On the Figuring Out of Things: Linda Stauffer in Yelahanka New Town
On the periphery of the city of Bangalore is Yelahanka New Town, a relatively new suburban town that had until recently maintained the reputation of being a quiet residential area far from the traffic of the city with residents mainly comprising of post-retirement pensioners, students attending various colleges, and employees of the nearby factories. Since the opening of the Bangalore International Airport in 2008 in close proximity to Yelahanka, the town has been witnessing rapid commercialisation. Located in Yelahanka is the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology where Linda Stauffer arrived on academic exchange early last year from her art school in Zurich (ZHdK).
Linda had chosen to come to India to witness a culture that would be as far from her own as she imagined possible. Having already lived for a year in South America she wanted to experience a culture that wasn’t of a predominantly Christian background. In India, she expected to get away from the parties and the pace of city life while also hoping to practice some yoga. In retrospect, she describes her initial experience in the country as that of becoming a child again. Amongst other things she had to learn how to eat with her hands and how to cross the streets. It was here in Yelahanka New Town that Linda’s practice as an artist truly began to formulate itself.
Prior to her time in Yelahanka, Linda made sculptures. Having attended business school, and having worked at insurance companies and as a bartender, she joined art school at the age of 23. At art school she spray painted objects gold and mixed objects with concrete. She began to become interested in performance but never attempted to perform herself. In India, to make friends and to meet new people she began the first of her organisational activities with an event titled the Bizarre Bazaar. The bazaar was an evening of barter exchange at the parking lot of her student apartment. Open to the passing public and publicised by word of mouth and on social media, the event set up a situation where people could exchange things that they had for other objects at the venue. The space was open to anyone to set up their goods, and chips and drinks were served. Amongst the exchanges were artworks, found objects, stolen objects, personal possessions and services such as hairdressing. Linda proved to be an expert at bargaining and secured for herself a large collection of artworks.
Following the success of this event she organised The Rooftop Teaching Party. This event was also the result of word of mouth organisation and an informal open call where participants were invited to set up a stall for teaching at the G.159 rooftop for an evening. These stalls could be planned in advance, but could also emerge spontaneously at the venue. The Teaching Party sought to challenge the existing academic environment at the university and encouraged direct peer to peer exchange. Courses that took place that evening included a poker lesson, a snake holding tutorial, a lesson on operating a tattoo machine and an introduction to speaking with a Derbyshire accent.
Around this time Linda found her work as an artist to have become stagnant. In the process of meeting new people and getting used to her environment she had had no time for a studio practice. In an attempt to get back to work she began visiting the local hardware and stationery stores looking for materials that she could use. Initially, she began working as she had before with familiar materials and tools (plaster of paris, cement, spray paint and wire), but was soon fascinated by the new materials she found (air dry clay, silicon gel, blank price tags, various grades of thumb tacks and glitter tape).
Through her organisational activity in Yelahanka, Linda became aware of a certain void in the community. She perceived a sort of passivity and a certain lack of interaction. To address this and to further consolidate the community of artists in the area she decided to set up a project space. The location for this would be the garage of the house she had recently moved to and shared between four artist friends.
This space confidently named We’ll Figure It Out opened on the 8th of August last year with an event titled Bring Your Own Art. Far from the necessities of curatorial control, Linda imagined a space that would be free. This space she imagined could mould itself as necessary, and for each event. It would be a truly democratic space that could be occupied by anyone as long as they had something to say. Bring Your Own Art was thus the perfect event to inaugurate this space. The show opened to a freshly painted garage emulating the traditional white cube. From its blank state, the space filled up over the course of the evening with a wide variety of artworks. The exhibition spilled out of the garage and into the house and also extended to the backyard where people recited poetry and played live music. The event captured the imagination of the local audience and without the enforced curatorial boundaries of the art gallery the artists found themselves a new home.
The space would go on to host three more exhibitions over its short duration which was only about four months–closing with the end of Linda’s academic semester in India. These included Templates for Everyone in which I participated along with Corina Heinrich, a solo exhibition titled F ART by Khushnaz Lala and a performance that also doubled as an exhibition of the work of Ari Jayaprakash titled Samhain. With all of these exhibitions Linda refused to act as the curator and instead framed the artists themselves as responsible for the show and its presentation. She also absconded from other responsibilities such as the presentation of the curatorial statement and began to question the exhibitions she encountered and their static and finished form. Besides these exhibitions, the space also hosted a poetry reading, an interactive theatre piece and a bizarre bazaar.
Between these events Linda was busy working towards her own first solo exhibition, a show titled Bottles and Glasses, also called The More the Art, The Less the Jokes, at G.159 (reviewed recently on this site). Following this (and towards the end of Linda’s academic semester in India), she organised Peenya Underground Scrap Clap (Theatre or Theater), a performance-installation at the newly opened metro station at Peenya in Bangalore. In the vast empty underground basement of the metro station she arranged a series of installation with found objects from the site and beyond. The installations occupied a particular spot within a larger grid assembled in the area (which also acted as a stage) where each installation was considered to be an ‘instrument’ which had distinct sonic qualities that could be audible upon interaction by the audience. Along with these were art materials that Linda frequently used such as the ubiquitous price tag stickers that she was fond of sticking everywhere and a foamy brand of air-dry clay. At the venue, the audience could act as the artist–make sculptures, make paintings, make music–while Linda took on the role of facilitating these interactions or did whatever else she wanted. The performance-installation was further framed as theatre with a cast of characters based on Linda’s real life friends in India. The play was described as a ‘planned improvisation.’
In both Bottles and Glasses, her metro station project, and also in her upcoming graduation project in Zurich, is a reimagining of the performance of being an artist. In each instance, Linda, as the artist, is ever present–facilitating the interaction with her artworks. Without being aware of it, Linda’s projects echo what the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica called the ‘probject’–the probabilities of the object or the object as a probability. This probject isn’t necessarily only the result of one probability, but rather the potentiality for a probability. It is this potentiality that exists in Linda’s work, and this potential for an encounter–with the artist, with an idea and with an object–is what gives it its strength.
With Linda is the story of how questions and problems encountered through facilitating a community space feed into one’s own art practice, and a further example of how these problems are resolved through assimilation into her own work. For Linda, running a space wasn’t so different from making her sculptures–both aspired further and further to include a larger audience or a larger community of people and with one she made sense of the other. Sometimes I can still hear her say in response to my queries about both the space and her practice as an artist, “Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”