The investigation of time, language, and history is central to the artistic activities of the Raqs Media Collective. Founded in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi (b. 1966), Monica Narula (b. 1969) and Shuddhabrata Sengupta (b. 1968), Raqs practices at the intersection of contemporary art, historical enquiry, philosophical speculation, and theory, while taking into account social and political conditions in a global context.
The point of departure for this exhibition is Raqs’s continual fascination with time, a topic that has preoccupied the members of the group intensively ever since they began working together. In works such as “Escapement” (2009) and “Re-Run” (2013), they pose such questions as: What is time? What does it mean to measure time? And: How does time relate to space and history? Visitors will find themselves confronted with a range of time-related phenomena – from a heartbeat or pause for breath to the timing of historical episodes, all the way to eternity. Viewers are encouraged to interrogate conventional notions of the measure of time and its disciplinary function in everyday life, and to question its foundational role in the capitalist organization of labor.
The artists make language their material and medium of play. This may take the form of puns or neologisms which they integrate into the titles of their works or weave into texts. In illuminated installations such as “Lost in Search of Time” (2015) or “Revoltage” (2010), it features in the form of brightly illuminated letters arrayed in regular rhythmic patterns. Such linguistic play allows them to elicit a variety of readings, to break with fixed terms and concepts, and to subvert linear narratives. Even the collective’s name is based on wordplay: “Raqs” can be traced back to a term in Islamic mysticism that refers to an ecstatic state attained by Sufi dervishes while whirling. It describes a highly concentrated and at the same time continuously active mode, which Raqs describe as “kinetic contemplation.” At the same time, Raqs can stand for “Rarely Asked Questions.”
With their exhibition at K21, Raqs open up a new space of possibilities, one that invites visitors to heighten their awareness of the fundamental ambivalence of this world while re-examining habitual methods, narratives, and patterns of thought.