The title of the flagship exhibition of Pune Biennale 2017 is based on a wordplay between ‘habit’ and ‘cohabit’. By attaching the suffix ‘co’ before ‘habit’, a rather alternate meaning is attained. A habit, or ritual, is literally turned into something else, suggesting a transformation in our own behaviour: we get rid of our habits to start a cohabitation, to live with someone else, to share our living condition with the other, with another.
The exhibition’s subtitle is a reference to the notes and index cards penned by French semiologist Roland Barthes for a series of seminars (How to Live Together) delivered at the Collège de France from January to May 1977. Barthes chanced upon a word from a religious text to describe his latent fantasy of sociability as ‘idiorrhythmy’, or ‘particular rhythm’, to discuss any community that respects each individual’s personal rhythm. Removing it from any religious context, Barthes thinks of ‘idiorrhythmy’ as any attempt to reconcile collective life with individual life, and most of the lectures describe forms of collective solitude. Barthes had planned to devote a final lecture to the utopia of ‘living together’ or cohabitation, but this remained unrealised. Habit-co-Habit ideally takes over Barthes’ project as a possible starting point, inserting his visions into the flesh of the city of Pune, incidentally home to the Osho ashram, known worldwide as a cult, or secluded community.
The question of cohabitation is particularly pressing in the context of Pune. An economically leading city in the state of Maharashtra, it is today one of the fastest growing cities in India and, more generally, in the Asia-Pacific region. This rapid growth attracts workers, professionals, students, and migrants from India and elsewhere. In the context of Doug Saunders’ study on the movement of people from rural to urban areas in the 21st century as constituting the largest migration in history, Pune represents such an ‘arrival city’.
As it transforms from a provincial capital into a metropolis, Pune necessarily produces new communities and aggregations, possibly new forms of hybridity and diversity. Occupying different everyday spaces in the Deccan area, which represented a first wave of modernisation in the development of the city at the end of the 19th century, the exhibition explores various modes of cohabitation and social habits to host a reflection on the potentialities, repercussions and consequences of such a movement of people, and of the process of modernisation and urban development.
More particularly in the praxis of the exhibition, the connotations of cohabitation span from the extremes of one’s own skin to socio-political constructions and their narratives through history. It references housing, shelter, and the politics of our sleep; the use of public spaces as a collective exercise, as well as the assimilation of people, adaptation of knowledge, and the syncretism of cultural symbols and signs. Cohabitation can also mean the bending of time, where habits from many different time periods coexist in the same location. From an opposing point of view, the choice of locations and the works within have also pondered reclusion, and the gift of space. These works simulate collective solitude: ways of forming smaller groups of affiliation and individual rhythm, within larger perplexing webs of society. The works reflect on animal behaviours, the way a school of fish behave, or insect sociability, whether through the creation of oases, enclosures, protections, or virtual enclaves, to consider how we fit within larger bureaucratic machinery, and alienating networks.
Habit-co-Habit presents different simulations of cohabitation in the form of artistic interventions by local, Indian and international artists. Mostly conceived for this occasion, their productions are spread across eight locations in the Deccan area of Pune. Stretched along the busy Jungli Maharaj Road, the artistic interventions create an itinerary of surprising encounters, suggesting alternative ways to experience everyday spaces, punctuating if not changing our daily routines in the urban landscape.
Each venue has been chosen for its symbolic currency, embodying different forms of cohabitation and social relationships. The artistic interventions in the exhibition mingle in, relate to, and juxtapose to the daily use of such venues and to the existing layers of social, cultural, and artistic signs that they inherit.
From a museum to a printing press, from a 7-8th CE archaeological site to a school, from bridges and underpasses to a public garden and street shelters—far from dealing with an ideal, protected artistic environment, Habit-co-Habit confronts the jarring rhythms of everyday life, alternating between spaces of isolation, privacy, social control and community. Rather than inviting audiences to neutral exhibition spaces Habit-co-Habit unfolds within existing communities and readymade audiences. As a ‘diffused’ exhibition, avoiding any singular central venue, it relates instead to the realities of an urban, social and historical cityscape.
Starting from the given context of the chaotic Deccan area, and the initial lack of any indoor venue, a conscious choice has been made to insert the artistic interventions within the existing spatial conditions, and without imposing significant alteration to their everyday use. By doing so the Biennale visitors as well as the everyday users of these venues, are invited to consider contemporary art not only as a monumental imposition over reality, or as an alien presence, but as an alteration, at times minimal and discreet, to our daily life. At the same time, they are encouraged to consider art within reality, as two un-dissociable entities; like two symmetries of the same organism.
In a congested urban reality, a context already permeated by acoustic and visual noise, artistic interventions in public contexts can inhabit spaces still undefined – the rooms and the corridors, the bridges and the banks, the trees and the lanes, the cracks and the holes of urban texture – adhering and overlapping, like a new skin revealed under an old one. The exhibition hopes to stimulate its visitors to consider their modalities of co-habiting with the other within the problematic habit of the urban context and, more in general, in their role as citizens.
Luca Cerizza, Zasha Colah
Curators of Habit-co-Habit