The interdisciplinary arts festival Colomboscope recently launched “Held Apart, Together”, the first of a series of digital projects.
Colomboscope works with a range of intergenerational artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, social theorists, and scientific researchers from Sri Lanka and overseas, delivering a focused programme with each festival edition held at key historic sites in Colombo. The festival organisers are committed to building a sustainable and context-responsive environment for cultural producers to continue generating path-breaking, collaborative, and genre-defying approaches in the field.
The Morning Brunch spoke with the Colomboscope team to learn more about its digital projects and gain insights into Colomboscope’s plans for 2021.
Tell us a bit about Colombscope’s digital programme and how it came to be.
We found ourselves in the middle during the curfew; there was no single composition or frame that could render visible the abstract magnitude of this collective moment – a pandemic that released an omnipresent data mapping, infected bodies, inexhaustible news feeds, and whirlpools of emotion. While being paralysed, but also feeling the urge to keeping working with the artistic community with #HeldApartTogether, we turned to local and international artists from the festival network, asking them to contribute writings, audio dispatches, drawings, and video collages to sustain primary acts of reading, listening, and viewing together.
Is ‘Held Apart, Together’ a response to the pandemic?
It was less of a response to the pandemic than to the state of lockdown or curfew that gripped the world and Sri Lanka, especially with heightened security measures; it was a response to the suddenly enforced dogma of cancelling everything that is a social activity and collectively realised cultural life.
While absolutely registering the need for the measures taken, Held Apart, Together was initiated as a small attempt from our side to keep the social dimension alive, to connect artists with one another, to give a view into the different situations of cultural producers throughout curfew, and to experiment with new formats for creative exchange in “viral” times. Especially from Sri Lanka, we believe artists have sought method in the madness and located madness in the method, as they have for long reflected on system failures and unequal suffering, but also given footholds into the imagination – that is reshaping the present as we know it.
Colombocope’s digital programme will expand throughout the year, as we are also joined by new audiences online, and strengthen our South Asian partnerships.
Was there to be a 2020 Colomboscope, and was it postponed because of the pandemic?
No. In 2019, it was decided to hold Colomboscope every other year to give artists the chance to prepare over a longer period of time for their projects, and also for the Colomboscope team to conduct workshops, residencies, and, importantly, to fundraise during the year in between. At the moment, we wish to go ahead with the festival as planned and modify our approach rather than postpone.
We had planned a series of tandem artist residencies in 2020 for international and local artists to work together in communities all across the island – around the Hill County, Batticaloa, Jaffna, and the Deep South, for example. Due to the ongoing travel restrictions, we have to delay these plans but hope to still be able to partially manifest them before the festival.
What are Colomboscope’s plans for 2021?
The 2021 festival titled “Language is migrant” is scheduled to take place from 21-31 January in a selection of venues in central Colombo. It will, as always, feature an exhibition part complimented with screenings, concerts and recitals, workshops, engagement for youth, public programmes, talks, curated tours, and bring together a select group of striking and experimental Sri Lankan and international artists to conceive site-responsive encounters, installations, and dialogues around the festival, especially on hybrid belonging, oral history, diasporic stories, and how language marks our bodies and identity constructs.
Although fundraising is especially difficult this year, we are hoping to succeed in involving celebrated artists from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, the UK, Germany, India, Malaysia, Italy, Nepal, the Netherlands, Reunion Island, Spain, South Africa, Switzerland, and Turkey to participate with the local arts community.
What are your thoughts on the pandemic and its effect on art, particularly installation art and art in a non-gallery setting? Do you feel there has been more creative production or less?
We are developing ways to produce works locally as far as possible; even for regional and international artists, projects can in part be constructed on-site and with local collaborators. At the same time, we are also developing online and radio-based programming, as well as special publications and a reading space for the upcoming festival edition.