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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of Art

An Interview with Shwetal A. Patel

Published: 11 February 2016
Shwetal A Patel
Shwetal A Patel

Shwetal A. Patel is a Mphil/PhD student at WSA. He has been involved in many diverse projects and brings a wealth of experience with him. Given all that he does, we thought we should interview Shwetal about his various activities to find out more.

Shwetal has worked on India’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and has recently been on two juries for BMW, their Art Cars commission and new Art Journey Award. He has also received the VC's scholarship to support his studies, and was instrumental in organising the School’s recent 'Analogue Audiences/Digital Interfaces' symposium at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London.


Calum Kerr (CK): You organised the recent symposium, 'Analogue Audiences/Digital Interfaces'. What prompted that? How did it come about?

Shwetal A. Patel(SP): During the summer I met with WSA Head Dr. Robert D'Souza and we began a discussion on how the internet and digital experiences of visual art were becoming ever more pervasive in the cultural sector and academia. Though we were primarily keen to explore the notion of the increasing digitisation of art in the internet era, we also wanted to explore philosophical and ideological issues of our age.

CK: Was the symposium a success? What was discussed?

SP:  I would not deem the exercise as one that was designed for success or failure. Our intention with the selection of speakers and moderators was to gather a diverse range of voices that could set up important questions and examples of what was going on in the field. As Dr. Ryan Bishop put it, it was a 'ground clearing exercise' meant for further argument and examination. The symposium wasn’t designed to elicit any conclusive answers, now I can continue probing these questions in the future as our understanding and knowledge of the field evolves.

CK: Were there any outcomes? Any plans made, conclusions reached?

SP: I believe that it is still too premature to consider solid outcomes at this stage; rather I would like to develop certain strands of thinking in the coming months. We are getting the entire symposium transcribed from 3hrs and 42 mins of audio recording. I feel this area is very fast moving and we are kind of guinea pigs of the digital revolution. Tech companies, artists, curators, institutions, corporates and digital audiences are still feeling their way through the many changes and opportunities and it will take some time for the ground to settle and for concrete conclusions to be drawn. The lens of time will help but we can already see early trends emerging.

CK: You were the recipient of the VC's scholarship for your PhD. How did that come about and what does it involve?

SP: I was very grateful to be awarded the VC scholarship. I had met WSA faculty members in India in 2014 and we initially discussed the possibility of postgraduate studies at Southampton. The desire for further education stemmed from my work at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. As a founding member of the team at India's first visual arts biennial, I gained a great deal of insight and experience into conceptualising and organising a large-scale art project, this experience was very relevant to my proposed research subject.

At this stage in my work I wanted to explore the theoretical aspects of the biennial project as well as consolidate some of the knowledge I have gained over the last 20 years of working in creative fields. After several years with Kochi Biennale Foundation I also needed some time to reflect and analyse the experience. I am still working with the Kochi Biennale Foundation though my research has now taken priority.

CK: What is the topic of your PhD and how is it going?

SP: My title is; "Perennial Art Exhibitions in the Developing World: Situating the Socio-economic, Cultural and Developmental Impact of the Contemporary Art Biennale." The research project primarily seeks to explore the socio-economic, cultural and developmental impact of perennial exhibitions of contemporary art in emerging economies.

I was engaged with the establishment of the KMB’s foundation (Kochi Biennale Foundation, a registered Charitable Trust formed in 2010), which in turn allowed for the navigation of a complex set of artistic, social, political and economic considerations leading to the launch of the inaugural India biennial in December 2012. The research I am undertaking is after having successfully staged the second edition of the biennial, which opened in December 2014 and has allowed for a greater degree of investigation and debate regarding its impact on the state of Kerala and the wider region.

Also, as contemporary art has globalised in recent years, and in particular the perennial exhibition format, my thesis also seeks to explore questions related to the long-term social and cultural value which underpins much of the justifications for public (and private) investments in this sector. I am still at an early stage of my research and my supervisors have been very supportive in allowing me to develop my ideas organically.

CK: You were also part of recent jury panels for choosing artists to work on the BMW Art Cars and the newly launched Art Journey award. Can you tell me something about those?

SP: I was honoured to be invited to participate in these two juries during Art Basel (Art Car) and Art Basel Hong Kong (Art Journey Award). BMW’s cultural commitment has been an essential part of their corporate communications for over 40 years now. They believe that "Unrestricted freedom of creative potential is of the utmost importance, as it is equally as crucial for the field of art as it is for groundbreaking innovations within a business enterprise.” BMW seem to be able to combine an in-depth knowledge and understanding of contemporary art and culture whilst acting sensitively towards non-profit organisations – a rarity in today’s corporate landscape. Both jury processes were unique learning experiences and I am grateful to BMW Cultural Engagement and Dr. Thomas Girst for their early support of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.


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