Art possesses the capacity to inspire, to astonish, to facilitate dialogue and to provoke thought. It is a powerful mode of expression and communication and transcends the barriers of language, ethnicity and age. It is in constant evolution and with each varying dimension, comes fresh ideas and innovative components.
A key issue echoed by many emerging Sri Lankan artists is the lack of affordable and accessible spaces to showcase their work. The Collective of Contemporary Artists (CoCA) is a group initiated by the Goethe Institute under the purview of the ‘Art needs Space’ project in response to this need. CoCA challenges art by stepping out of traditionally enclosed spheres and exploring alternative artistic spaces. Moving out of conventional spaces deemed suitable for art and the expansion of art to urban public spaces is a undoubtedly a daring step and by doing so CoCA hopes to expose art to the masses and generate more interest.
The importance of public art is immeasurable. Not only is it a mark of a city’s maturity and commitment towards encouraging the arts, it heightens aesthetic curiosity and is a salient feature in promoting awareness of the arts in society.
“The idea of the Goethe Institute and Colombo Art Biennale collaboration is to look out for available spaces in Colombo which can be used for art. There is always a creative way of finding spaces to create art. There has been an opening of the public space during the past few years since the war is over. The public space has been demilitarized and is not that strictly overlooked by security any longer,” explains Goethe Institute Sri Lanka Director Björn Ketels. “There is new opportunity within the urban space for doing something and I think it’s all about finding out how to use this now existing framework which opens itself and to use it as an artist, for performance, for visual arts, for installations and film screenings.”
CoCA consists of a group of artists from various fields (photography, film, design, performance and visual arts) who have come together for this purpose. An interesting outcome because of the emergence of CoCA is a wonderful fusing of roles and knowledge sharing among the artists. Starting as clusters of groups, the artists have learned from one another and stepped out of their comfort zones by experimenting with media and discovering new roles they would not have otherwise dreamt of delving into.
The aim of the group is simply to create art for arts’ sake and to explore the possibilities of art in new urban spaces beyond the boundaries of established cultural institutions. The group was selected by a team of mentors and open-minded Sri Lankan artists through the response garnered by an island wide call for applications through newspapers and art institutions. The group received initial guidance from the German curator Florian Waldvogel who introduced concepts and examples of art projects inspired by physical and social structures of the urban environment.
“The first target of CoCA is to actually put art out there so that people will constantly encounter it”, says art facilitator of the group Suda Shanmugaraja. He explains that they hope that once people start encountering art constantly, with each new piece they will start recognizing it and associating it with CoCA.
Once the public slowly start appreciating art, they will begin to demand it and then artists will be able to cater to the demand.
While plans to take it out of Colombo are also underway, for the moment it is an experiment with focus on a certain space and making it as prominent as possible allowing everybody in Colombo a chance to be confronted with at least one of the pieces. “This is the experimental stage, where people haven’t come to see art but the art goes to see them,” illustrates Suda, “They confront it and we want to see what kind of response we get. We do have plans to take it out later.”
The Goethe Gate Party was the group’s first public show. The pieces on display have been built with alternate spaces in mind and it is hoped that the show will help facilitate these installations to move into public spaces and pave the way for future projects. The group has also been provided with a special platform at the Colombo Art Biennale in 2012 to display their work thanks to a collaborative effort with the Colombo Art Biennale and the Goethe Institut. A festival in November is also on the cards with more ideas for installations around Colombo and roadmaps directing people to the multiple spaces the installations will be displayed in.
The key idea is for CoCA to constantly grow and allow its members to flourish along with it. This type of sustainable creativity ensures the existence of the entity even after the initial members’ existence. The initial momentum is provided by the Goethe Institut and the group will operate independently thereon.
CoCA is an open group and anyone who wants to create art in urban spaces is invited to actively participate in weekly meetings, collaborate with other artists and bring in fresh ideas to the group.