In conversation with Gitanjali Dang

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This interview with Gitanjali Dang, which took place at Delfina Foundation, is published in Art Africa. See: Gitanjali Dang and Yvette Greslé, Art as a Philosophical Exercise, Art Africa, December 2015, Issue 02, pp. 156-159. The interview published below is an extract of the feature on Dang.

‘The Porcupine in the Room’, curated by Gitanjali Dang of Khanabadosh,  took place at Delfina Foundation from the 15 September to 23 September 2015. Dang’s ‘The Porcupine in the Room,’ is a project that draws on greater and lesser acts of intimacy across habitual categories such as ‘human and nonhuman’ and ‘culture and nature’. With research stemming from Freud’s ‘porcupine dilemma,’ this ongoing conversation was unpacked, at Delfina Foundation, by fourteen artistic positions, and included artists then in-residence. For more about the project click here.

All images, installation shots of ‘the Porcupine in the Room’, are reproduced here courtesy of Gitanjali Dang and Delfina Foundation.

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Yvette Greslé: What is at stake for you in the idea of intimacy? What is the impetus for this idea?

Gitanjali Dang: I have been thinking about the idea of intimacy for a while but never quite identified why or when I started thinking about it. Many of the projects explored by Khanabadosh, the Arts Lab that I run, look at history, and the idea of making the invisible visible somehow.

I feel that there is a certain anxiety about putting out all these things as information in different kinds of public spheres. Perhaps these things that are invisible do not desire a certain kind of visibility. They thrive on their invisibility. These are some of the questions that ‘The Porcupine in the Room’ bring to the fore.

You can spend your whole life fighting to be visible in a political sense (“listen to me, hear me, see me”) but I think about what it might mean to embrace invisibility. We could explore the inflections to these words and states of being, and what this might mean in a pragmatic sense.

To be so comfortable with that level of invisibility would also somehow be about being outside of needing so many intimacies – with meaning, with power, with pleasure.

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Is Khanabadosh focusing on a specific kind of historical invisibility through its work with artists and curators?

We are not focusing on a specific narrative of invisibility/visibility. The emphases of particular projects emerge through conversation. We are a disparate group of people who come together every now and again to work on projects. We did a project in Bombay that placed four video works from Ana Mendieta’s Silueta series in relation to a site-specific installation by Ratna Gupta, a younger artist who has similar concerns. Mendieta is located in a particular way within art history, in relation to her gender, her nationality and her art. It was interesting to create this pattern of circulation for her, and to bring her work into proximity with that of Ratna.

You stage an encounter between Mendieta and Gupta, and a space comes into being, through which one imagine dialogues between these two artists. These dialogues cross time, space and geography. An idea of proximity and intimacy is suggested, and I think of it in relation to your exploration of Freud’s telling of Schopenhauer’s story of the porcupines. The animals huddle together for warmth, only to separate again as the quills are felt, repeating over and over again this experience of closeness followed by distance.

I think a lot about the anxiety of the visible, and whether it’s just performing a role, feeding a monster, doing what is now routine in the arts. This made me think of patterns, and I began to be interested in a broader philosophical framework through which to look at different projects. The philosopher Timothy Morton, who is also part of the exhibition at Delfina, has  written a lot about intimacy. I’ve been reading his work for a while. In the run-up to my visit to London I had been trying to make sense of intimacy in a very personal way, trying to live through work somehow.

There is the endeavour, coming from a post-colonial context, to create visibility for ideas that are peripheral within society, and in a predominantly patriarchal society. There is also the question of creating circulation for ideas and possibilities in a context that is still predominantly Euro/America-centric. Why is it that certain things are always marginalised? How do we re-negotiate what it means to be human?

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Khanabadosh seems to produce spaces for poetic/political connection, exploratory spaces for intellectual and creative inquiry.

Khanabadosh is a Hindu word that means ‘those who carry their homes with them’. We don’t really have a home, we move around.

How has your residency at Delfina developed your thinking?

Through the porcupine project, which became a kind of intellectual labour, I was able to put my thinking into writing and an exhibition. There are so many people at Delfina to talk to and explore ideas with. Intimacy became this object, and everyone who came into contact with it, through conversation, opened it up in new and unexpected ways.

With the exhibition, we started to think about all our conversations, and we looked at them in relation to the tensions of intimacy across time, and geographical and cultural contexts. For example, I had a lot of interesting conversations with Lantian Xie. We realised that we had a lot of affinities, and we thought about intimacy in relation to belonging and unbelonging in the sense of Dubai where he lives. I hope that in future projects intimacy becomes a lens through which to explore what it is I am doing. I like to imagine art as a philosophical exercise.

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