The Venice Questionnaire 2015 #29: Rashid Rana & Shilpa Gupta

Representing India and Pakistan conjointly at the 2015 Venice Biennale, Rashid Rana and Shilpa Gupta answered our short questionnaire

Shilpa Gupta, There is No Border Here, 2005–06, photograph, archival print on paper. Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2015 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening.

Shilpa Gupta & Rashid Rana are representing India and Pakistan conjointly as a collateral event. The pavilion is at the Palazzo Benzon, San Marco, 3927.

Rashid Rana:

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

it is subverting nation state representation as is traditional at Venice while at the same time addressing this very problem, with artists from two historically tense countries coming to converse under one umbrella

My East is Your West, commissioned by The Gujral Foundation in Delhi, features myself from Lahore (Pakistan) and Shilpa Gupta from Mumbai (India), so in a sense it is subverting nation state representation as is traditional at Venice while at the same time addressing this very problem, as artists from two historically tense countries come to converse under one umbrella. My work is a series of interconnected architectonic structures, each of which offers an immersive visual experience centered on ideas of (dis)location; the nature of visibility; archive and memory; and the construction of an identity.

Are you approaching this show in a different way as to how you would a ‘normal’ exhibition?

Yes and no. I am not taking any special measures for this project particularly, but I am automatically aware of the increased visibility that Venice gives your work. With so many exceptional artists gathered in one place, I understand why many choose to make their ordinary practices a bit ‘louder’ for Venice. A visitor’s attention is a scarce resource in such a situation.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or problematic?

I find the notion of national representation quite problematic personally. Moreover, even the premise of a joint pavilion from the subcontinent is a negation of nation-state representation. The subcontinent is a less strictly defined geographical region but the word may stand for something more than geography, which is what Shilpa and I are exploring through this conversation. However, sometimes the question of representation is falsely conflated with the question of belonging. I believe the latter is inescapable in some ways.

How are you approaching the different audiences who come to Venice – the masses of artist peers, gallerists, curators and critics concentrated around the opening and the general public who come through over the following months?

I have grappled previously with this question in my practice as well. The problem of defining an audience, particularly in face of a seeming East/West dichotomy is pertinent in English fiction writing from Pakistan as well. I don’t subscribe to this binary and believe that my work is a negotiation between the immediate and the remote. Naturally, this means that my geographical location (Lahore) often seeps into my work which may or may not make it more readable to someone familiar with the city. In case of Venice, all I can say is that I am aware of a very diverse cross section of audiences but I hope that my work will be of interest to everyone. I do not preempt an imaginary audience.

What are your earliest or best memories of the biennale?

During the last Venice Biennale, I enjoyed seeing the traditional format of nation-state representation cleverly subverted when the French and German pavilions were swapped. Moreover, the (now) German pavilion hosted works by artists from China, India, South Africa and even France!

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

I am looking forward to taking a thorough tour of the entire event over a few days. Venice offers a lot to see but I would like to be surprised and taken in by something rather than pre-planning my interaction with works.

How does a having a pavilion in Venice affect the art scene in your home country?

Interestingly enough, a part of my project is located physically back in Pakistan that will however feature continuously at Venice as well. As you would expect, audiences will extend to include many Pakistanis whether within an ‘art scene’ or not. Naturally, this also arouses an interest among younger practitioners in Pakistan and we are working on a series of regional programming that will engage with people beyond Venice.

Shilpa Gupta:

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

It will look at the irony of state structures embroiled in vote bank politics vis a vis those who align themselves with their own basic needs and aspirations rather than that of the state

Will be showing a 10 meters light piece My East is Your West on the façade of the Palazzo building which is by the Grand Canal. The work, upon which the title of the show is based, suggests multiplicity of ways of seeing and being. Upon entering the Palazzo, there will be a series of works, which will look at the spaces which suddenly find themselves on of structures their ways of negotiating what they feel are limitations in the ways they would like to move. It will look at the irony of state structures embroiled in vote bank politics vis a vis those who align themselves with their own basic needs and aspirations rather than that of the state.

Are you approaching this show in a different way as to how you would a ‘normal’ exhibition?

The exhibition will take place in a Palazzo by the water and the location and spaces informs the spatial experience of the pieces. Then there is the city of Venice which in a way floats on water and its specific history of maritime trade also leads itself into the project which looks at the aspect of travel, movement and desires in different zones.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or problematic?

The project that I am part of My East is Your West has two artists, one from Lahore in Pakistan and one from Mumbai in India, and in doing so looks at affiliations beyond the nation state model.

What are your earliest or best memories of the biennale?

Have only seen the Biennale once in eight years ago and experience was absolutely memorable, not only of seeing several great shows but also of the experience of being in Venice!

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

Well, am staying back after the opening, for a couple of days to see as much as possible, though not at a hurried pace!

Read all responses to the Venice Questionnaire 2015 edition published so far

Read all 30 responses to the Venice Questionnaire 2013 edition

Online exclusive published on 7 May 2015.