In the summer of 2016 Lalitha Bandaru, Gonçalo Birra, Francisco Osório and Wataru Tominaga graduated from MA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art with an exhibition titled the perfect mat for the perfect table. Unconventionally, for a degree show, the four artists curated a space that conveyed a strong collective identity, placing the group over the individual at a time when ‘showcasing’ is the name of the game.
Over the last two months Bandaru, Birra, Osório and Tominaga have spoken to me over email about their personal and collaborative practices. In the following interview answers are for the most part a joint response, but at times indented text is attributed to one of the four.
The first thing that struck me with your degree show was that out of all the spaces in Chelsea (+ the other shows I made it to this year) yours was the only one where you’d broken past the typical trap of exhibiting individually. How did the show come about?
Firstly, as a result of working alongside each other in our studio spaces throughout the year, we thought our practices could easily sit next to each other without interrupting or overshadowing. The constant exchange of ideas and knowledge coming from our different cultures and experiences have strengthened us as a group.
Lalitha and I developed an installation / project together during the MA – we shared experiences… In a natural way we ended the academic year with the desire to exhibit all together. (Francisco Osorio)
After visiting several degree shows and realising the emphasis put onto the individual rather than the group, we had a couple of meetings where we drafted a proposal in which we would exhibit our work interwoven with everyone’s practice. The idea was almost to have a group exhibition where we had to curate, decide, research into each the other’s practice and introduce something exciting for all of us.
Walking about the show I couldn’t easily discern one artist from the other, at least without referencing the gallery map.
It is very interesting that you felt like you had to refer back to the floor plan in order to locate who is who in the actual show as this was something we wanted to promote – a sense of ease whilst navigating the space but a certain tone of confusion or maybe absurdity. The space had been transformed by us – walls taken down, lights changed, spaces and narratives had been broken as to narrow or widen possibilities of perceiving the work. There wasn’t a room dedicated for anything in particular or anyone. The title itself ended up relating to this idea of finding a perfect absurd match, where one fits, where one belongs.
We have adopted later during the show a term that had been pointed by several visitors/tutors which had to do with being generous – we were generous towards each other and the space. The space is located in a very remote part of the school, hard to access and far from most of the show so just its location already had set our show in disadvantage, if you consider the purpose of a degree show. We ended up having a very intimate environment and so we had to be generous.
Four key terms are flagged up in the exhibition text, for me the most apparent was ‘home’. Partially this reading might be informed by the architecture of the space (it features fireplaces and proportionally feels a little like an apartment), though it also felt like you’ve left subtle hints to this theme. From the colourful wire sculptures that evoke clothes horses to a skeleton of a wall holding back a mass of materials like a disorganised cupboard. How important was this theme?
The Home is a concept that is present in each of our practices, in some of them more explicitly, in others maybe less so. The show space attributed to us did have a familiar feeling to ideas of home and intimacy which was something we decided to acknowledge rather than hide.
This idea of Home has been approached from two fronts I believe – one that held an intention for deconstructing ideas of familiarity or commodity, whilst maintaining a sense of honesty that allowed us to truly touch points that where important for our own individual practices. Within the Home there are structural issues such as gender, history and background, failure and even homelessness. (Goncalo Birra)
That room become our studio space for a few weeks and we naturally got involved with it. Even though we already had pieces and ideas, some works were developed dealing with the space and influenced (in a good way) by that coexistence. (Francisco Osorio)
The show functioned as a set of anecdotes to these issues, all gathering together in what could be an absurd version of a common home – memories of clothes, failed furnitures, architectures and housewares.
‘Anecdote’ is a great term, it swiftly evokes a home that is littered with objects accumulated through a well lived life. Be it a stone that’s been picked up whilst travelling or a memento from a past lover, anything that we can attach a narrative and time to. It also has a shade of the ‘cabinet of curiosity’ to it I wonder if you could expand upon this term a little and how you see it in relation to the show?
There has always been a strong unintentional connection between the objects and a sort of an unsettling narrative which makes it anecdotical. Whilst each of the artworks is primarily 3-dimensional, they constantly seem to deny being identified as being ‘objects’.
It’s interesting that you’ve thought of the ‘cabinets of curiosity’ because there are similarities in terms of them being a collection of individual objects coming from different places (mindsets and the fact that they were made by different individuals) and that there are a strange narrative and feeling of oneness only because of the intention of bringing them together. Yet at the same time our show differs because the objects themselves don’t emanate a sense of acquisition or of being a commodity.
In terms of curation, the disjointed narrative but a fluid display of works has always been our approach to bringing each of our practices together. The show space wasn’t a blank canvas, it too had hints of the ‘home’ and the ‘everyday’ providing a suitable environment for the aspect of the anecdote to play a huge role in the curation. (Lalitha Bandaru)
Picking up on the ‘everyday’ I’d like to ask you about your Instagram accounts. Often without investigation it can be hard to discern what is your work, what is someone else’s work, what is a scene you’ve seen, or what is a part of your social life. This slippage is maybe best expressed in a piece by Francisco, Visual Perception 01 (2016), which is shown on Instagram, and features an image from your Instagram feed. Adding a further layer of complexity I don’t know whether that original image (a set of shopping trolleys) is a scene you stumbled across or something you sculpturally arranged. Given Instagram’s ability to cross between life and practice how do you feel about it and how do you approach using it?
Instagram is an extension of our bodies as it enables one to register and to manipulate moments that one wants to share with others – specific others or simply random others. These collated moments are then seen as a surface that amalgamates what we are, where we are, what we see and what we want others to see of us.
I think that the everyday here has been understood as familiarity rather than the register of the days in themselves – things and moments to which we relate in some way or another. (Goncalo Birra)
But in the space itself these things are manipulated or almost put to be scrutinised. They’re either emphasised or put to fail. There is something special about leaving things in a space so they can speak to each other in their familiarity and seeing how this progresses once things are no longer so familiar or so successful. Everything in the show was quite explicit in terms of surface and plasticity – very exposed.
In my practice I am interested in the way how an object loses its sense of randomness and abandonment in order to attain a different role. Sometimes I am attracted just to the object[s], other times I am also attracted to accidental compositions that I find on my way. Instagram is a tool that I use to freeze these situations, which later, could become part of my body of work. (Francisco Osorio)
More and more I find that young groups of artists, yourselves included, are seemingly connected by a playful sense of wit and visual humour. I really enjoy the fact that a penguin mask featured in the show appears as a feature of your friendship on Instagram, alongside an owl and a donkey.
Humour is crucial we believe. Humour is just a state in which we find ourselves in – either good or bad, either fun or bored. There were funny moments that we wanted to register and to keep as an enhancement of these broken or loose narratives that promoted the idea for the absurd home. It felt right to place Wataru’s penguin inside the display stand in that room alongside the others almost as a cut or a gap in the space. It is still a rather complex piece as it deals with concepts of capital, mass production and references to modes of displaying and portraying needs and consumption – almost as a commodification of “tools to be funny” with a mask/costume.
We have been very much aware of what is happening around us – we saw shows together, researched artists and discussed a lot about what is “trendy”. We are just as susceptible to these waves as anyone else since we are immersed in the work – it is very easy so slip into an appealing visual element here or there – something one relates to “now”. I do believe that the sense of humour that was visible in some moments throughout the space result from our presence there on a daily basis – more so than an active or recognisable deliberate choice.
Each UAL college has its own atmosphere. Do you recognise a distinct character between Chelsea and the other UAL colleges?
During our visits to other colleges (not only UAL colleges), mainly during the summer shows, we realised how the colleges are so different from one another. It is this diversity that make the London art world so exciting. At Chelsea we feel the energy of the imposing architecture of an old Royal Army Medical College composed of three different buildings which form the main square. When inside the buildings we find small rooms linked by a maze of corridors. On one hand the small scale of the spaces and some architectural details give the immediate impression of a house, but on another hand the intensity and darkness of unexpected spaces such as the Morgue gives the building a mystical feel. This idea of the unexpected creates a healthy tension when in the school. The presence of Tate Britain just on the other side of the street and the Thames River make that place unique. I had the privilege of my studio having a huge window overlooking Tate. (Francisco Osorio)
You mention that it was important preceding the exhibition to have time within the space. Time for it to become a shared studio. Can you expand on that experience and maybe talk about what happens next in terms of where and how you’ll work?
During the MA program, much before moving into that space, all four of us were working in different studios and having our own time schedules. Though we often spoke and went to shows together, we didn’t have the opportunity as a group to interact specifically about each of our practices much. When we first decided to do a curatorial project together as part of the degree show, we just knew that the aesthetics of our practices might go well together and result in an interesting display of work. Moving into the show space together much before the preparation of the work surprisingly brought up so many interesting commonalities and differences in the approach, method, and the theme of each of our practices.
Moving in together enabled a constant critique on both the individual work and the curation which might have each altered our individual ways. A few artists/ gallerists have asked us if we were still friends even after the show because when all the participation artists are the curators of the show and when they share studio there are often arguments, compromises etc.. but frankly I think sharing the studio has brought us even closer and gave us the confidence of taking this idea of a ‘collective’ even outside the art school context.
Obviously graduating out of art school and the fact that we are from different countries, the transition period is difficult. To be able to find a space and have similar artist peers is a challenge. Some of us have found studios and some of us have converted our homes into workspaces. Even the medium of our practices is changing because of the facilities available and the kind of space that we have.
We do want to have another group show together again but because we are now in four different parts of the world and so many miles away… it might be a challenge regarding the practicalities of the show. But we would definitely try our best to make it happen. (Lalitha Bandaru)
Lalitha Bandaru (b. 1992 in India, currently based in India)
Graduated with a bachelors degree in Fine Art from Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. In 2010 had her first solo show and has frequently exhibited in India, Singapore and London. Having received the Future Leader Scholarship and the Lasalle Merit Scholarship during her bachelors degree she was selected to participate in the Art Forum Warp Artist Village 2015 in Bruges, Belgium.
Gonçalo Birra (b. 1992 in Lisbon, currently based in London)
Birra’s practice is informed by Queer Theory and Politics, arguing against givens and social constructs with contemporary society. Navigating through assemblage, sculpture, digital and analogue approaches to image and object making his work suggests scenarios of an absurd queered nature via anecdotal references to the domestic, the home and hits.
Francisco Osório (b. 1987 in Lisbon, Portugal, currently based in between Lisbon and London)
Francisco recently graduated in Fine Arts at Chelsea College of Arts in 2016 and in Architecture at Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa in 2013. Besides London, he lived abroad in Milan, while studying architecture, for one year.
Looking at a random object and highlighting its existence forms the basis of Osório’s practice, placing them in the studio so that a subtle dialogue may begin. His work is constantly ‘on-going’, with conflicts been weight and lightness, the unrefined and the delicate, opacity and translucence, order and chaos developing overtime. Aspects of playfulness and humour are occasionally clouded by a certain sense of melancholia.
Wataru Tominaga (b. 1988 in Japan, currently based in Paris)
Through the integration of handcrafted items and readymade commodities Tominaga’s practice exaggerates the ornamentation, which is created as a result of a fetishisation, of the object. On one hand it is done by commodity design, whilst on the other, it is done by the objects subsequent presentation. Tominaga highlights what we are for the most of the time unaware about, the situation of the object in commodity form. He is currently participating in Pavillon Neoflize OBC artist in residence program at Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Elliott Burns is an independent curator, exhibition production-er, writer, ex-artist, sometimes photographer, occasional teacher, approximate art technician, able bartender, decent cook, events co-ordinator, budget organiser, spreadsheet handler, competent admin-er, and happy copy-editor.
Since graduating from MA Culture, Criticism and Curation and Central Saint Martins he has worked exhibition production on Art Night, a one night contemporary arts festival in central London, co-curated What Do You Meme?, an exhibition of meme culture and curated Practices of Enquiry, an exhibition of teaching pedagogy at UAL. He currently lives in Mexico City.
Featured Image: Gonçalo Birra, ~ the perfect mat for the perfect table ~ /react-text @mafa16_chelsea_ual (2016), Photo credit: Gonçalo Birra, Link: https://www.instagram.com/p/BJLlMIajyc-/ (accessed 26th December 2016)