It’s a distinct possibility that the quad at UCL was one of the most happening spots in London last Friday night. With Slade School of Fine Art inaugurating their BA/BFA degree shows, the place was hopping with a bar, barbecue and masses of cool looking people. But as much as I enjoyed my al fresco chicken wrap and eavesdropping on uni students — of course, secretly wishing I was still one of them — it’s no surprise that what I discovered inside Slade was the real treat of the evening.
Scrolling through my iPhone photos taken on the night, I still find myself excited by the work, thrilled at the quantity of talent seeping from within those studios and soon to be let out into the world. (Did I mention I cant wait?)
From creepy, sometimes even terrifying video work, to sumptuous paintings, media installations, a truly serene sculpture by Nancy Huang I really wish I could live in, and thought-provoking performance pieces (a particular favourite, by Juntae TJ Hwang, features students clad in army attire performing sexy dance moves amongst the columns of the main building), this show has a little bit of everything. And each little bit is great in its’ own way, which in turn makes for an exhilarating exhibition.
When art aficionado, businesswoman, and philanthropist Feroze Gujral – who is of Indian, Arab, and British origins – visited the Venice Biennale in 2013, she noticed there was neither an Indian nor a Pakistani pavilion. With great experience sustaining large-scale arts projects via the Gujral Art Foundation, she decided to change that, and selected internationally recognised artists, Shilpa Gupta (India) and Rashid Rana (Pakistan), to collaborate on ‘My East is Your West.’ The project isan official Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale, and unites at the Biennale for the first time the historically conflicting nations of India and Pakistan. Rana and Gupta have previously collaborated on the cross-border project ‘Aar Paar’, in which artists from Mumbai and Karachi each created public works in the other’s territories.
On view in Venice, Shilpa Gupta’s work, characteristically both poetic and direct in its delivery, reflects on her own experience visiting the borders of Mumbai, Bangladesh and Kashmir, which are partly controlled by India and partly by Pakistan. As a central focus of the work, she stages a performance wherein an actor diligently works away at a crafts table in a dramatically lit red room. Without acknowledging the presence of visitors, the actor traces a shape on carbon paper that rests on a pile of cloth. The cloth itself is significant, measuring the width of a sari and one-thousandth the length of the 3,400km security barrier, the longest in the world, that India is currently building along its’ perimeter with neighbouring Bangladesh. Although open-ended, the piece seemingly alludes to the vast and somewhat arbitrary effort of retaining distance through the gesture of drawing borders.