Srijon Chowdhury: Artistic Generosity with a Theatrical Flourish

Theo Downes-Le Guin
May 9, 2016 7:55PM

Collectives and collaboration are hallmarks of our highly-connected period in contemporary art. Srijon Chowdhury's May 2016 exhibition at Upfor offers an unusual combination of a singular artistic vision that accommodates dozens of other artists.

Installation view:  Srijon Chowdhury, Memory Theater, 2016. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

Viewed from its interior, Srijon Chowdhury's Memory Theater offers a shadow play of sculptural objects, plants, and pedestals suffused with violet light. The structure physically frames dozens of artworks Chowdhury borrowed from 28 other artists in Los Angeles, New York, Portland, and Europe.

Chowdhury's installation is an extended musing on the life work of 16th-century Italian philosopher Giulio Camilo, whose belief that a physical "theater of memory" could be constructed to impart all the knowledge of the world. Several centuries on, Camilo's ideas seem optimistic, not a little daft, yet also prescient of an era in which large chunks of knowledge and information (if not wisdom) lie at our fingertips.

Chowdhury conceptualized his Portland debut as a play with himself as the director. The play centers on a circular structure he built of 8 feet tall, arched wooden frames stretched with thin linen. The outside of the structure is curated with sculptures from featured artists—the actors backstage. Chowdhury sought artists and works that contribute to a play that "feels fetishistic, ritualistic, and outside of time."

Chowdhury's is a surprising choice for a debut exhibition in his new part-time home city. Rather than showing recent work in typical white-cube isolation, the Bangladesh-born artist conceived an elaborate installation and orchestrated a large cast including both friends and artists whose work he admires but who he does not know personally. The collaboration even extends posthumously to a small Picasso sculpture.

Working collectively or collaboratively is a frequent choice for many artists, especially young artists whose connectedness—thanks to social media, Skype, and cheap airfare—can transcend physical boundaries. As well, the blurring of lines between artist and curator offers chances for artists to extend their vision beyond their own objects. Chowdhury's production offers an unusually generous balance of directorial authority with inclusiveness.

Srijon Chowdhury's "Memory Theater" remains on view at Upfor through May 28, 2016. For participating artists, please see the Upfor website.

Theo Downes-Le Guin