Bangalore Artist Residency The Code of the Many-Armed Goddess Kali

artist Tobias Daemgen, current bangaloREsident@Jaaga, electrifies the artistry of the Natya & STEM Dance Kampni with his own opto-acoustic aesthetic.
artist Tobias Daemgen, current bangaloREsident@Jaaga, electrifies the artistry of the Natya & STEM Dance Kampni with his own opto-acoustic aesthetic. | Photo: Sarah Klare

Observations on everyday life during the international cultural exchange of the Goethe-Institut artist residency in Bangalore.

By Ingo Arend

Saskia Groneberg Saskia Groneberg | © Saskia Groneberg The key doesn’t fit. In a terrified moment shortly before midnight, Saskia Groneberg looks desperate, “Are we at the wrong house?” We are standing in a dimly lit cul-de-sac in the Bangalore district of Richmond Town. Jungle-like vegetation surrounds us and the temperature feels like 40 degrees. The door to the flat is jammed. Saskia’s host is not there. The prospect of having to begin her scholarship on the street does not really thrill the Munich artist. Finally, the taxi driver gives the door a good yank and it opens.

A door opener – the moment of relief describes very well what constitutes the Goethe-Institut residency programme in India’s third-largest city. The apartment in which the 31-year-old will live for the next two months belongs to Naresh Narasimhan.

The well-known architect is one of Bangalore’s most important urban planners. If there is anyone who knows something about Lalbagh, the city’s botanical gardens, which is what attracted Groneberg here, it is the passionate cineaste and art friend who designed the VW works in Pune and owns a huge collection of city maps.

A network of 25 hosts

Every year, the Goethe-Institut invites twelve sets of two artists to the capital of Karnataka in southern India. The hosting principle ensures that they do not stay in ivory towers like so many other residencies, but are among the people and within the scene.

The participants of the residency program in Bangalore The participants of the residency program in Bangalore “We don’t do latchkey residencies where the people are given the key to an apartment and then leave two months later without anyone having noticed they were here,” says institute director Christoph Bertrams, who developed the programme in 2011.

The agile 60-year-old and former head of the Goethe-Institut in Cuba and the Goethe Forum in Berlin has woven a web of 25 hosts. He has contacts, from urban scholars to dancers, on hand for every resident. Saskia will therefore not need to waste any time with networking.

With Naresh’s help and that of his architectural office Venkataramanan Associates she can begin immediately to take a critical look at the legend of Bangalore as a “garden city.” During her first stroll through the slightly neglected Lalbagh Park, which Sultan Haider Ali established in 1760, she remarks, “There are a remarkable number of Muslim women here.”

Studio house at the Shanti-Road Studio house at the Shanti-Road | Photo: Ingo Arend That evening, Suresk Jayaram explains that women of that religion, who make up only 14 percent of the Bangalore population, “feel safe” there. Jayaram is an artist and curator who co-founded the city’s Visual Arts Collective. He has set up a small buffet in the studio house on Shanti Road to welcome the new resident. He proudly points out that in this “cosmopolitan community,” artists from India exhibit works alongside those from the nemesis nation of Pakistan.

Bangalore, situated a good 1,700 kilometres south of Delhi on the Deccan Plateau, is perhaps not the hotspot of Goethe artist residencies, but from an artist’s perspective, the city has its advantages. Here, no one needs to grapple with a city of legend as they would in Mumbai or Kolkata.

In the past 15 years, the former provincial city has swollen into a megalopolis that shoots down every contradiction of industrialization and globalization. It owes its rapid growth to India’s Silicon Valley, aerospace engineering, computer technologies and the IT boom.

An influx of creatives and workers for the precarious labour market brought the city without any natural location advantages – neither mountain, river nor trade route – close to collapse. Bangalore has the highest density of motorbikes and the highest suicide rate in India. Its small underground railway system was only built five years ago.

This inhospitable moloch of waste, poverty and ailing infrastructure is certainly the ideal field for creative people of all genres. “There is no positive mobility here,” says Bettina Lockemann, a documentary photographer and a doctor in art history from Cologne, as we laboriously move along the track next to 100 Feet Road.

Beggars, hawkers and cows block the pavement, old women in brightly coloured saris pile stinking rubbish by the trees with their bare hands, a woman balances firewood on her head and every moment one of the brassy, yellow-green rickshaws, without which no one here can get through the chaotic traffic, brushes against the pedestrians.

The search for interculturality

“It’ll probably be something with video,” Bettina Lockemann vaguely describes her project as we scrape out an open coconut at a fruiterer’s. But, she’ll discuss that with her new colleagues at IIHS, the Indian Institute for Human Settlement.

The artists The artists | © bösediva Robin Detje and Elisa Duca from the Berlin theatrical duo bösediva are not yet sure what their performative installation will look like with which they aim to adapt one of their productions for India. But, with its rotting rubbish and teachings of reincarnation, they expect they will be able to find references in India for the transformation of wood into meat and sugar into luck.

In an evening conversation on the balcony of the studio house the duo paraphrases the wait for that crucial point of probably every residency – the moment when the cultures cross-fertilize – saying, “If one could decipher the code of the goddess Kali without exploiting it with a western view, it could be exciting.”

The many-armed goddess symbolizes renewal and destruction. On the next-door lot of rubble, children are playing around a burning pyre of rubbish.

Botanical Garden Lalbagh Botanical Garden Lalbagh | Photo: Ingo Arend The programme in Bangalore is no status symbol like a stay at the Villa Massimo in Rome; it involves neither money, nor prestige, but demonstrates the unspectacular but exciting everyday search for interculturality that goes beyond the Sunday speeches of foreign ministers and cultural attachés.

The next artist residency in Bangalore will begin in November 2016.

Ingo Arend is an arts editor for the taz who focuses on art and history, art and politics as well as the cultural history of Turkey.

The article was published first on taz.de (22.04.2016). © All rights reserved. taz Verlags u. Vertriebs GmbH , Berlin.