Haema Sivanesan, curator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, recently connected with Kegan McFadden, executive director of the Victoria Arts Council, for a Q&A regarding the Gallery’s public lectures on Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice, happening Oct. 25 and 27.
KF: You’re convening what promises to be an exciting conference considering the overlap of Modern Buddhism and Contemporary Art … why now and why Victoria?
HS: The project looks at an almost 100-year history of the impact of Buddhism on modern and contemporary art in North America. It’s an influence that doesn’t appear obvious in the work of avant garde artists and isn’t typically discussed. There seems to be a resurgent interest in Buddhism right now, perhaps with the popularization of ideas of mindfulness; so it feels a timely project. And Victoria, as a site of various progressive and counter-cultural movements, and with its many Buddhist sanghas, seems the right place to do this work.
KM: What can participants taking part in this conference expect from the proceedings?
HS: The conference is artist-centred, and I am interested in how artists draw on Buddhism as a methodology of art practice. Artists will be talking about – and sometimes showing us, through workshops, presentations and performances – how Buddhism informs their work. The conference won’t be a presentation of academic papers, but a thoughtful, conversational and participatory format for discussing how and why Buddhism informs the way artists make work.
KM: By presenting this conference in advance of the related exhibition, you’re really making your research visible in a way that is unusual for most curators as well as for most institutions … did you want to talk about that choice and how it relates to your larger way of working?
HS: I approach my work as curator as “a practice of thinking with artists.” I am interested in artists’ thought processes and the deeper reasons why artists make work. Making the research visible in this way, makes the curatorial process more transparent, affording an opportunity for the public to be exposed to, and participate in, this process. It’s also a way of engaging a public with a set of curatorial ideas before they have even decided to go into an exhibition!
KM: This research has received significant funding from major international foundations, but who are some of the local artists/institutions involved in this project?
HS: The research convening is a partnership with the University of Victoria, Faculty of Fine Arts, Multifaith Chapel and Centre for the Study of Religion in Society. I am thrilled and very grateful to be working with the University in this significant and inter-disciplinary way. Two UVic students have worked with the Legacy Art Gallery to produce a micro-exhibition of Buddhist art objects held in the University’s collection, which will be on display in the Fine Arts Building. And the Victoria Arts Council will be presenting a timely exhibition by local artist, Lynda Gammon, “Studio Practice: Meditation Practice,” which connects to the themes of the conference.