Founder and curator of Lakeeren Art Gallery in Mumbai, Arshiya Lokhandwala, early this year curated an exhibition The Future is Here, organised at the Kamalnayan Bajaj Art Gallery in Mumbai, from January 18 to March 31, 2019. The exhibition explored the use, role, and influence of technology on our society, especially the millennials.Here, STIR speaks to Lokhandwala about the exhibition that examines the millennial experience of nine Indian digital native artists, and where each project highlights the use of technology and also mentions the side-effects of the same.
Sukanya Garg (SG): What kind of changes do you foresee in the field of art in the next decade?
Arshiya Lokhandwala (AL): One of the key factors is technology. It has changed the global landscape of everything, including how we think, feel and also who we are. Hence it is only natural that this reflects in art and art-making. We live in a time of simulation in which the virtual environments and online presence engulf us. Hence, the title of the show The Future is Here as we are already living it. It is our reality.
SG: Given the increasing pace of changes in the process of art-making due to the higher use of technology to create new media art, what kind of changes do you foresee in art consumption, especially in India?
AL: The art market is made up of many things. Video art and video installation deal with technology. However, they are difficult for acquisition. It's not really acquirable unless institutions or museums or foundations acquire them. It is a niche market, as it can never really replace traditional art or painting. Even in the West, it will never be the primary market, technology-based art is definitely for exhibitions, museums, and foundations who are its main buyers. Nevertheless, I also believe that everything doesn't have to change. I think there are very different platforms, and today we have technology that can be integrated within painting, installations and traditional platforms. Mediums are blurring. For example, a photograph is a technological art form, isn't it? So the definitions of what is new media, and art and technology are inclusive, constantly negotiable and morphing.
SG: In a country like India where the art market is still dominated by paintings mostly, how do new media works like the ones exhibited in The Future is Here fare? Is there a commercial basis for the same?
AL: People do buy videos and video installations. However, it is not a mainstream art platform, it is niche and largely for high-end collectors. For homes mainly, collectors prefer paintings to fill in their physical space. The works in the exhibition The Future is Here examined the impact of technology on millennials who are the digital natives born in the world in the age of technology. The exhibition highlighted our shifting world, a lot of which we experience online and via our smartphones. Even to understand the technology, a person has to be someone who is engaged with art and is used to seeing shows, has been to a museum, and has the lifestyle and the means to afford to. It is a long complex process to do all of this. So a lot of such art, like the one in my exhibition, is created for the purpose of creating knowledge and learning. The show travelled to Kochi to Phoenix City Mall and was shown as a public art installation. It was the intent of the show; it was not meant to be commercial. It was meant to inform people and be a critical reflection of society at large. The show was experiential, but it is physically difficult to acquire the works exhibited, so it wasn't really commercial in that sense.
SG: What, in your opinion, is the role of art today and in the near future?
AL: The role of art is to communicate with the viewer. It may or may not be meant for acquiring. In the sense that technology is increasingly rendering many things redundant, yet, robots cannot replace a human. For example, in the essay of Walter Benjamin, he talks about the role of photography. With the advent of photography, does it actually removes the aura of a painting that has been touched by a hand? It just works in reproduction because that is what it is. A painting is not replaceable. Similarly, for me, technology enhances our life. It replaces the mundane things. It does not substitute the originality, the touch of the hand. The role of art has always been to communicate the ideas of our time and will remain the same. Technology is one of the mediums of art, no one is interested in whether it will replace other forms of art.
SG: How do you think your role as a curator has evolved over time?
AL: My role is motivated by my interests as an art historian and a curator. I have always worked independently, outside of institutions. After my Ph.D from Cornell University, I continued to do the same. I define my own parameters and projects and want to grow my own theoretical thinking and ideas. I am interested in the larger philosophical questions with theoretical underpinnings, for example, my curated exhibition Given Time: The Gift and Its Offerings with India Bulls was based on the theorisation of Jacques Derrida. Posing philosophical questions within the contemporary context is what interests me, especially in the context of India. My projects are defined by me and I choose artists accordingly. I see myself as an artist-curator pushing the boundaries, commissioning work to make really interesting exhibitions.
SG: What are your plans for 2019?
AL: I am going to the Art Institute of Chicago to teach a course on South-Asian feminism. That's my immediate plan. I am still in the process of finalising future projects.
SG: Lastly, what STIRs you up?
AL: A new idea, which I need to explore. It can also be a new location. I see myself as a knowledge driven person who is always wanting to be challenged and wanting to grow, moving forward, constantly trying to understand the resonance of what I am doing in life today and redefining myself and my work in the context of the world which is so rapidly changing.