has officially departed from both China and India, that non-Western countries should admit their backwardness and they should catch up with the West. However, it's the restless catching up that leaves us trapped deeper in capitalism and cultural colonialism," Hong Kong-based Chang told the Global Times.
"Thus I think China and India should learn from each other during the development after breaking free from colonialism," added Chang.
Date: Until November 17, 10 am to 6 pm (closed on Mondays)
Venue: Chronus Art Center
Address: Bldg 18, 50 Moganshan Road
Call 5271-5789 for details