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‘Garden of Six Seasons’ explores cultural multiplicities at Para Site, Hong Kong

Kathmandu Triennale Artistic Director Cosmin Costinas talks to STIR about how the Hong Kong art centre’s prelude to the event seeks to open a dialogue against categorisation.

by Jones John, Rahul KumarPublished on : Jun 29, 2020

A precursor to the Kathmandu Triennale (KT-2077) scheduled to be launched later this year, Garden of Six Seasons engages 40 international artists. The exhibition includes a majority of artists who are also part of KT-2077, and aims to investigate identity, cultural hegemonies and the politics of material. “The Triennale was established with the purpose of connecting different developments on the art scene of Kathmandu and different levels of the art in itself with the international circuit and with the broader Asian region. Our mission at Para Site has always been to redefine what our surroundings are to reshape that understanding of the ‘international’,” says Cosmin Costinas, Executive Director of Para Site and Artistic Director of KT-2077. This exhibit being showcased contributes to simplify the logistics and other pragmatic concerns of lack of facilities in Nepal to produce and to assemble works. Additionally, it is also a way to introduce the Triennale to the conversations happening in East Asia. “It’s a way to prepare the audiences for this upcoming event on another and perhaps less-discussed-about part of Asia,” adds Costinas. The event itself is not proposed to be an extension. “We are not expecting people to see both of them. So, all the ideas that are to be seen here will definitely be part of the Triennale, which is by far the largest event and the one that encompasses all the work that we are doing in this period together… if anything, we are talking more of an overlap and an extension of the same ideas”.

Siellu (The Soul) | Garden of Six Seasons | Britta Marakatt-Labba | STIRworld
Siellu (The Soul) Image Credit: Britta Marakatt-Labba, Courtesy of the artist and RidoDuotarMuseat

Here are excerpts of the interview on curatorial ideology of the current show and aspirations for KT-2077.

Untitled (Na Poi Kiko) | Garden of Six Seasons | JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere  | STIRworld
Untitled (Na Poi Kiko) Image Credit: JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Courtesy of Estate of JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere

STIR: The name of the exhibition is derived from a site in Nepal, which might be described as a symbol of the pro-colonial aspiration of the indigenous elite. The exhibition itself is a counter-narrative against such hegemonic Eurocentric world-building. Could you comment on the dialectic that arises by such a juxtaposition?

Cosmin Costinas (CC): It was possible for us to refer to that moment because one cannot ignore the fact that it was a failed experiment by all intents and purposes. And that it is an object that is already incomplete…it is a ruin even though it is now nicely renovated. It's a nice park that can be enjoyed by many people in Kathmandu, but each season corresponded to a pavilion and it lost several of its original pavilions. The same way in which Kathmandu valley lost its six seasons, after which the garden was named, with climate change. Then there are several other aspects to it, you know. It’s certainly questionable how the signifiers native to a particular cultural context, such as the European garden, really function in the colonial equation. It is difficult to call them outright examples of colonial oppression. In many ways they were also expressions of indigenous sovereignty. They were ways of expressing one’s own analogous position with European royalty, so the conversation of how to place signifiers and cultural expressions in that historical context is quite a complex operation and we were particularly interested to have that in the context of Nepal whose entire colonial experience is unlike that of most of the places; it is not even entirely acknowledged in the official historical discourse that is taking place in the country. One of the main modern myths of Nepal and one of the pillars of its contemporary identity is that it is the only place in South Asia that was never colonised and, of course, it’s a highly debatable situation. It’s interestingly analogous to how Thailand regards its own identity as the only place in South East Asia that was never colonised or Tonga in the Pacific or Ethiopia in Africa. It creates quite a similar obsession and hang-ups and difficulties in confronting a colonial legacy that then appears simply as a ghost. But it’s very much real and very much consequential.

Healing Lions | Garden of Six Seasons | Lok Chitrakar | STIRworld
Healing Lions by Lok Chitrakar Image Credit: Sheelasha Rajbhandari, Courtesy of Para Site

STIR: How do the various geo-cultural indigeneities come together within the Garden of Six Seasons? From within Nepal we have spoken about how you have thought through this but we are talking about the geo-cultural aspect, which moves probably beyond Nepal as far as the whole idea of culture is concerned.

CC: Well, I think there is again a long discussion to be had on whether such categories even exist or if they are really helpful in approaching our reading of art and our process of building exhibitions. There is definitely a multiplicity in the exhibition and there are definitely artists who bring broad knowledge and tools of expression together. I think the exhibition tries to neither create a false sense of universality where, you know, there is an equivalence nor is it an exercise in bringing difference. So, what we tried to do was, we tried to connect as much as possible the experience, the intention, the message and the vocabulary of each artist and create like a hidden conversation.

Work No. 030 | Garden of Six Seasons | Emma Kunz | STIRworld
Work No. 030 by Emma Kunz Image Credit: Courtesy of Emma Kunz Foundation and Para Site

STIR: It is mentioned in the curatorial note that the exhibition leaves behind Gregorian time to adapt the traditional Nepali system of time-keeping. Could you elaborate on the importance of such symbolic gestures in bringing awareness to plural indigeneity?

CC: In order to answer your questions, I think it’s important to first say that there isn't a single Nepali system of counting the time. The one that we choose is only one of them, and one that is not without complications because it’s the one that was the official system embraced by the Hindu monarchy that was itself a colonising agent towards many communities in Nepal that had their own system of counting the time so that’s a reality and one that makes us not exaggerate the importance of this gesture. If anything, it's actually more important to bring this into the conversation to understand the complex nature of the colonisation - it's a continuous process, it's hardly a two choices answer situation, there are multiplicities and complications at every step. Nevertheless, you know, this decision certainly pointed towards this direction of eliminating any framework and certainly putting under question all the leading systems that we take for granted.

(L): Shamanic Dance (Reincarnation) by Izmail Efimov, and (R): Paths by Pavel Mikushev | Garden of Six Seasons | STIRworld
(L): Shamanic Dance (Reincarnation) by Izmail Efimov, and (R): Paths by Pavel Mikushev Image Credit: (L): Courtesy of the artist and Collection of M HKA, Antwerp, and (R): Courtesy of the artist and Para Site

STIR: What challenges did you face in bringing together such a global exhibition during this period of international lockdowns? If you could speak about the current exhibition as to how you went to bringing this one together and also very quickly if you can comment on what you anticipate over the next six months before the Triennale.

CC: Well, the exhibition’s opening date was postponed by two months given the particular situation in Hong Kong and safety considerations. Hong Kong is certainly more privileged than other places in the world, so opening it in mid-May was deemed to be safe. Other challenges certainly had to do with the situations manifesting themselves differently in different parts of the world. We certainly had the responsibility towards the artists that we were working with to make sure that they were safe to participate. We were lucky to be able to include almost all the artists whom we wanted to include in the first place, but there were certain elements that couldn't make it to the show because they were, in some cases, simply in a studio that was inaccessible given the lockdown, and artists being at home. Certain shipping routes became less frequent and some became more expensive – which is also a reality of the current lockdown but still the circulation of goods was less affected than the circulation of the people in this period. So, there were all of these impediments but by the end of it we were able to open it with the kind of sanitary precautions that are recommended here and everywhere else - requesting everyone to wear a mask and other such measures.

About exhibiting in the next six months, God! I have no idea. I think nobody does, so it is hard to say what will happen. We certainly hope to be able to open the exhibition and do it on time, but ultimately safety of the people who are directly involved in the project and the broader public safety to which we have a responsibility – all this needs to be taken into account. If the conditions will not be in place then we will not go through with the exhibition in December.

Cosmin Continas | Kathmandu Triennale 2077 | STIRworld
Cosmin Continas Image Credit: Courtesy of Para Site

(Garden of Six Seasons is on view at Para Site, Hong Kong, from May 16, 2020 to August 30, 2020.)

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