A Slightly Curving Place opens in Concrete
3 March 2022
Dubai’s first ambisonic soundscape, A Slightly Curving Place, opens in Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, and will run until 22 March 2022
Dubai’s first ambisonic soundscape, A Slightly Curving Place, opens in Concrete, Alserkal Avenue, and will run until 22 March 2022
Curated by Nida Ghouse, the exhibition was conceived as a response to the practice of self-taught acoustic archaeologist Umashankar Manthravadi, the exhibition asks what it means to listen to the past and its absence which remains.
Presented by Alserkal Arts Foundation, the exhibition in Dubai is accompanied by a public programme of artist talks, conversations, workshops, a book launch, and performances
4 March 2022, Dubai, UAE. Alserkal Arts Foundation presents A Slightly Curving Place, an exhibition project curated by Nida Ghouse that subtly, yet fundamentally, rethinks curatorial practice–pushing the boundaries of what an exhibition can do–whilst remaining sensitive to critical debates that call into question the role of new technologies. The exhibition opened yesterday in Concrete, a multidisciplinary exhibition and events space in Alserkal Avenue, and will be on show until 22 March 2022. Conceived as a response to the practice of self-taught acoustic archaeologist Umashankar Manthravadi, the exhibition asks what it means to listen to the past and its absence which remains. Alserkal Arts Foundation is a non-profit founded by Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal and the Alserkal family that is devoted to supporting socially-engaged practices and unconventional forms of cultural research. Special late opening hours will allow audiences access to the exhibition until 10pm from Wednesday through Saturday .
The exhibition in Dubai also marks the launch of a publication series called An Archaeology of Listening, published with Archive Books, and the opportunity for many of the collaborators to convene for a public discourse programme, Coming to Know, organised by Nida Ghouse and Brooke Holmes, a professor of classics at Princeton University, which will take place on 5 March in Alserkal Avenue.
Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal and Alserkal Arts Foundation, said “It is imperative that we support artists and practitioners who are engaged in unconventional modes of research and cultural production. In an increasingly interconnected world, encouraging cross-disciplinary approaches is key to creating new forms of knowledge in order to engage and resonate with audiences, now and in the future.”
About the exhibition
A Slightly Curving Place asks what it means to listen to the past and its absence which remains. It responds to the practice of acoustic archaeologist Umashankar Manthravadi, whose life and work are a history of sound and technology through the second half of the twentieth century. Centred around an audio play and a video installation, the exhibition is an invitation to tune in to the static of the past and reckon with the noise of the present. It offers Dubai audiences the experience of an ambisonic soundscape for the first time.
Umashankar Manthravadi said: “What a wonderful thing to happen to a 77-year-old! The exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2020 actually opened (unintended, I believe) on my 75th birthday. Thanks to COVID, I did not get to visit it in Berlin. So I am experiencing the large and complex show in which I play some part for the first time. I got into electronics–building radios–in the 1950s. I became a professional sound recordist in 1976. My study of archaeoacoustics–the effect of built structures on sound–began only in 1993 or so. Looking back, there is a flow. But when these events, or changes, happened, I was not aware of the links. I hope visitors to this show will see a continuity in what I have been doing all these years.”
A Slightly Curving Place brings together writers, choreographers, composers, actors, dancers, musicians, field recordists, and sound, light, and graphic designers who engage and transform not just each other’s work, but also that of many others.
The title draws from Jain cosmology; Isipabbharabhumi is a Prakrit phrase referring to a special place above the heavens shaped like a parasol. It is where the disembodied souls of the perfected ones go to live in eternal isolation. There, sealed off from the rest of the cosmos, they are unable to interact with other souls, unable to hear them or be heard.
The project was previously commissioned and presented by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin in 2020. The Dubai presentation also marks the completion of a new film installation by Padmini Chettur and Martin Visser, eponymously titled A Slightly Curving Place and commissioned by HKW. It also includes a new contribution by Yashas Shetty commissioned by Alserkal Arts Foundation.
The exhibition is realised in collaboration with, and with contributions by, Umashankar Manthravadi, Bani Abidi, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Mojisola Adebayo, Vinit Agarwal, Athira, Anurima Banerji, Lilia Di Bella, Moushumi Bhowmik, Madhuri Chattopadyay, Padmini Chettur, Arunima Chowdhury, Hugo Esquinca, Jenifer Evans, Tyler Friedman, Eunice Fong, Janardan Ghosh, Brooke Holmes, Alexander Keefe, Arun Mahadevan, Sukanta Majumdar, Robert Millis, Farah Mulla, Sachin Patil, RENU, Uzma Z. Rizvi, Sara, Kaustavi Sarkar, Yashas Shetty, The Travelling Archive, Umashankar and the Earchaeologists, Upendra Vaddadi, Maarten Visser, Todd Vos, and others.
Coming to Know is a public programme extending from the exhibition A Slightly Curving Place. From 1-6 March, which presents a series of events with Moushumi Bhowmik, Padmini Chettur, Hugo Esquinca, Nida Ghouse, Brooke Holmes, Umashankar Manthravadi, v ness and Tanvi Solanki, with a day-long discourse programme on 5 March at A4 Space, Alserkal Avenue.
The programme is presented by Alserkal Arts Foundation in collaboration with the Department of Classics, Princeton University and made possible by Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.
The programme will continue for the duration of the exhibition with further responses from the An Archaeology of Sound study group on 19 March, and closing events with Uzma Z. Rizvi and Yashas Shetty during the final days.
Nida Ghouse and Brooke Holmes said about the public programme: “In proposing 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.”
A Slightly Curving Place
With co-production support from Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.The project was previously commissioned and presented by Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. With thanks to Sharjah Art Foundation for their support.
Alserkal Arts Foundation would like to thank Goethe-Institut for their support for the workshop with Padmini Chettur.
Coming to Know
Presented by Alserkal Arts Foundation in collaboration with the Department of Classics, Princeton University. Made possible by Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation.
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Alserkal Arts Foundation
Alserkal Arts Foundation is an independent non-profit dedicated to instigating new knowledge through support for research and cultural production. The Foundation commissions artistic projects, hosts and conceptualises exhibitions, and supports alternative learning. Its cross-disciplinary, research-led residencies are open to researchers, writers, and artists, and its Research Grants are awarded to individuals and collectives who disrupt conventional models and methods.
Alserkal Arts Foundation believes in responsive, context-specific programming imagined by the researchers it hosts and supports. It bridges diverse disciplines by creating spaces of congregation, fostering opportunities for critical reflection and production. Its work is regionally aligned, grounded in the MEASA region, and looking outward.
Alserkal Arts Foundation is part of Alserkal—a socially responsible cultural enterprise based in Dubai, and is supported by Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Ahmad Bin Eisa Alserkal and the Alserkal family.
Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) is a non-profit organization established in 2018, with a mission to support and promote art from South Asia and beyond in a critical, international art context. Its projects and programming cultivate and present rigorous artistic and socially responsible practices through exhibitions, commissions, residencies, community engagement programmes and publications, with the aim of developing new dialogues, narratives and interconnections between home-based and diaspora South Asian artists and the international cultural community. These goals are strengthened by fruitful synergies with cross-platform cultural partners globally, including educational and governmental institutions, museums, foundations and non-profits, art fairs and art festivals, community platforms and charities.
The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is where the arts, sciences, and technology meet. Both a performing arts center and research and production facility, EMPAC provides an environment that supports the realization of complex artworks and technological research projects. EMPAC's curatorial program is dedicated to the commissioning, production, and presentation of ambitious new works of music, time-based visual art, theater and dance that engage the building’s technical infrastructure as well as the interdisciplinary expertise of its staff.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)
Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) creates a forum for the contemporary arts and critical debates. In the midst of profound global and planetary transformation processes, HKW re-explores artistic positions, scientific concepts, and spheres of political activity. Together with artists, academics, everyday experts, and partners across the globe, it explores ideas in the making and shares them with Berlin's international audience and the digital public. Haus der Kulturen der Welt is supported by the Minister of State for Culture and the Media as well as by the Federal Foreign Office.
Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal
Founder, Alserkal and its initiatives (Alserkal Arts Foundation, Alserkal Avenue, Alserkal Advisory)
Emirati businessman and patron Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal is the founder of Alserkal, a socially responsible cultural enterprise that has helped transform the cultural landscape of the UAE and wider region. Through his vision, Alserkal Avenue, which was established in 2007, has become a thriving community of more than 70 contemporary art galleries, visual and performing arts organisations, designers and entrepreneur-led businesses, providing an essential platform for the development of creative industries in the UAE.
Alserkal is renowned for its experimental approach, ground-breaking artistic productions, and for the creation of culturally meaningful spaces that inspire and shape communities. The enterprise comprises three major initiatives: Alserkal Avenue, a renowned cultural district based in Al Quoz, the industrial area of Dubai; Alserkal Advisory, which consults public and private entities on their engagement with the arts and culture sector; and Alserkal Arts Foundation, which supports cultural practitioners, scholarship and research through public artist commissions, residencies, research grants and educational programmes. Abdelmonem commissioned Rem Koolhaas’ Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) to design Concrete, a multi-disciplinary space that was the first building in the UAE to be completed by the practice. Concrete was shortlisted for the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
Abdelmonem is also the managing director of Nasser Bin Abdullatif Alserkal Est., a Dubai-based family business with diversified interests in the UAE and abroad, and serves as a member of the board of the Alserkal Group. Abdelmonem sits on the boards of some of the UAE’s foundational businesses, including Emirates Telecommunications Group Company PJSC (Etisalat) and contributes in an advisory capacity to numerous other concerns such as the Tharawat Family Business Forum.
Abdelmonem serves on the boards of numerous art institutions around the world, including: the British Museum's Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art Acquisition Group; the Tate's Middle East and North Africa Acquisition Committee; and the Guggenheim's Middle Eastern Circle. He is also a Supporter of the Centre Pompidou International Circle - Middle East, a patron of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a member of Art Dubai’s Board of Patrons, and an honorary member of the Thinkers & Doers Forum, Paris.
Abdelmonem and the Alserkal family have long been supporters of the arts and have been awarded the UAE Patron of the Arts award twice.
Nada Raza is Director of the Alserkal Arts Foundation, and a curator and researcher with a focus on South and West Asia. Raza was the founding Artistic Director of the Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai, where she curated Altered Inheritance: Home is a Foreign Place with Shilpa Gupta and Zarina Hashmi, and Body Building, a thematic exhibition of lens-based work, both in 2019. Prior to this, Raza was Research Curator at Tate Research Centre: Asia, with a particular focus on South Asia. She co-curated Bhupen Khakhar: You Can't Please All (2016), and organised displays of work by international artists including Meshac Gaba, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Zarina Hashmi, Sheela Gowda, Amar Kanwar and Mrinalini Mukherjee. She was guest curator of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize (2014) and curated a thematic exhibition, The Missing One, for the Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh and the Office for Contemporary Art in Norway (2016). She has also worked on international art at the Institute for International Visual Art (Iniva) and at Green Cardamom in London. She holds an MA from the Chelsea College of Art and Design and is a doctoral candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
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 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 as, 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).
Alexander Keefe is a writer and critic living in Claremont, California. His current research, focused on the late Indian dancer Shanta Rao, will be part of Frequencies of Tradition, an exhibition curated by Hyunjin Kim at the Times Museum in Guangzhou in 2020. Alexander did graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian studies at Harvard University, and holds the inaugural Alan Erasmus Fellowship in Unpopular Culture at New York University. In 2014 he completed Sarkari Shorts, a year-long online excavation of documentary films produced by the Government of India during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in publications such as Cabinet, Bidoun, East of Borneo, and Artforum, and he has presented lectures at venues such as HKW, MoMA PS1, The Kitchen, and Asia Art Archives of America.
Sukanta Majumdar is a sound artist and audiographer specialized in field recording and sound design for films and theatre. A graduate of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute of India, he has worked as a sound designer for many films and video works, most recently Jole Dobe Na by Naeem Mohaiemen (2020), Cat Sticks by Ronny Sen (2019), and The Kali of Emergency by Ashish Avikunthak (2017). He also co-created The Travelling Archive with Moushumi Bhowmik in 2003, a project for field recording, documenting, and disseminating the folk music of Bengal. In his practice, Sukanta often works with ambient sound and spoken words, and is interested in the sounds of religious and non-religious ritual.
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.
Robert Millis is a sound artist, musician, and occasional filmmaker whose work often explores the early days of recorded sound through archives of 78rpm and cylinder recordings. Encompassing a wide range of practices, he has authored the books Indian Talking Machine and Victrola Favorites, produced music compilations and documentaries, including Paris to Calcutta: Men and Music on the Desert Road and This World is Unreal Like a Snake in a Rope for Sublime Frequencies, composed for radio and for film, and released numerous recordings as a solo artist and as Climax Golden Twins, a group he cofounded with Jeffery Taylor in 1993. He is currently a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in music composition and recently released the LP Related Ephemera(2020).
Uzma Z. Rizvi is an anthropological archaeologist who is associate professor of anthropology and urban studies at the Pratt Institute, New York, and a visiting scholar at the Department of Archaeology at Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur. Her research interests include decolonizing archaeology, ancient urbanism, critical heritage studies, new materialism, and post-colonial critique. Uzma interweaves archaeology with cultural criticism, philosophy, critical theory, art, design, and architecture. Her latest monograph, The Affect of Crafting: Third Millennium BCE Copper Arrowheads from Rajasthan, India (2018), follows edited volumes such as Archaeology and the Postcolonial Critique (2008) and Connections and Complexity: New Approaches to the Archaeology of South Asia (2013).
Yashas Shetty is an artist, biohacker, and musician whose practice includes the use of biotechnology, visual programming languages, and interactive media. His work is located at the intersections of pedagogy, art, and science, and aims to create spaces of discourse and dialogue between artists, scientists, and the larger public. Yashas is a faculty member of the Srishti Institute of Art Design and Technology and a founding member of the Center for Experimental Media Art, both in Bangalore. He currently runs (Art)ScienceBLR, the public laboratory at Srishti, and the Indian Sonic Research Organization. With Felix Deufel and Umashankar Manthravadi, Yashas co-founded the 3D Soundlab Bengaluru in 2017, one of the first laboratories in India for spatial sound.