Rameesha Azeem & The Factory Project

Artist and writer, Ameera Khan, sat down with the woman behind The Factory Project, Rameesha Azeem. Azeem is an artist, curator, writer and the brains behind this exhibition spanning over 9 acres and over 25 artists and writers.

What was it about the Chawla Factory that made you want to use it for something other than its purpose? And how was your idea conceived? And what came first: the exhibition or the publication?
Chawla footwear has been a revenue generating shoe factory for years, the Factory is reminiscent to a fort, housing within itself a world of material and man power. Being a creative myself, I saw the factory as a place where all my ideas could come true.
The factory not only provided the resources (engineers of multiple fields, machinery, raw material), but it also had the ability to become a site of exhibition itself, with these large warehouses, alleys, production units, storage units, containers, a huge garden.
I understood early on that the factory was an every evolving installation in itself, living and breathing, uncanny, unusual, and mesmerising. Everyday one would find new settings, new ways in which interior is shifting, marking space for a new meaning a new experience. Artists would find new colours everyday, new shapes, compositions, new sounds, multiplicity of raw material and new connections. I felt that the place needed a lifetime to unfold its mysteries. It communicated. I thought like an artist and managed like a curator. I would ask myself: what would I do if I was an artist here, and then provided the same to the participant artists that I was confident were mature and flexible to enjoy this facility. The Idea was conceived by the need for art to be nurtured by these industries, I took the first step, hopefully more people with resources will do the same. When I started inviting artists in for the exhibition, I wanted a publication to come out of it, I talked to Emaan Maqbool ( writer and editor) about the book when she suggested to make the publication a project on its own by bringing in writers who would respond to the The Factory in their own create light – that’s when the The Factory became a “Project”.

I thought like an artist and managed like a curator

Do you think there have been other projects like yours? Where artists had the space (measuring unto 9 acres), materials and tools (more than 100 machines), and freedom to do what they wished?
Well, there are many examples of site specific projects, like biennales, the Tate Turbine Hall (which is a site is more like a warehouse, and it actually inspired me to see the warehouse at the factory as a site of an exhibition), and more locally, the Pioneer Cement Residency by Canvas Gallery. But ‘The Factory Project’ was not just about the exhibition, it was a year long collaborative project, with artists, writers, and film makers feeding of each other. I believe the Project consisted of three creative segments; art, literature and documentary film.

I believe the Project consisted of three creative segments; art, literature and documentary film

Was there a particular artist or artwork that inspired this idea, that art can be made and displayed in a space where it traditionally should not be?
Yes, absolutely! My inspirations include Christo and Jean Claude, Rachel Whiteread, Neri Oxman, and Cornelia Parker.

In the documentary, all artists admitted that they were first overwhelmed by the structure, the systematic order, the space, the sounds and visuals. How do you think they overcame or accepted that during this project?
When all the artists first visited the Factory, they took a week or two to process before coming back again. I know it becomes a question about filtration over the massive amount of possibilities, of what can be done. I think, after a while, coming back to the place of action was their only choice. Now that I think about it, as a future note, maybe having a 7 – 10 day residency at the factory sounds like a good idea.

My inspirations include Christo and Jean Claude, Rachel Whiteread, Neri Oxman, and Cornelia Parker

Which artist in your opinion, fully embodied the idea that you had envisioned with the Factory Project and delivered a completely new artwork while staying true to the setting and environment? What can you tell us about the relationship with the artist and the worker?
I think there were multiple artists who actually enjoyed the on site collaborations: Rabbya Naseer and Hassan Mujtaba were the most enthusiastic, I think [laughs]!

A lot of artists utilised the space when producing their works. Pick one artist that incorporated the huge space that the factory provided the best?
Faizan Naveed, Mahbub Jokhio, Rabia Ajaz, Rabia Jalil and Rabeeha Adnan,

Pick another one that fully utilised the facilities and resources located at the factory the best?
I think Unum Babar and Matt Kushan, Saba Khan, Ali Baba, and Suleman Khilji really made the most of what was available to them.

And which artist would you say produced their work while interacting and collaborating with the workers?
I’d say Ammar Faiz, Ali Shahriq Jamali, and Abid Aslam

Was there any critique on the theme of capitalism, given that this was indeed a factory?
Absolutely. There were numerous discussions within the group about capitalism and global warming, but isn’t that what art is there for?

There were numerous discussions within the group about capitalism and global warming, but isn’t that what art is there for?

Are all the artworks still displayed at the factory? Is that their permanent display?
It was a temporary site specific exhibition so all the artworks were removed soon after the exhibition ended because the factory needed their space to resume their work.

In the documentary, the factory workers disclosed that they were skeptical about the conceptuality that the artists introduced to them. That the former only thought in utilitarian purposes. What was the response of the factory workers to The Factory Project after seeing the artworks come to life?
The factory workers questioned everything that they helped make. I think that itself was an education. They witnessed everything come to life and how important was it for us and our seriousness towards the installations. When it all came to life and the makers became the audience and when they realised that the project was as much for them as for the artists or the audience. They took pictures, brought their families, and said that their workplace became ‘refreshing’ for them.

The factory is a gigantic space. When curating the final display, did you plan it yourself or did you work with the artists to find them their perfect space to display their works? What was that process like?
I worked with the artists to curate. Some of them exactly knew exactly where they wanted their work to be, in which case the space came first and then the art. Some artists made work and decided upon the space later. In some cases, both the work and the site were in relevance to each other.

Tell us a little about the difference between curating/displaying art in an already busy and working factory rather than the glistening white walls of a museum or a gallery?
I can write a book on this, but to summarise, I feel like when you bring your work to the white cube, we focus on the work and whitewash everything else. However, at a site specific location, the environment has much to say – the history, geography, politics of the site, and the engagement of the work with its location. The work inculcates more layers, further urging the artists to be even more mindful of their surrounding.

at a site specific location, the environment has much to say – the history, geography, politics of the site, and the engagement of the work with its location

In the documentary, the Factory CEO, Muhammad Azeem said something that really stuck with me. He said, !Artist ne sochna hai, factory ne karna hai.” What do you make of this sentence? Do you think they are two separate entities: one the conceptual and the other, the maker?
I talked to the CEO about the exhibition and one piece of advise that he gave me was, “You are just the provider here, the manager, the nurturer and the feeder. Never come from the place of power if you want to make things happen.” That stuck with me, and allowed me to provide for the needs of the artists and to maintain goodwill amongst us all. I think what he said was not about art but more about his service to art.

Tell us a little about the opening. What was your target audience and who actually showed up? What was their response?
My target audience was everyone – from workers to the industrialists, from art students to critics, from children to old people, from people who love art to the people who are curious about art, everyone was welcome and people from all walks of life did visit.

What were the artists feeling at the end of The Factory Project? What were you feeling (not only as a curator, but the person who conceived this idea in the first place)?
The artists saw the potential of the whole project in front of their eyes and many of them realised that more could have been done. I felt excited and humbled.

Having essays, notes and other written pieces in it, what purpose do you think the publication served? Was it written before, after or simultaneously by the artists while producing works? Do you think writing down their ideas gave them a clearer picture of their concepts?
The writers and the artists paired up and maintained a close communication along the way, talking about the process and sharing thoughts and helping each other’s work evolve. It is a project in itself – the book exhibits the writings of these literary writers, and their take on art and on the site. Writers and artists worked as equal creatives. The book is firstly an archive, secondly a reflection on art and thirdly, has its own literature of this time and era.

Writers and artists worked as equal creatives

Do you think The Factory Project has the capability of being an annual residency, if you so wished?
Yes, maybe not annual but biannual, and not just artists but bringing in and bridging many creative fields, maybe even science.

Where do you think your curatorial practice will take you further? What do you think is in the cards for you?
I hope that my curatorial practice will somehow bring art, art education and opportunities to the people of Pakistan.

Basic question – what brings you more joy: art making or curation?
Both, I can’t choose one!

Finish this sentence: an artwork is incomplete without __.
Intelligent decisions.

Finish another one: a display is incomplete without __.
Space and light.

Last one: The Factory Project was incomplete without __.

Artist, critic and a self proclaimed historian. I write about the this and thats, odds and ends, and etceteras of the art world.

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