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December 10, 2020

TIFA Working Studios Is An Interactive Art Hub That Engages With Contemporary Culture

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

Trishla Talera, co-founder of the Pune-based creative centre, is focused on its young audience and the new digital frontier

The heart of Pune – acknowledged as the traditional cultural capital of Maharashtra – houses a nucleus of creative thinking that is a multi-disciplinary space for incubating ideas and promoting different forms of art. Located in an erstwhile art deco hotel, TIFA Working Studios is the brainchild of siblings Trishla and Roshan Talera. Since opening its doors in 2015, it has grown into a dynamic centre for innovation, not just in India but also in South Asia, due to its many residencies, festivals and programmes. And, staying in step with a changing world, it is sharply focused on youth culture. As Trishla states, TIFA “is currently working in sectors of new media and tech art, aesthetics of the internet, urban development and gendered and queer realities”.

Photographed by Joshua Navalkar

Trishla, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2012, subsequently worked as a creative director for Sthayi Designs before founding TIFA. The 30-year-old culture enthusiast has been recognised for her ongoing work in the field, and she has been invited to speak at global events such as the TransCultural Exchange’s International Conference on Opportunities in the Arts: Expanding Worlds in Boston (2016), Confederation of Indian Industries IWN Conference: Urja | Future Shapes in Pune (2019), Avid Learning and the FICCI Conference: Art Orchestrators in Mumbai (2019) and more.

In a conversation with Verve, the artistic entrepreneur talks about her creative vision and the new directions her journey is taking….

How did your experience at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) enhance and expand your passion for the arts?
SCAD offered me a fantastic opportunity to learn and pursue my interest in the arts and humanities. The programme was very flexible and allowed me to take classes from various disciplines; this helped me develop a holistic foundation. While at SCAD, I built my own practice but was also able to understand how creatives think and make – and stay inspired. This is what led me to arts and cultural management when I graduated.

So, what prompted the creation of TIFA Working Studios in Pune?
Roshan and I started thinking about TIFA in 2012, as a reaction to there being very few opportunities in Pune to interact with contemporary culture. There were no active museums, barely any galleries, and the cultural scene here was mainly traditional theatre and dance. We wanted to build a space which would bring together different disciplines, a space for experimentation and innovation, a space for young people to come together to think, collaborate and create. We started out as an educational space, then a residency, and we finally transitioned into a creative centre.

TIFA Working Studios is headquartered in an art deco hotel. How does this space promote creativity and artistic inspiration?
Our space is a 1940s’ art deco hotel, formerly called Hotel Wellesley. The layout of the space has informed so much of our ethos and programming at TIFA. The building’s architectural plan is unique as it has clusters of connecting rooms, quirky details like the mixed mosaic flooring, an empty elevator shaft and a bridge on the top floor. The heritage of this space is difficult to create in any new spaces and that is what drew us in.

What would you say makes having TIFA in Pune a unique experience?
We [Roshan and I] think Pune is a perfect city for us to be in, based on its history, diversity and growth. Pune is an educational and research hub that brings in young culture from across the country along with world-class faculty members and researchers. It is also a manufacturing area that facilitates the production capacity of creative work. It is an IT hub, so we are surrounded by tech expertise and have our eye on the future. We are constantly working with partners and collaborators across the city to realise our projects.

I feel the only challenge (and this would not be specific only to Pune) is that as a cultural organisation, we spend a lot of our energy in audience development because in India we are not in the habit of visiting museums or galleries for leisure or entertainment.

Would you be able to pick three landmark moments in TIFA’s journey so far?
Since this is a difficult question to answer, I will pick three different ones.

Maruts by Vishal K Dar was a site-specific immersive installation in 2015, set up at a 40,000 sq ft factory warehouse on the outskirts of Pune. This four-day long temporary installation was the first of its kind in the city, and the event proved to us the value and need of public art in India.

“Prakalp Pune” (held from 9th December 2018 to 27th January 2019) was a month-long urban festival across Pune. It consisted of public performances, public art, heritage walks, exhibitions, films and more. This project was a key marker in us working with the city and different local partners to push the city’s cultural agenda.

Cyberia Festival, a New Media Playground initiative in 2019, was our first technology-focused festival featuring augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), robotics and futuristic technologies through a three-day festival. We drew a huge audience who valued the need for understanding and playing with technology from a community perspective.

Your residency programme started in 2015. In the last five years, who are some of the emerging artists who have worked in your spaces?
Through the years, we have had creatives from various mediums and from all across the world at the studios. And with each residency, we experienced a “Medici Effect”, which carried us forward. We have had the privilege of working with many talented artists like Shraddha Borawake, Madhu Das, Rajyashri Goody, Snehal Chordia, Nooshin Rostami, Jhoyu Hsieh, Pei Chi Lee and many more.

What moves you when you are looking at a work of art?
There are so many facets; I am not sure if I can pin it down. Each creative represents their thoughts in such amazingly innovative ways that it never ceases to amaze me. We can find moments of magic in so many forms, from a sculpture to a robot playing music.

In what way has your aesthetic sensibility been shaped by your mother, Varsha, who is a designer?
My mother has been a huge influence in me choosing to work in the arts and cultural sector. Throughout our childhood, my brother and I visited museums and heritage sites, even factories to see how things were made, and we participated in multiple art and theatre workshops. I interned with her when I was 16, and her eye for detail and tactile understanding of the world has impacted me majorly.

Whose works have resonated the most with you and why?
I have a deep fascination for works powered by technology. A retrospective by Studio Drift at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam is probably my most favourite show yet. And some of my favourite international artists include Sol LeWitt, Janet Echelman, Makoto Azuma and Tony Cokes, and Indian artists I like are Mrinalini Mukherjee, Zarina Hashmi, Anish Kapoor, Shilpa Gupta, Nalini Malani and Tallur L.N.

Where was the Indian art scene headed pre-COVID-19? How do you envision its evolution now?
After 2014, the Indian art landscape saw many new ecosystems come up across the country. A mix of biennales, fairs, museums, festivals, alternative spaces were making some fantastic projects while building local audiences where they were situated. This cumulatively began to project a strong contemporary art voice coming from India, which was being noticed globally.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the art and cultural scene because it is a sector largely supported by corporates and private patrons. With audiences staying in, the revenue models for many organisations have gone below sustainable levels. This has led to some shutting down and others taking a long break. However, some have beautifully reinvented themselves for the digital world and will thus lead the others into the next decade. Evolution will now be slower and safer.

Has social media brought in a younger demographic of art enthusiasts who aren’t art students?
The majority of our audiences at TIFA are between the ages of 19 and 26, so mostly digital natives. Our programming is focused on youth culture in many ways, and our curators are always trying to keep up with advancements impacting the youth today. “Meme Regime” was an event for which we travelled across seven venues in India. It focused on how memes are a new art form and reflection of society on the internet. Young audiences usually find out about us through word of mouth on social media channels.

How do you see artist(e)s being affected by the pandemic, both creatively and otherwise?
The pandemic has deeply affected the creative economy, as many artists(e)s sustain themselves through freelance projects or gigs. Young artists have had to find alternative jobs or move back to their parents’ homes to be able to survive the pandemic and its related troubles. There have been a few support funds for performing artistes as well as peer-led initiatives like Art Chain India, which have helped in some capacity.

The only positive we see is that creatives, and all of us, have found the time to do those things that we would always put on the back burner. Upskilling is a big trend we have noticed among the creative community.

How have you changed your business model given the present circumstances?
Since March, we had assumed a more digital persona as TIFA. Our model has indeed become a lot leaner compared to what it was earlier, and we will have to build fewer physical projects in the coming year, until we are able to see normal days again. We must look more keenly at ticket sales and revenue streams to be able to work through this difficult time.

Which are the trends that you see prevailing next year in the arts and cultural domains?
The digital as a site for creation and display is here to stay. It will continue to evolve and grow for the arts and cultural sector. We are already seeing a rising trend in new media practices or tech art in India and hope it will begin to be accessible to larger publics in the following years.

 As the year draws to a close, what is in the pipeline for TIFA in 2021?
We will be hosting Cyberia – New Media Festival at the end of January along with a digital residency focused around gaming discourse, curated by Anokhi Shah. And the TIFA Annual Fete, which is an art fundraiser to support emerging artists from across India, will be held in August. The second editions of “Prakalp Pune” and “Futures of Intimacies” have been planned for later in the year.

We are also in the process of starting an Art Boutique Hotel on the same property. (Hotel Wellesley, as it was formerly known).

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