Imagine an entire exhibition that comes into being during the course of it being exhibited—when the boundaries between the artist and audience are dissolved.

Turning the logic of the exhibition process on its head is the Raqs Media Collective’s latest curatorial venture at the Devi Art Foundation, Delhi. The Sarai Reader 09, a nine-month exhibition that opens today, is an attempt to prove that there are “many ways to make art, view art, think art", in the words of Monica Narula, one of the three founder members of the Raqs Media Collective, which was formed in 1992. In 2000, Raqs co-founded the Sarai programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a research institute committed to critical thought. Sarai’s work has been focused on urban life, media, environment, culture, architecture and politics.

Building blocks: (from left) Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Jeebesh Bagchi and Monica Narula finalizing entries. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

The first episode—that opens on 18 August—is a skeletonic structure that sets the stage for the exhibition. Artistic interventions that want to add to the exhibition—either add to existing structures, or create entirely new ones —after this episode will then be included in time for the second episode on 13 October. In all, there will be four episodes.

Although there is no set theme (the only theme would be “thinking about art", says Jeebesh Bagchi, another founder member of Raqs), Sarai’s work over the last 10 years serves as broad pointers. For instance, one of the few structures already present at the exhibition is the Cybermohalla Hub (CMH), an idea Raqs came up with in 2001, in the days that no one quite knew how “cyber" the world would turn out to be a decade later. “The concept was looking at resettlement colonies like Gheora in north-west Delhi and the size of government plots offered (3x6m); we made a building prototype that would marry the concept of mohalla (a neighbourhood) with cyber, and tried to imagine what such a building would be like, and how it would draw people," says Narula. Before this, there have been two iterations of CMH. The present prototype of the building—a structure whose building blocks are rectangular frames—has been made in collaboration with Frankfurt-based artists Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Muller. Viewers can walk into the building and if they want to suggest interventions that could build on it as a “cybermohalla", they can send in their proposals, and the selected works will be displayed in time for episode 2 in October.

One of the other projects at the opening is a Bureau of Contemporary Jobs, an artistic intervention space that writes resumes for people seeking jobs. “If you’re a zookeeper, they will write your CV for you, just like a zookeeper’s CV should be," says Bagchi.

The digital world in all its waste, illegality and potential is an important subject at the exhibition. There is one project that looks at the issue of digital waste, and the environmental challenges it poses. “Ninety per cent of all email is trash, and if you think about it, 90% of data being actively circulated is waste. Each kilobyte is holding this information, some server somewhere is crashing due to this; this has real physical ramifications," says Narula.

Gurgaon Glossaries looks at ways to “read Gurgaon". In addition, there will also be a set of works that will look at decay and breakage.

The Amateur Film Archive—which also includes a call for new amateur films—draws importance to the figure of the amateur at a time when everybody is caught up with being “professional". A sound project will record sound every day, using time, space and sound to produce art—today’s sound played as art tomorrow.

The purpose is to push the idea that “everybody has an artistic sensibility", says Shuddhabrata Sengupta, another founder member of the Collective. “The exhibition is revealing its inner skeleton to everyone, instead of simply presenting the final works to the audience. Your investment as a viewer, therefore, does not hinge on passive consumption of art," he says.

The Sarai Reader 09 opens at the Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon, today. Subsequent episodes of the show will open on 13 October and 15 December; and 3 February 2013.

shreya.r@livemint.com

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