The pathway to ‘democratisation of art’
KBF hosted 10-day workshop on influential art education programme that offers promise of greater access to art for broader audiences
Kochi: From holding guided blindfold tours to getting the grounds-keeping staff involved through picture and word association activities, a series of art mediation practices were conducted recently within and on the sidelines of the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB).
The activities – part of a 10-day workshop titled ‘Spaces for Encounters: Meetings, Happenings and Inputs in Art Mediation – were intended to impart instruction in methods to make art more inclusive and accessible to a broader range of audiences.
Between January 16-26, around 25 participants – from a variety of backgrounds and across the region, including five artists from Bangladesh – underwent training in practices designed to overturn the traditional idea of art mediation, where ‘experts’ explain artworks to laypersons.
In so doing, the workshop looked to open diverse approaches towards the arts such as letting “average people” guide visitors through exhibitions, or framing guided tours as discussions, or even using performances and games to offer playful access.
The unique workshop was an initiative of the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF), Hochschule Luzern – Art and Design (Switzerland) and Swissnex India in cooperation with Pro Helvetia India and Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art.
“Instead of experiencing art in a bubble, mediation creates spaces to accommodate and reflect on the questions people have about art. It’s trying to find a language, a means, an approach to discover a common ground between people coming to art from different backgrounds,” said Lena Eriksson, a lecturer at Hochschule Luzern, who was the project leader.
Eriksson was part of a group of instructors and assistants from Switzerland that: introduced participants to the current models of art mediation, instructed them in practical engagement strategies that were developed for the context of the KMB and helped them created a ‘toolbox’.
“With these tools, like the sculpted notebook built from the personal experiences shared by the group, the participants had the basic equipment to bring people together and create situations that allows different visitors to have different experiences. They can experiment till the end of the Biennale and beyond,” said Elia Malevez, a member of the assisting student group.
The workshop consisted of readings in art mediation theory, working on a number of KMB 2016 venues and finally developing and testing easy-to-use, site-specific ‘tools’ that would help visitors access the artworks.
For Puja Vaish, a senior assistant curator at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum who took part in the workshop, the concept of using tool in art mediation is interesting “because it opens up the conversation to people and offers them a human connect to art”.
“The tools are built around getting people to engage. Whether you are from an art background or not, with the tools you think and formulate your own opinion about the artworks. This approach holds the potential for a true democratisation of art,” she said.
While he noted its capacity to “empower the viewer to the interpret artworks on their own”, Nabil Rahman, a research associate at the Bengal Foundation in Dhaka, said, “Mediation is an approach for people who want to be guided. The tools are a way for people to learn how to view the art works for themselves. They are a reference point that provides context.”