Accepted paper:

Rituals of refurbishment: remembering/remediating Philip Rawson's Tantra exhibition


Chris Dorsett (Northumbria University)
Janaki Nair (Northumbria University)

Paper short abstract:

The recent refurbishment of the Hayward Gallery prompts memories of the Indologist Philip Rawson curating the 1971 Tantra exhibition in what was then London's key art venue. Our paper remembers and remediates the gallery and the exhibits using rituals recognisable to the Indian diaspora 50 years on.

Paper long abstract:

It will soon be 50 years since Rawson curated his influential Tantra exhibition in a major venue for 'cutting-edge' art. For a certain generation this was a landmark achievement and the Arts Council archive still records the enthusiastic responses of art critics, life-style commentators and alternative health advocates. However there are no installation photographs and, consequently, one is left with personal memories that, in my case, are less about the counter-culture's 'new age' than the exhibition's role in my development as an artist-curator working at the interface between experimental art and museum culture. This paper considers what I should do about these memories. I am joined by a co-presenter, Janaki Nair who is a practice-led researcher working on Kathakali dance and tantric ritual. Together we will refashion contemporary art's readiness to 'remediate' previous generation's creative procedures (Bolter & Grusin, 1998) as an act of refurbishment based on traditional Hindu practices. The results will, we speculate, identify the Hayward as a tantric site. Furthermore, as we are using ritualistic rather than archival processes, the disassembled Tantra exhibits (a third are in the V&A collection) will take on new temporal registers that urge further consideration of the static materiality of the museum, a key motif in Rawson's posthumous publication Art and Time (2005). Thus, in our remembered/remediated version of Rawson's Tantra, stored Indian things will be repurposed to interrupt and reconfigure the perceptions of exhibition audiences in the performative 'present' of 2021.

panel Cre08
Time and tradition: theorising the temporalities in and of cultural production