Kristine Michael is a ceramic artist, researcher, curator and arts educator based in New Delhi. She has worked for many years in Garhi Studios (New Delhi), the Golden Bridge Pottery (Pondicherry), and in Auroville. Her works in ceramics are in collections among others of the Bradford Hall Museum, Clay Studio (Philadelphia), Icheon World Ceramics Centre (Seoul), and the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi). She is a PhD scholar at School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and works as Curriculum Leader for Visual and Performing Arts at The British School (New Delhi).
Kristine Michael is the curator for Craft at Serendipity Arts Festival, 2019.
The Art Issue: What is the narrative of your curation for this year's Craft discipline?
Kristine Michael: This exhibition discusses artistic modernism in contemporary ceramic and glass in India in response to the reimagining of past traditions through intense collaborations between passionate, individual artist/designers over a sustained period of time with particular craft cluster communities. They have created new craft communities through NGO interventions in sustainability, enhancing creativity and economic independence.
We show the story behind the collaboration and the exciting development of new possibilities in the mediums of glass and ceramics through installations, text and film. Through this, we hope to not only re-image the past but also through extended artistic debate and praxis create new means for conceiving the future.
I have been a ceramic artist all my life and I love to work in the material. It is fascinating for me. I also am currently pursuing my PhD at School of Arts and Aesthetics JNU in Indian ceramics art history. I research and curate exhibitions of ceramics as well especially about the history of modern ceramics in India.
I am also an art educator and am currently teaching at The British School New Delhi where I am curriculum leader for visual and performing arts. I enjoy teaching young people to use their hands and to see art as being integrated into their lives. Especially now when the focus is on technology- arts is the most important way of staying in touch with oneself in a meaningful manner.
AI: Which artists will be included in the exhibition and why? Could you comment on how their works will highlight craft as an essential art form in India?
KM: In this exhibition there are six artist/designers collaborations with craftsmen/women in this exhibition. They were chosen for their stories of sustained work in the craft development sector in ceramics and glass.
Vanmala Jain, Kuprakabi Studio and Foundation, Mumbai
Kavita Pandya and Titas Ganguly, Ochre Studios, Anand with Vijay Kumar Parmar
Lipi Biswas, Studio Boner Pukur Danga, Santiniketan with Lakshmi Kisku
Swagata Naidu, NID Ustaad Project with Rajesh Sharma and Zafar Ahmed, Firozabad
Srila Mukherjee with Pappu Sarfuddin, Firozabad
Vineeta Oswal and Manoj Pilli, Studio Glassic with Ishtiyak Ali, Purdil Nagar
The emergence of the modern craftsman and the definition of craft in post-Independence India throws up a series of provocations.
First, the link between craft and national identity as seen from the historical precedence in which khadi was taken as a symbol of ‘nationhood’. The reclaiming of the right to work creatively by hand was a way in which the colonial destruction of time-honoured social modes and relations of production in a pastoral idyll won an essential place at the heart of a new nation. Craft was at the core of the ideal of swadeshi and both Tagore and Gandhi located craft practices in their ideologies at Sevagram and Santiniketan.
Second, the importance of materiality to the creative practice of early Indian artists who always looked to the craft of the potter, the patua painter, the toy-maker, the miniature painter, among others, for their unselfconscious ease of understanding the medium and its possibilities, their technical skill and visual interpretation of their community’s identity. It changed the nature of how we view art and craft, however, when later definitions of high art in modern/postmodern discourse excluded the craftsman-artist and material-based practices in their categorisation. The craft legacy became subsumed and relegated to governmental policy for handicrafts and artisans - no longer a vital force and intellectual stimulus.
Third, crafts’ essential link to the needs and creativity of the community as a living form changed with industrialisation and urbanisation. There are efforts by many organisations and initiatives to open up new markets for handmade products using traditional skills and local materials and resources. This helped to develop Indian artisanship but the conflicting, fractured nature of this development lead to a dilemma whereby crafts tried to retain tradition, be commercially viable, and the craftsmen continued to find new creative stimuli independently.
The development of artist-designers working in craft interventions over a sustained period of time has developed practitioners whose skills may or may not be from a gharana/caste-based tradition but yet there is individual creative expression which supports livelihoods from working creatively with local resources and material. It is in the subtle harnessing of the localised traditional knowledge and practice of the crafts of pottery and glass and the embracing of viable technology that works in both rural and urban contexts that has seen a successful trajectory in the six examples showcased in this exhibition.
One of Kasimir Malevich’s proposition states that all objects have four dimensions - that is to say, three dimensions we can observe and one that is spiritual and self-sustaining. It seems apt for the tracing in this exhibition of the voices of six people’s collaborative journeys, carefully negotiating material, skills and design; community, livelihood and sustainability towards a new means for conceiving a viable future for ceramics and glass communities.
AI: How does your curation fit into SAF’s broader theme of promoting inclusivity in the arts and diluting regional borders?
KM: Serendipity Festival has been an amazing experience to work with as it is so multi-faceted and diverse in its approach to the visual and performing arts. It is the first time that ceramics and glass are being featured at the Festival and we hope to be here again next year with a fresh perspective on contemporary artists using these materials. The artists in the exhibition are from different cities across the countries and their narrative is a powerful closer look at what impacts working in communities together for sustainable development.
AI: Why have you titled the exhibition - 'Kindling Change'?
KM: Both ceramics and glass use fire as the defining material process. Kindling is related to tending a fire and as all the artists shown here are tending the flame of change, so to speak, it works as a metaphor for both the material as well as the social development seen through the exhibition.
AI: Is there anything else our readers should know about the exhibition?
KM: There are six installations, three are ceramic and three in glass in the PWD building. Each installation has a short film made by talented filmmakers- Jayant Parasher, Saurabh Vyas and Sudeshana Sharma. The installation by Kavita Pandya titled 'A Timeless Conference of Birds' has a soundscape of Birds of Goa made by Farah Mulla. There is an object handling space designed for accessibility to the exhibition for the visually challenged. There are 2 glass demos and 2 ceramic demos on 15th and 16th December at the exhibition venue with lecture demonstrations.
The exhibition Kindling Change will be on view at Old PWD Complex, Panjim from 15th-22nd December, 2019
This interview was conducted as a part of The Art Issue's media collaboration with the Serendipity Arts Festival, 2019