Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Politicizing Visuals

I conceive this gathering and studio space as an active platform for interesting experimental work in any medium; it can be art or non-art, and to create a more informal experience of art which can be touched and smelled. We’ve been talking, travelling and working together for the past thirty days in this space. The ideas that emerged around this residency are mostly peripheral in terms of so-called art theory and practice. The inter-related intellectual dialectics open up a new horizon in terms of ideology. Discourse on many established politics and methodologies happened during this time that lead to an inquisitiveness of what could or should work in practice.

I felt the attitude of participants in this residency was to politicize everything. And the essence of our discussions might be reading the visuals as not merely visuals; They come from and go with many interpretations and established concepts. So each visual is politically charged. Art can be personal but what makes a person’s ‘personal’ is political. E.g. The behavioral pattern of a boy and/or girl in our childhood that we later recognize as a stereotype, that forms the seed for a gender politics. The dress code of women in job sectors, initially in the west now spreading to India, is surely a reflection of a politics of patriarchal society E.g. Heels women wear. This residency became a stage to politicize and reread contemporary visual arts in different perspectives.

Curatorial practice is a blurred area to most young academic students. The pedagogy of art history poses a crucial question of accessibility and practice.In this situation being a critic and curator was challenging for me to figure out the appropriate methods to approach this program. Even though we had many conversations and discourses, it was challenging me to synchronize and view in terms of certain locus of philosophy and studying it in a wider perspective. I felt my role of critic was like a crime detective in many ways (!). I did a long series of conversations with the artists to understand their concepts and insights and was enthusiastic to learn their personalities and characters as well as I can. It helps me to understand their works and interpret and relate them courageously even though many of them opposed me strongly. It was wondering when I sense the difference between theory and practice. I saw those who believe in the theoretical existence of work of art and those who argue for the personal freedom and self- expression in this residency. I was remembering an incident in this residency, Praveen Goud was showing images of his works by sitting in khoj’s  drawing room, I saw a  work he had done a  few years before which  portrays some signs of Indian Army. When I asked about it, he told me simply, He had an ambition to be an Army man in his teenage, so he did that work. I felt it was not an adequate explanation from an artist, an onlooker or a critic might have another idea (it doesn’t matter if the artist does not believe in the articulateness of work of art). And characters of Aarti Sunder, like Blue insect, Green butterfly, Pig, etc. are her intimate characters and can be read as an imagination of the artist but one can perceive these metaphors as her response to certain politics. So it is hard to read her works as simple illustrations and fables. These situations were seminal to me in shaping my own theories and methodologies. Apart from spending time within the community, meeting the renowned artists and contemporaries in Delhi was another pleasure. I felt this residency was a platform for me to develop certain empirical knowledge and experiences.

Selecting participants from different faculties like communication designing, printmaking, fashion Designing create a certain dynamics. It was interesting me to get to know many new materials, mediums and methods of art making. Selecting these students and designed them to live together makes this residency far more success and was seminal to extend the boundaries of so-called Fine Arts practice and theory.
With this background, this residency became a space to develop certain empirical knowledge and experiences for young peers. This residency analyzes the notion of interaction amongst different artists to create inter-cultural dialogue, the curatorial efforts and possibilities, the concept of “interdisciplinary practice” and new media in contemporary art.

But I felt,one month duration is very less for an artist or critic to settle down in a new space, both mentally and physically. This residency can be designed as giving time and space to participants to absorb the socio political and cultural climate of the city and nearby, makes the residency more ‘open’ and research oriented. It will be better to make sure the active participation of peers in khoj’s other community programs during the residency period and will help the participants to understand the issues, identities and the history of nearby settlements and town. However I appreciate the freedom and patience that khoj showed me to reshape and refresh my thoughts and accept my merits and demerits. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

People, chained by monotony afraid to think, clinging to certainties... they live like ants - Bela Lugosi

Indian traditional paintings till the colonial period (in the Mughal period the elements of design is evident) showed a great amount of design in portraying trees, architectural setups, figures etc. Indian traditional painters had developed trained eyes to look at an object in terms of pattern and stylization. During the late eighteenth century Britishers were look at the world around them in a fresh manner which has come to be known as ‘the picturesque and ‘the sublime’. In England typical books such as Picturesque Representation of the Dress and Manners of the English (1814) or T.L. Busby’s Costumes of the Lower Orders of London (1826) were being published. When Britishers came to India almost every aspect of the Indian life provided suitable subjects for sketching: picturesque costumes, occupations and methods of transportation and so on. Not surprisingly, they selected Indian artists to deal with mass documentation of flora and fauna, portraits etc...

The Moochys (artists of India) enthusiastically welcomed their new patrons by the readiness to adjust their style and subject matter. The conscious attempt of Indian artists to meet European demands for accurate depiction is evident in many of the portraitures. The introduction of Government school of Art in colonial India created a new class of “artists” in India who were diverged from indigenous forms of tradition art. The outcome was an academic system still rooted in the British educational system. During discourses on art and design, I often felt that we forget the tradition of miniature or mural paintings and the politics behind the origin of fine arts colleges. The new term ‘visual arts’ opened a platform for a wide range of practices that were related to art. This might be because of the understanding of this inevitable past or history.

Peers is ‘neo’ in the sense that it includes students from different disciplines. Muthiah, the tallest person amongst us, is a student of visual communication and his interest suffuses to animation, design, print making, graphic design etc. He works very freely without bothering about the ‘end product’ or he might not believe in the ‘end product’ itself. While conversing with him, I got to know he conceived this space to enjoy the work, travel through experiences, new materials and experimentations. After academic studies it is not easy to accommodate many interests and explore places for many reasons. The force of modernization and modernity compels us to lead a mechanical life, which unfortunately buys the person – his/her life, dreams, desires and love and pushes us into a monotonous life. Moreover, the norms and beliefs of our society discourage a person to live in adventure and diversity. This might be the reality many of us face. Muthiah is working on this concept of monotony which bolts dreams and passions together, transforming a human into a machine. He is materializing this ideology by using a machines and a canvas. The machine is conceived as a strong metaphor of mechanical life and monotony. And he is thinking to create an interactive space which might be a platform to touch the naivety of life.  

Muthiah making woodcut prints
Sketches from Muthiah's diary

Monday, 6 June 2011

Studio visit sounds better: meet the artist- 

Manisha Parekh

She was working while we entered her studio; a piece of beautiful music was flowing. She looked at us curiously and slowly started to talk about the academic systems, art students and so on. During that conversation she asked some basic thoughtful questions: Do you believe in the social responsibility of art? How do you look at the boom in art market last few years? What do you think about Contemporary Indian art? The answers of these questions are profound and demands contemplation. She showed us some of her new works and catalogues. The works tend to touch and feel the texture and material lessen the psychic and physical distance between work and viewer. The color and texture of the thread she uses, gives the feel of nature I experienced back in my childhood.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Why did she eat that Fruit?  Why did she open that Box? Why did she test that Pot? Why is it a “SHE”?
When I was a child my dad used to tell me a story every night: Once up on a time there was a poor lady who lived in a small hut and she was struggling hard for her daily bread. One fine morning when she was sitting in her hut sadly, she saw a divine light which fell in front of her. She trembled with fear and firmly shut her eyes. She heard somebody calling her name and she slowly opened her eyes. A Goddess was standing in front of her!! She gave her a mud pot and told her, “…this will give you food forever…” and the Goddess suddenly disappeared! The old lady lived happily for a long time with her magic mud pot. But slowly she became so curious about her magic pot she ordered food again and again to test it. The food became a huge mountain in front of her! At last the magic pot disappeared in fumes! And the food left there became a mountain of poisonous snakes.
At that time I pointed out the lady`s curiosity as ‘evil’, and later in the catechism class, the curiosity of Eve as the misery of the world and so on. Religious stories, mythologies and folk lore have a grey tactic to engrave certain beliefs and notions which shape the entire humanity to tie them under a certain system. The existence of any system in this world is because of such mythologies which discourage rationality, curiosity and encourage censorship. India is known as the largest democratic country, and its Constitution contains the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights. The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees formally the freedom of speech and expression. But it becomes a piece of paper to peoples of peripheral areas and censors many diverse studies and opinions. And censorship becomes a comfortable way to suppress the skepticism and revolution in any system whether in politics or religion.
The belief in heaven and hell forces a person to be moral, and the mythological stories describing the disaster of curiosity make the person cowed and slavish. Kundo Yumnam from Manipur has grown up in an environment of chauvinism. Men dominated over women, rich over poor, powerful over powerless and adults over curious children. In Manipur, people live in turbulence and anti- nationalist protests and still use the scripts of West Bengal even though their language is so different from Bangali (now radical groups are reviving their scripts). We can figure out the class politics behind the introduction of the Bengali script in Manipur when we think in terms of the small population of Meitei who are predominantly Vaishnavite Hindus (Hindus who consider Vishnu to be the supreme deity, and the Meitei Hindus are said to have been converted by a handful of Hindus from West Bengal) and the rest being tribes of Nagas and Kukis.
Kundo has a strong quest for knowledge, her curiosity is instinctive in nature but it somewhere converges with the atmosphere and the place she belongs.
Her imaginary treasure box somewhere in the Khoj guest house, which stimulates her nostalgia, finally leads to the story of Pandora`s Box.  It was one of existing stories she had heard in her childhood. One evening she shared with us the feeling she had, in her childhood, about Pandora. Like I blamed the Old Lady for her curiosity in my childhood, Kundo had also asked, “Why did she open that box?” As an artist having political and cultural awareness she is trying to explore the politics of this Greek mythological story. She is rereading the story and is giving us a chance to decide whether to open the Pandora’s Box or not.

Masaccio, Adam and Eve Baished from Paradise 1401-28, Fresco, Brancacci chapel,Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence,Italy.

I keep six honest serving-men;
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
~Rudyard Kipling.

Kundo is working in her sudio

Read more about Manipur: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/indus-calling/entry/why-should-manipur-remain-in#comments

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Creation of Form

After three long days of a train journey I touched Delhi. Pallavi introduced me to Praveen in the opening day. While we talked casually, I said I had a damn head ache. Suddenly he said “….yoga karo sab teek ho jayega!”. (it will be alright if you start doing yoga with me!). He showed me his works at night and felt they are nowhere in boundaries of print making nor sculpture.

He started working from the first day, but with his brain full of confusion. He continuously crushes printed papers and starts to fill the studio with the heavily crushed papers. He then randomly snatches them and sticks them together. Praveen`s work was without the faculty of composition, mas and contrast when he started it, but after ten or fifteen days it migrated to a certain kind of composition and ideas of space. Now he is trying to experiment with the space and the material, thinking on more possibilities like videos, sound and light. I am helping him to make the videos, which shows the action of crushing and the movement of fingers and project them on the work. His works often trace the `action` behind the process and the action ends at the psychological fact behind it. Still we are discussing and quarreling with each other about the execution and concept of his work during the tea time gatherings.

I think, I need a series of photographs to show how he started his work and developed in to a certain level

Image 1: he uses offset printed grid paper, giving it a feeling of a graph, grid.

Image 2: he started to use coloured paper, merging one form with the other

Image 3: he comes across a certain composition and idea of space.

Image 4: projection of the process on the form.

Image 5: 'At Last': He shifted to a larger space and that changed all his forms. He is currently trying to work in accordance to the new space.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My thoughts on Community art always ends in the question of what art can do in a marginalized community.
The politics of all conquerors in this world has been to wipe out indigenous art, performances, manuscripts and heritage of a settlement in order to erase their culture and thereby their existence and identity to make them fragile. This has been the politics of Tuglak, the Britishers and now, our Government towards the marginalized community. So curating and researching about the ethnic culture and the art of peripheral communities is more interactive and rational to the function of art and curation. The aim to curate their own culture is to bring the lost heritage and culture back and to make create a small group of activists and intellectuals. Maybe this kind of interaction with create a powerful group that brings the issue to mainstream politics and questions the cultural homogenizing force of politics and tactics.
Curating community art in a white or black cube is challenging, but it can work by making use of the faculties of new media art like – sound, performances, interviews, installations and videos. But while using these new technologies in community art, we should have researched on the traditional art forms of that chosen community like koothu, shadow puppetry, street dramas or ballet, which were the primitive forms of the present day new media arts and performances.
Find out their traditional art forms  and curate it in the context of “art curation” which is not just putting a piece of video in the street and telling them to watch, but while excavating and curating their traditional genre that brings back their cultural identities and the existence. And share this with the outsider. Use of new media, curatorial methodologies and research within the community to help revive a lost culture, will allow for a new school of curation and art practice which are rooted in theory and practice.
In this scenario of Indian art galleries transform from domestic buildings to luxurious set ups. Obviously we can consider the domestic spaces as alternative spaces where experimentalists and Avant Garde dwells, but now a days many alternative spaces become works like mainstream galleries. The politics, rationality, context and the ideology of work of art is gradually diminished by the increasing use of exhibition as aesthetic objects. It increases the distance of art and curation from the society (social issues) and this alienation of art and theory is a crucial issue in India.
So in this scenario, working with a marginalized community allows the artists to create a more democratic space in the mode of interaction and exhibition. The general term `space` is intentionally to avoid the connotation of an institutional or commercial environment. Space immediately avoids the connotation of commodity. So I hope this kind art practice blurs the boundaries between curation, research and activism.

A scene from Sri Lankan Tamils Refugee camp in Tamil Nadu .
This photograph is collected from internet

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Creating a new Gender politics

Proclamations to legitimize the gay act in India completely disturbed the social belief in relationships. Away from the gender boundaries it also negotiates free (free from social norms) relationships. Lesbianism and gay culture somehow fortifies feminist activisms in India. Unfortunately sometimes, “homosexuality”, becomes a glamorous or intellectual term. But we should realise that a person doesn’t need any intellectual ideology or philosophy to lead his/her life as homosexuals. The strong terminating hatred of our society against homosexuality leads a person who believes in that, to take up activism. And people who write and work on it are often labeled in the society as feminist, homosexuals, etc. 

Pallavi Singh is a" notorious" personality among peers. She holds a wonderful studio in Khoj with wide long windows, one that opens to the street and other that opens into the inner courtyard. She showed her works one night and for a while I felt tired. But slowly, they started to hit the social reality of sexuality and gender without any concession of philosophizing and shame. Her autoerotic men and moral women ask enough controversial questions. The intrusion shown in her works is a dogged entering of one’s existence and questioning their right to live. The sexual appetite of old men who try to be an innocent kids, wrapped in humor and sarcasm make the viewer laugh but catalyze the fact - civilization is a lie, nothing more!
The works begin to doubt the universal validity of male gaze- whether the gaze is always male or whether it is merely dominant among the range of different gazes including female gaze? It fortifies a new class of people who enjoy companies of both genders. Although most of her old works show certain kind of feminism by discussing the way women are looked at in a patriarchal society, she has recently radically moved to a different perspective and is questioning the established institutions of society regarding gender, sexual relationships and marriage.

These are Pallavi`s earlier works.

Auto Ride, Acrylic On Canvas,48"x60"

Gossip, Mixmedia On Paper,48"x72"

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Thinking About Concept

Unfortunately the popular term in the art world, “concept note”, by itself is sometimes disgusting and sounds like a ready made stuff that one should carry with them to vomit anywhere. In practice many times the concept develops with work of art itself because the way you display might change the entire concept of your work. Till this day all the evenings go with frantic visualizations of works and criticisms amongst the peers. It’s easier to figure out what kind of work a person is doing and the ideologies one has, but it can entirely change while materializing or make use of the faculties of sound, video, performance and light. Things are changing sometimes, accidental or by deep contemplation. The most interesting attitude I found in this residency is opening up to each ones visualization and ideas about others works. This platform you might not get in a college studio or in gallery shows.

 I often go to Aarti`s studio to see her sketches and to discuss them. I found them interesting only because it doesn’t need any explanation. The way she discusses the condition of being uncomfortable while waiting for something is vibrant and poking . It questions the physical and mental existence of humans strongly with very minimal forms. While talking to her about her sketches closely, I feel she is working site specifically; she might correlate the plain wall in front of her and the struggling of existence in a truly slippery area.
Working with the real space will be challenging for her. How to use the real space and how to make it a part of the work. How to relate the real object with the idea, without losing its existence. It’s very difficult to solve these confusions because this is the matter of co- existence of different objects, rather than putting a new `work’ inside the gallery. So her sketches can be seen as a part of exploring every aspect of the studio space. Sometimes experimentation will throw you into hell but it will give you more pleasure than anything else in this world.
Aarti Sunder is from Tamil Nadu and  we used to talk about the refugee camps filled with the Sri Lankan Tamilians, their existence, their struggle for identity and the government`s filthy cold silence regarding this group of people who look similar and talk the same language as “Tamilians of India”.
I think Aarti`s works respond to these human issues -
What do the well-established so–called nations think about thousands of refugees? Are they filthy junk? Don’t have children to bring up? Artists should be aware about what’s happening to humanity and try to shift the focus to marginalized peripheries. Select and frame them.

Waiting for tea: Aarti and I went to Kotla to buy some wires and i took this photograph while we wait for  tea.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Pseudo- culture/ Trans - culture/ Authentic culture

The Urban Village is the challenging subject I encounter first in Delhi. Khirkee village , the place where the residency program going on is widely accepted as an urban village crowded with a huge variety of people, Africans, Biharies (mainly the construction workers), urban and semi- urban mass . The jammed pocket roads are the play grounds of children live here, instead of public space or pedestrianization - which are the characteristic of an urban village in theory. Introduction of three posh Malls just opposite to this urban village looks ironical and intolerable which questioning the rationality of the, political economical and cultural climate of our country. Many cultural organizations and multinational companies are tactfully using the connotative meaning of the label- urban village, equally. Which produce a horrible junk in our society – pseudo- culture.

Each week almost a billion of people consume the pseudo- cultural products offered by movie theaters, FM stations and televisions. This dissemination of the pseudo- cultural product, whom does it benefit or harm? Who stands to lose or gain from it? This kind of pseudo- economic and cultural condition, glosses over the most profound human problems, concealing their underlying real and living contradictions.

The consumer has nothing to gain from this pseudo – cultural consumption, since all it does is confirm ones abstract, refined human existence, and prevent from establishing the sort of relationship required by the true authentic culture, who gain from the mystification of this relationship, a mystification itself in all its gravity in mass consumption? It can only be the producer, the capitalist.

But it is not mass alone who suffers; it is a loss for all human who were consciously struggling to establish a truly cultured social order. This is also a loss
in turn for the authentic culture (art, literature and revolution) as an expression of what is specifically cultural and human social order. There is a total lack of communication between authentic culture or art or superstructure and mass. In the conditions the general public prefers pseudo – artistic or cultural products.

 The manipulation of consciousness on a massive scale has become vital to capitalism, from both economically and ideologically.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

 A Studio visit/ A gallery visit: which sounds better?
The architecture and location of the exhibition complex is usually minimized and homogenized in the art world unless the exhibition is site specific. Reese Greenberg discusses about the architecture and its politics in the article called-‘The Exhibited Redistributed’. During the sixties and the nineties, there has been a shift in the type of space used for exhibition of contemporary art, it move away from the domestic like structure to building associated with commerce and industry in the west. In 1963 Andy Warhol established the idea of production and semi-public space viewing space as factory. By changing the term of display, there is the possibility of indicating that art exists in the wider variety of social context and meaning other than monetary and Avant- garde artists in sixties and seventies when they lacked sufficient museums or commercial galleries and dissatisfied with the whole scenario, they created new types of exhibitions. The intention of these artists was rather than the demand of audience but to forced changes in the exhibition system. The new space created by these artists, ` the alternative space ` gives a different dimension to the exhibition.
Here, the matter to contemplate is that,  is there any active discourse and mental dialogue, happening  in the contemporary  so – called alternative spaces? An alternative space should be a place that people can come, have a tea and talk, in any time and this kind of active platform and dialectics, now we needs and often lacks.

Socialism in Visual Experience

The painted wall opposite to Khoj studio at Khirkee villege

van Gogh's landscape with swirling skies and Cypresses

Juxtaposition of Van Gogh`s landscape painting and popular Phantom like figure  in the street wall is optimistic about the possibilities of intellectual socialism it brings. The ‘aura’ of a text or practice is its sense of ‘authenticity’, ‘authority’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘distance’. The decay of the aura detaches the text or practice from the authority and rituals of tradition. It opens them to a plurality of reinterpretation, freeing them to be used in other contexts, for other purposes. This attempt changes the reactionary attitude toward high art into the progressive reaction. The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment. Consciously or unconsciously people of this area are familiar with this painting and have a chance to enjoy the visual experience it gives.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Look through a Balloon
At night

We six people went to India Gate at night.

Friday, 20 May 2011


On 15th May we all got together at Khoj guest house, in Khirkee Extension, with a lot of excitement and expectations in our eyes. We slowly started mingling with each other by showing our works and automatically got into discussions of our ideologies and issues. Next day we went for a crazy walk in the street and a visit to India gate. We didn`t took much time to get close without much diplomacy. We all got into our studios, started thinking about our work, its execution and began searching for materials in the hot burning metropolis. I am the person who roam around my friends’ studios and streets. The last two days were noisy and nights were sleepless: people sat in the bedrooms, courtyards, metros and the kitchen and had discourses about science, psychology, Marxism, gender, sociology, linguistics, territorial boundaries, power-relations, caste systems etc.

The whole residency program can be conceive as an excellent way to channelize the  frustration of narrow  academic practices, white cube spaces and commercial groups to  break  norms and to expand boundaries.  We got an exceptional space for materialization - Khoj residency offers us a black cube to do whatever we want. Romanticizing the whole idea of an independent space, it is still challenging for us to make use of it. This space poses challenges to what we understood and created till today and it demands something different - creates the feeling of being in a vague slippery area. It might be an essential and seminal stage for every artist and writer to go through.

I am looking at this space suspiciously and conceiving the whole system most empirically because it is necessary to create a critical and analytical idea of the so-called back and white cubes of the present day art world. The established idea of commercial art galleries constitutes the artist, the curator, the dealer and the collector. The work of art is central to all, but in a different manner. For an artist it is his/her creative product, to a dealer it is a commodity and for collector it is an object of possession. In this whole scene, the position of the curator should be in a crisis and the commercial world can check his/her aspirations. So I am waiting like a spider patiently, to know how my dear friends will materialize their ideas and utilize this extremely rough black cube and in what extent this space will work itself.
The workshop is particularly interesting with the participants from interdisciplinary practices. Muthiah, the guy from Coimbatore is a student of Design, Pallavi completed her masters in painting from College of Art, Delhi, Kundo did her bachelors in fashion designing from NIFT, Praveen is a print maker working in the Space studio, Vadodara and Aarti Sunder finished her Diploma in painting from Mumbai. The Khoj guest house is a cosy place that has small square mirror windows, an inner courtyard and the white rough brick walls -all open an ambiance of interactions and casual talk. These days we spend most of our time in the studios and often keep our eyes on its roofs and corners, to visualize the display of works. We have big arguments and dialogues.

We are trying to achieve a new wave in the medium, think about art and non –art, and create a more informal experience of art which people can touch and smell.