5 March 2022
Coming to Know | Discourse Programme
5 March 2022 | Part of Coming to Know, Alserkal Art Week
Organised by Nida Ghouse and Brooke Holmes with Moushumi Bhowmik, Padmini Chettur, Hugo Esquinca, Umashankar Manthravadi, v ness, and Tanvi Solanki
Presented by Alserkal Arts Foundation in collaboration with the Department of Classics, Princeton University. Made possible by Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.
What does it mean to listen to the past, together?
Coming to Know is a public programme extending from the exhibition A Slightly Curving Place, itself a response to the manifold listening practices of self-taught acoustic archaeologist Umashankar Manthravadi.
Listening assumes the existence of sound at a frequency we can hear. Coming to Know instead imagines sounds of the past as co-produced by artifacts and contemporary technologies of eliciting audibility. In between these two instruments is This explicitly mediated listening creates an interminable feedback loop that refracts the process of listening itself while also protracting it to include echoes that may not have been recorded, of events that did not enter history—the simultaneity of the past in the present, a collectivity across time beyond possession and accumulation. If we put things like this, we start to understand listening to the premodern past as —a mode of coming to know that never arrives at its object, a mode that is resolutely processual and porously social.
Coming to Know is thus an experiment in ways of forming communities around a shared attention to a premodern past. “To come to know” something speaks to the desire that brings a subject to a place where they might learn, as well as to the promise of a form of recognition that transforms one’s relationship with what seems other, foreign, and distant. In proposing this kind of listening as a modality for approaching the past, we set aside the predominantly visual techniques employed by the archaeological site, the museum, and the larger project of colonial modernity in an effort to possess the past, as an object of timeless value capable of legitimating the present. We also set aside the public program as a didactic supplement to an alien, premodern place and time. We instead ask how the process of coming to know a premodern past together transforms our sense of the knowledge held in common as well as the community that holds it.
Programme | Saturday, 5 March
2.30 - 3.00 PM | Introductions
3:00 - 3:30 PM | Artist Talk | Padmini Chettur | A Temporal Body
In the 1980s the Indian classical dance Bharathanatyam underwent a radical intervention at the hands of the choreographer Chandralekha, who began to slow the form down to an unrecognizable pace—an anti consumerist, feminist stance. Four decades later, Padmini Chettur—who trained and performed with Chandralekha—searches for a contemporary moment for dance in India through a practice that is deeply embedded in the body's relationship to time, as well as to past histories. Following her four-day workshop at Alserkal, Padmini will speak about her practice—a fluid negotiation of pedagogy and choreography: a research that brings the individual as well as the collective body into a temporal presence.
3:30 - 4:15 PM | Padmini Chettur in conversation with Brooke Holmes | Q&A
4:15 - 4:45 PM | Interlude
5:00 - 5:45 PM | Umashankar Manthravadi in conversation with Tanvi Solanki | Q&A
5:45 - 6:15 PM | Artist talk | Moushumi Bhowmik | Listening within a Flow of Time
Asinger and listener and a collector and keeper of sounds from the field, working mainly in ‘Bengal’ in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, but elsewhere too, Moushumi’s work of several decades has involved both listening in and to the field as well as in the sound archive. Keeping a ninety-year-old wax cylinder recording of a centuries old musical tradition from a village in Bengal at the centre of this talk, she weave a story of a time which moves around it in circular motions, as in a potter’s wheel, where past present and future meld into one another, as inseparable strands.
6:15 - 7:00 PM | Moushumi Bhowmik in conversation with v ness | Q&A
7:30 - 8:30 PM | Performance| Hugo Esquinca | +ACCIÓN_032
[FOR EXPANSE DISARRANGEMENT]
This performance takes the form of a low frequency intervention executed as a live dig of the exhibition space of A Slightly Curving Place through extensive manipulation of the site's stationary waves and an exploitation of its modal resonance.
35Hz-65Hz @ 130dB SPL.
Followed by a conversation with Nida Ghouse
Moushumi Bhowmik is a singer, writer and collector of songs and sounds. Her work is largely centred on the question of what and where home is. Whilst based in Kolkata, she travels between India, Bangladesh and the UK, collaborating with artists and scholars across disciplines and languages. Moushumi is also the main caregiver/caretaker of The Travelling Archive: Field Recordings and Field Notes from Bengal (www.thetravellingarchive.org), co- created with sound recordist Sukanta Majumdar. She has recently submitted her doctoral thesis on the wax cylinder recordings of Arnold Bake from Bengal at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
Padmini Chettur began her contemporary dance career in 1990 as a member of the troupe of Chandralekha, the radical modernist Bharatanatyam choreographer whose opus dealt with a rigorous deconstruction of the form. Over the past two decades, since leaving the troupe in 2001, Padmini has defined her own choreographic idiom as minimalist, abstract, and formal— stripping movement down to an essential anatomical investigation, prioritizing a sense of tension over emotion. Her approach to dramaturgy reveals the complex layers of connection between a dancing body and its environment, both in the sense of performative parameters, and in the sense of socio-cultural context—one's place in history.
Hugo Esquinca produces actions and conditions utilising audio electronics at excessive levels of amplification. His previous work has been presented in diverse contexts and venues such as Stedelijk Museum-Amsterdam, National Centre for Contemporary Arts NCCA- Moscow, Museum Nikola Tesla-Zagreb, Festspielhaus HELLERAU-Dresden, Namba BEARS-Osaka, 20000V-Tokyo, MIRA Ploschad of Modern Art Siberia-Krasnoyarsk, Fondazione Antonio Ratti-Como, Ujazdowski Castle for Contemporary Art-Warsaw, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and Berghain-Berlin among others.
Nida Ghouse is a writer and curator. She is visiting lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities at Princeton University for spring 2022 and co-artistic director of the Singapore Biennale 2022. With Vic Brooks, she received the 2021 Andy Warhol Foundation curatorial fellowship for the exhibition Shifting Center, upcoming at EMPAC in 2023. At Haus der Kulturen der Welt, she curated A Slightly Curving Place (2020) in the framework of An Archaeology of Sound, a collaborative project responding to the acoustic archaeologist Umashankar Manthravadi. The project travels to Alserkal Arts Foundation over 2021–22 and encompasses Coming to Know, a discourse programme with Brooke Holmes; A Supplementary Country Called Cinema, a film programme with Surabhi Sharma; and An Archaeology of Listening, a publication series with Archive Books. Previously, she co-curated Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War (2017) and co-edited its accompanying publication (Sternberg 2021), also at HKW.
Brooke Holmes teaches at Princeton University, where she previously directed the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities and served as the PI on the “Postclassicisms” project from 2012-2020. Her research and teaching range widely over the history of the body and nature, Greek literature and philosophy, classical reception, and critical theory, including critical studies of antiquity. Her first book, The Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece, appeared in 2010. She is also the author of Gender: Antiquity and its Legacy (2012) and, as a member of the Postclassicisms Collective, Postclassicisms (2019), and she has co-edited a number of volumes, most recently, the experimental book/exhibition Liquid Antiquity (2017), accompanied by a video installation designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro at the Benaki Museum in Athens, and Antiquities beyond Humanism (2019).
Umashankar Manthravadi began his career as a journalist with the Indian Express in Madras in 1967. He quit during the Emergency and moved to Delhi, where he went on to become a freelance sound recordist for independent film and TV productions. Umashankar served as head technician of the Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology from its founding in 1982 until his retirement in 2015. His forays into the field of archaeoacoustics date back to the mid- 1990s ,when he started a project to map and measure the acoustic properties of various ancient and mediaeval performance spaces in India. He has presented findings internationally, including at the Acoustical Society of America (Columbus, Ohio, 1999; Cancun, Mexico, 2002), International Federation for Theatre Research (Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2002; Jaipur, India, 2003), Asia Society (New York, 2017), and Kiran Nadar Museum (Delhi, 2017), and in publications like the Sarai Reader 03 (Delhi, 2003). His collaboration with Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Nida Ghouse between 2014 and 2018 led to experiments with new formats and participation in exhibition contexts, including Art Dubai Projects (2015), and Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2017). He has received grants from India Foundation for the Arts (2018–19). Since 2008, Umashankar has been producing a line of affordable ambisonic microphones named Brahma and is currently developing an all-digital third-order microphone. He has lived in Bangalore since 2015, and occasionally teaches at the (Art) ScienceBLR lab at Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology. In 2019, he created a portable 3D ambisonic sound system during a residency at Wisp Kollektiv in Leipzig. He has never ceased writing poetry and published a collection, From a Previous Century, with Lulu Press in 2007.
v ness is an independent artist and interdisciplinary scholar (the latter under her full name, Vanessa Stovall) who works with genres of mythical music and musical myth across antiquity into the contemporary. She is a classically trained harpist, has composed stage productions for over a decade, and received her Bachelors of Arts from The Evergreen State College and Masters of Arts from Columbia University studying Greek tragedy. In these pandemic times, she has worked as a composer for digital productions of Greek tragedies, most notably the Barnard-Columbia Ancient Drama Group production of Iphigenia in Aulis (2021, dir. Elizabeth McNamara) and the Committee of Ancient and Modern Performance production of hippolytos (2022, dir. Lane Flores). She is currently writing the score for her first in-person Greek tragedy, the Whitman College production of Medea (2022, dir. Anna Conser).
Tanvi Solanki is Assistant Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College. Previously, she was a Stanford H. Taylor Postdoctoral Associate at Cornell University, after receiving her Ph.D. at Princeton University and B.A. at the University of Chicago. A guiding concern of her work is to develop innovative, critical methodologies to study the sensory and embodied dimensions of German literature, culture, and media, particularly that of sound. Throughout her work, she foregrounds how concepts and practices of ‘difference,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘alterity’ can and must be productively deployed within readings of the German literary and philosophical canon. She is currently finishing a book manuscript on ‘Listening to Difference,’ a critical disciplinary history of media studies which explores how and why practices of knowledge-making and pedagogy which emerged from the German philological tradition during the origins of the research university remain current in certain disciplinary approaches in the ‘modern’ university.