Thursday, September 22, 2011

The World Needs Touch Today

Kings liked to be touched because they were tired after a long days work. Queens wanted to be touched because they were bored. Girls in harems wanted to be caressed because none cared for what they felt.

Touch. Each human being on the earth wish to be touched by someone. I am talking about the physical touch. The sublime touch of electrical fingers that would ease the pains from the tired flesh.

I am not talking about the touch that would eventually make one to unzip his pants and make someone else to part her legs.

I am talking about the touch of compassion, love and care. Some product advertisement says, there are thousands of ways of human touch. Yes, there are.

Vivekananda was sitting at the foot of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. At one moment, Paramahansa touched Vivekananda with his toe. Something passed through his body. He fainted. When he woke up he was a different man.

A touch could change the world. When I see those tired people hanging in the buses and metro trains like carcasses in a butchers shop or sardines in a fish tray, I think they all want nothing but a caring touch- not the prying fingers that explore the softness of bottoms and fatness of valets.

Now we have lost the sense of touch. We have touch screens today. That’s why in the airports and ad pages of newspapers we see lot of invitations to the massage parlours. I like standing outside the glass doors of the massage centres in the airports and see young people touching the tired and fat feet of weary travellers. I have always felt going inside and getting it done for myself. But I resist not because of what they cost for a half an hour session but because it would leave me to a different plane which would make me miss my plane.

I heard that blind people touch well. Their fingers are their eyes so when they touch you they touch you with their eyes. Eyes are the windows of souls. So when they touch you they touch you with their souls.

The girls who touched me in Bangkok were not blind. But their fingers were eyes.

When I remove the shoes from my feet, after a long days work, I feel the need for a touch. And I get it.

I wonder how identical twins satisfy their itch to touch.

So touch touch ....go and touch each other with compassion and love.

(Now an exercise for you. Go to google search, select ‘image’ search and type ‘Touch’. And tell me about all what you see there)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Punch Lines for Life and Management

When you go to a bookstall you choose a book. In an airport bookstall the books choose you. The difference is, you visit a bookstall with a purpose to buy a particular book and in airport bookstalls you accidently find some books that would provide you with an exciting reading material during your flight.

I chanced upon this book, ‘Rajni’s Punchtantra’ written by PC Balasubramanian and Raja Krishnamoorthy in one of the bookshops at the Mumbai airport. An ardent Rajini fan I could have left anything behind for this book. So I picked it up out of sheer admiration and growing curiosity.

As the title shows, this book deals with the punch lines from Rajini’s films. Rajini’s punch lines are famous and infectious and the proof to this viral effect of his punch lines could be seen amongst the people all over South India as they repeat those lines relentlessly with or without purpose, with or without context. The very recital of these punch lines give people a sort of pleasure and a kind of reassurance; almost a reassurance like Shwarznegger’s ‘I will be back’ or Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Mein Hoon Na’.

The moment I flipped through the pages and the blurb of the book I could make out that it was a type of book that Arindam Choudhury or Dr.Johnson would write. It is a feel good book that helps you to see Rajini’s punch lines both in management and life situations. Indisputably, the authors of this book are successful corporate managers and business consultants.

Like any other Rajini fan I too am familiar with his punch lines. For example, “Malaeda…Anna Malai” from the movie Annamalai had been a great inspiration for me during my twenties. When you repeated these lines you felt like a hill, the great Annamalai. It takes you to the heights of the hills and at the same time you get a hint at the great saint, Ramana Maharshi who had found his abode at Thiruvannamalai.

The authors analyze thirty punch lines from different Rajini films. I will mention a few of them. In his Shivaji –The Boss, Rajini says, “Panningathaan Koottamaa varum. Singham Singlathan varum”- “Pigs come in a crowd. Lion comes alone’.

The authors say that a corporate should not have the herd mentality. It should be like a Lion, with a unique quality of daring and brand building. Also in the life situation, the authors advice that each human being should have the quality of a lion not that of pigs.

You may now interpret these lines for yourself:

“Pon, penn, pugazhu pinnadi ambalai pogathu. Ambalainga pinnadi ithellaam varanam”- You should not be chasing wealth, women and fame; rather they should chase you. (Basha)

“En Vazhi, Thani Vazhi”- My path is unique path. (Padaiyappa)

“Naan yosikkaama pesa maatten. Pesina pirage yosikka maatten”- “I think before I speak and don’t doubt what I say.” (Baba)

“Naan yaana allai, kuthirai..keezha vizhuntha takkunnu ezhunthupaen.”- I am not an elephant but a horse, for I get up in a jiffy when I fall- (Chandramukhi)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

About Early Success, Love and Longevity in Art

I am not a marriage counsellor. But I have this tremendous patience to listen to people telling their stories. At times, for no reason people open up completely before me. May be in me they find a friend, a confidante and a brother to lean on to.

I don’t know.

This young couple stands in front of me. He, an engineer and she, a talented artist.

Their presence is quite pleasant. They look as if they were really made for each other. There is no streak of disturbance in the invisible territory they occupy wherever they are. But to a person like me who is interested in people both familiar and strangers could listen to a distant humming of pain in their private zone.

They are my friends. They have been married for two years. When they look at each other, in their eyes still you could see secrets playing hide and seek. Their gazes meet each other in half way, they embrace and then they go back to the dreamy pool in their eyes only to repeat this meeting game again.

“I am afraid of doing my works,” she tells me.

He looks at her with a lot of love because he knows that she has been waiting to tell this to someone other than him.

“Why?” I ask.

“I am not able to touch upon the limits of satisfaction that I have drawn for myself,” she says.

This girl had done a wonderful installation and a set of gorgeous works a year before. Now, in her studio, she finds herself utterly lonely and anchorless.

“Out there, they too have drawn lines of expectations on you. I know it is difficult to satisfy somebody’s expectations,” I tell her.

Her eyes are almost moistened. I could see the red streaks along the edges of her eyes. I remember a line from Paulo Coelho’s latest novel, Aleph- ‘Tears are the blood of soul’.

If that is right, this girl’s soul must be about to bleed.

I touch her shoulder and say, “Look, you are here not to satisfy anyone else. You are the best judge of your work. You are not working for anybody else. Your works will find their own audience once you free them from all personal guilt, doubts and worries.”

Now I am more interested to know his version about things. But except for a silent smile and the surging waves of love for her, he does not have much to say. However, I know what he wants to say. So I start:

“When you are afraid of yourself and of your works, you force yourself into a cocoon and you feel that one anchor you have is he. So you take your mobile phone and call him to know what he is doing. And as he knows that you are going through a difficult period, he is worried the moment his phone rings. You, in fact haunt him and hunt him out of his work and focus. To cut the story short, both of you are screwed.”

He nods his head.

“So better avoid tracking him over phone. Find happiness in your studio, amongst your friends and in your work,” I conclude.

I know I have not told them anything new that could fundamentally change their lives. But I have told them what they have been afraid of telling each other for the fear of falling out of each other’s favour.

Suddenly I remember a statement by the noted curator and art expert, Robert Storr. He says that when you find success very early in your artistic life it has to be understood that you have a long way to go. But within ten years you are exhausted and you struggle to produce new and exciting works to satisfy the art scene and yourself. But a person who finds success by the age of forty has not only a body of works to prove his worth but also a comfortable twenty years ahead to do new things with his new success.

When my artist friend Rajita Schade sent this observation by Robert Storr, I thought it was a great eye opener. Those who are supremely successful in art in their twenties, they have forty years ahead to negotiate and prove as fresh and challenging as ever.

So my young friends what you have done before you become successful is more important than what you would do afterwards. That gives you the base.

What have you done before the age of twenty five?

In fact, if you are not a child prodigy or super genius, you would not have done much than chasing a few skirts and having a lot of wet dreams.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We- Living Evidences to Prove our Parents’ Desire to Articulate

There is a moment between the word and the act of writing. The word is there and your ability to key it in on your computer page is there. But yet something stands between these two; the desire to postpone the act. For a writer there is a perennial desire to postpone the act of writing and see how the minute hiatus between the word and the very act of writing changes its breath, length and width. It could be directly or indirectly proportional to the desire for postponing. When the gap decreases, nothing could prevent you from writing it down. Then you are in love with the word.

May be others hate your love for words; your love for writing. It is like a love affair. None likes to see a happy couple being happy and oblivious in their love. Their abundance and abandonment imparts a certain kind of discomfort to us. They threaten our ideas about love. They in their relationship and its flaunting of happiness inscribe a different idea about love. They appear before us as word and meaning. And the narrowing gap between them facilitates them to write it at the very face of nature. They say they are in love.

Writers are like jealousy onlookers of a loving couple. They keep looking at the lovers, the word and the meaning, coming close and drifting apart. When they drift apart they feel the joy of postponement. When they come too close almost in a collision by tenderness, the writers cannot just escape. They just need to sit down and write.

Recently, a friend told me that I should stop writing for coming ten years. I told him that if he could give me a lot of money, which I would use for buying all those things that could keep me distracted from looking at the romantic union between word and meaning, perhaps I could consider his suggestion. Then, I also told him that there was no guarantee that I would stop writing altogether even if he transferred the desired amount in my bank account. A bank account cannot stop a nuclear reactor. Fission or fusion of atoms is not bothered about the health of a monetary account.

That’s why when another friend called me a few days back and told me that he had fallen in love with idea of love. And he told me that he has been keeping himself out of all confusions that the very thought of falling in love could bring to one’s life. And suddenly he started getting bored of such a clean, arranged life that would soon send him mentally deranged. So he started looking at things around him with a different perspective. He told me that he looked at a coffee mug with lot of love and things changed for him since that moment.

Word and meaning, coffee mug and passion and anything that could be paired up and seen in a new perspective would give rise to a new way of loving things. Word and meaning are like Shiva and Parvati- like father and mother. Their relationship is romantic, tumultuous and passionate. They are in love that’s why we are. We are the living evidences to prove that our parents had a good time some time ago. We were not brought to the world by some pelicans and cranes. Parents tell a lot of lies till they realize that their kids are making love like bunnies in their pads up there. Then what they could do is just like prisoners, keep an account of their games, on the wall by drawings vertical lines crossed by a diagonal one.

So friends, fall in love with whatever you could in the world. See meaning oozing out of the objects of your desire and filling you in with a sensation of fulfillment and pain at the same time. Then you postpone your desire to articulate and then you will realize that how difficult it is to keep yourself away from your love: the words.

Monday, September 12, 2011

When Irom Sharmila Reclaims Her Sexual Body for Herself

(Irom Sharmila- The image that has become now etched in our minds)

The followers of Irom Sharmila are an agitated lot today. In an interview published in an Kolkata based English newspaper, Irom says she is now in love with a forty eight year old British man of Goan origin, namely Desmond Coutinho. Thirteen civil rights organisations in Manipur have come together to ban the interview being published in local language. They say that this is a planned move to curtail the force of Irom's ten year old fasting agaist the draconian law of Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Anywhere in the world, a person who stands up for the rights of the people and suffers immensily for it automatically gets an aura of a divine personality. The more he or she is in public the more he or she becomes an intensly aloof and inaccessible personality. The more the person becomes detached from the emotional and sentimental pangs of the milling masses the more he or she becomes an intellectual representative of all those feelings. Look at the film stars. They are very much there in our lives. They make public appearances and do live perfromances. But like a work of art they too are three times, in a Platonic sesne away from our realities. The latest case of Anna Hazare illustrates how a person who is so accessible to people could be detached from them once he gets an auro of a semi-divine personality.

A work of art is three times away from the reality because first of all a work of art represents an original idea within a pure creative realm; the idea is the real reality. Then it is translated into an obejct or an image, which is a step away from the original idea. And it is in the teritiary reality that we perceive the original idea manifested in the form of work of art. Hence, what we see as a work of art is three times away from the original reality. Irom Sharmila, over a period of time has become a work of art, three times away from the `real' Irom Sharmila.

(The mother suffering for us)

Interestingly, the 'real' Irom Sharmila is an imaginary personality as conceived by the people who has been seeing her over the last ten years. So the making of Irom Sharmila happens in a reverse order; the Irom Sharmila who does the fasting is a final out come of what we have created in our minds as the original Irom Sharmila. Once that idea of or the ideal Irom is formed we translate her into a personality who could endure inexplicable pain for a noble cause. And the body of Irom Sharmila that fasts becomes an object of desire for the people who see her through various mediums. Therefore, the Irom Sharmila of in our eyes today is a creation of our own fantacies about the idea/ideal of Irom Sharmila that we have formed all these years.

So how an ideal could fall in love with a mortal being? Falling in love, the very expression is ideologically loaded. You don't 'rise' in love; but you 'fall'. This notion of falling has something to do with the myth of genesis where the human beings are created directly by God and then they sin out of their own will. So entering in a relationship with the opposite gender comes to have a connotation of going out of the 'ideal' realm of creation and enter into a zone where carnality is involved. When the working of the supreme soul is sidestepped in order to make the bodies as agencies for human bonding, as per the religious ideological views, it becomes a way of 'falling out of' God's favor. So even if you are in love, you, in fact fall into it.

(A body claimed by the State)

Hence, Irom Sharmila falling in love with a man becomes a ideologically driven discursive realm for us as the idea of an ideal Irom Sharmila going out of the 'orignal' pristine purity of godliness and enterning into a social engagement where her body would directly enjoy the pleasures of that engagement. We sincerely would start thinking that the suffering body of Irom Sharmila, which is for us now is transparent and visible to our perceptions, desires and imaginations, suddenly becomes private, with mechanisms to control a person's desire and this body steps out of a the divine realm of public discourse into a carnal realm of private discourse.

In fact what appals us today is the fantasy of Irom Sharmila having sex with a man. This collective fantasy terrorizes us while it makes us equally curious. It is almost like seeing one's mother's nudity accidently. We as children all have seen our mothers' nudity while they change clothes or take bath. But as grown up people, we don't really like the idea of seeing our mothers' nudity. However, this is one possible area of our private desires where we would like to see our mothers' nudity. The very thought of it would terrorize us to the fact that we would rather prefer to go blind than having a vision of our mothers' nudity. We desire mothers as semi-divine personalities but the moment she shows the potentiality or her body shows the idea of having sexaul engagement with another person, we tend to feel threatened as there occurs a fear of not only replacing a Freudian father but also a son or daughter who could enter into a sexual inter/discourse with an ideal mother.

(Oedipus, a painting by Brian Curtis)

We are driven by this fear and we don't want Irom Sharmila to have sex with another man who would replace us as a collective. We don't think of her falling in love as another possibility of extending the discourse of social resistance against the draconian laws of the state, through the publicly claimed body of Irom Sharmila that now rebels to claim it back to herself.

What if Irom Sharmila decides to get up, remove her nasal tube, start taking food, make love with a man whom she likes, and would still continue with her protest against AFSPA? Would it demoralize us? Or should it? If so why at all? Or is that the fear that Irom Sharmila's abdication to the zone of love would eventually collapse all the myths that have been built around her for the last ten years, by none other than us?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On the Edge of Water: Atul Bhalla at Vadehra Gallery

(Atul Bhalla)

A plasma television screen at the second floor space at the Vadehra Gallery, New Delhi beams the image of a kaner plant (Nerium Oleander) with flowers. A closer look reveals that this is a zoomed in video footage of the plant that is generally seen planted by the authorities in the small strips of land marked out for/as road dividers. As a common sight in Delhi, none gives too much attention to these plants waving their heads, not exactly in the gentle breeze but in the slapping air movements created by the speeding vehicles on the road. When Atul Bhalla zooms in his video camera on this plant, it becomes a metaphor, a surrogate being, a person and someone or something destined to be there only to receive the worst treatment that one could ever have.

(still from Kaner Kaner)

This video titled, ‘Kaner Kaner’ is a part of a solo show of Atul Bhalla, ‘On the Edge’, currently on at the Vadehra Art Gallery, Okhla Phase 1, New Delhi. Though Atul has been hailed as an artist who has a ‘sustained preoccupation with the eco-politics of water’, this particular work does not connect directly to the water politics, but it connects very subtly to the politics of urban existence. When you see the Kaner plant getting slapped by the strong air generated by the speeding motor vehicles, if you are sensitive person, you feel like getting slapped left and right while standing in the middle of a road, in fact for no fault of yours.

(Kaner at Shahdra Drain. series of photographs)

Kaner plant, a simple google research would tell you that, is a toxic plant with a non-toxic appearance. Toxicity of anything is nature’s attribution for survival as some animals and plants resort to camouflaging and secretions. However, studies have proved that it’s pronounced toxicity is not fatal and the calamities caused by this plant are negligible. Seen against this backdrop, a kaner plants, planted along the road dividers could represent the urban underlings who are ‘toxic or waste’ in planners’ parlance but still a necessity in the name of construction and beautification, for paltry remunerations. Then seen within the actual context of the plant, and also seen along with the eighteen frames of photographs titled ‘Kaner on Shahdra Drain’ one understands how the ‘toxicity’ created by the urbanized, fast moving, affluent classes, in fact, could ‘kill’ the so called ‘toxic’ but beautiful plants. In Kaner on Shahdra Drain, Atul, through these eighteen photographs shows how the ‘ever green’ kaner dries up or dies within the days of its flowering thanks to environmental pollution caused both by the drains and the vehicles.

(Peripheral God- from the installation)

Somehow, death vis-a-vis water and environment comes to Atul as a recurring theme. It could be subconscious response to the idea of depletion and decay of the environment but Atul connects it with larger ethical issues when it comes to an installation like ‘Peripheral God’. A few tree stumps are strewn on the gallery floor as if it were a site of deforestation and on the wall, a hazy picture of a dog is framed in a diptych format. The ethical issue that drives Atul seems to be the breaching of invisible social contracts such as love, trust, co-habitation, protection by the government and so on. The narrative that Atul adopts to underline this breach is from the last phase of Mahabharata. Yudhishtira, after the victory in the war and after the realization of nothingness in victories, walks to heavens only to be followed by a dog in this arduous journey. The eldest of the Pandavas was denied permission to enter heaven because of the dog as he insisted that only when the dog is allowed entry, he would go inside. Finally, his wish is granted and the dog reveals himself as Yamadharma (the God of death).

The journey of Yudhishtira, after all kinds of victories, emphasises the presence of Death in anything that man does. Dog therefore becomes a memento mori, a reminder of death. And as a faithful animal it follows man wherever he goes, like a shadow. Dog obeys so long as he loves it, gives it food and shelter. Even when man chases the dog away he comes back. This metaphor that Atul uses in his work also implies that all kinds of human progresses have death as an assured and ingrained entity in them. Besides, there is a sort of word play, as in Dog becomes God and vice versa. Dog, as manifested in Dharmaraja (Yamadharma) , God of Death, becomes a peripheral dog, a perpetual companion of human beings but always pushed to the peripheries.

(still from Yudhishtira washing)

When Atul works on ‘Yudhishtira Washing’ an eight minute long video, he deliberately chooses an old man at an unspecified ghat (river front). Here we see this impoverished old man, with a body vandalized by time, sitting and washing a piece of saffron cloth in the water. The more he rinses and wrenches it the more the water turns saffron. The process continues endlessly. Does it remind the viewer of the water that washes away all the sins (could be relevant when seen in Atul’s concern with the political meaning of water)? Or more politically, the ideology in you that had been leading you all the way to victory, one day manifests before you in the form of death and revelation? Death is a very palpable feeling when one watches this video.

(from Listeners from West Heaven)

For me, the notion of death in Atul’s concern, vis-a-vis his aesthetical involvement with eco-water politics, once again comes to manifest in his video titled, ‘Listeners from West Heaven’. I don’t know why listeners and West Heaven as I am not provided with textual clues than the title. But what I could read out from the 23 minutes long video where Atul himself is seen harking for some sound on the ground in different locations, is the nuances of his artistic enquiries into the waters that are lost, controlled, tamed and eventually disappeared. The death of the River Saraswati comes to my mind. In Hindu mythologies we find River Saraswati disappearing from the face of the earth. Disappearance is a sort of death or vice versa. Atul, an artist from India, while keeping his ears closer to the ground, either it should be to listen to the music of grasshoppers or to hark the gurgling sounds of all those ‘dead’ rivers like Saraswati. I would like to believe in the latter reading.

(Basel Walk)

Training his ears for listening to the voices of the lost/dead rivers, has been a pet theme for Atul for some time. In one of his previous works, he walked along the shores of Yamuna river only to document the number of pump houses installed along the river bank. Pump houses not only pump water for domestic and agricultural use, a linking thread between the urban and rural economy perhaps, but also control the amount of water that has to be used by the people in different localities of the city. So, even the water distribution could be controlled depending on the social hierarchies and locations of power. Taking this inquiry into a different dimension Atul also had documented the manholes and drain covers in different cities and assembled them to produce a visual ensemble of control and power. The same method he employs while working on his ‘Basel Walk’. In this work, Atul documents the water valves and their bronze and iron covers seen along the paths of Switzerland.

(Aaj Bhi)

In an overtly political work that Atul did in Bodh Gaya, Bihar as a part of the international workshop organized by Sanjeev Sinha and Dianne Hagen, he had created a huge flex board that says, ‘Aaj Bhi Vahi Sab Hota Raha’ (Those Things Keep Happening even Today). It was performative, collaborative, participatory and public in nature when the actual work was done and the banner later floated along the Ganges and documented from the Mahatma Gandhi Setu Bridge, the largest bridge in the world. In ‘On the Edge’ show Atul presents digital photographs from the project, highlighting the environmental, political and ethical depletions still keep happening in the body politic of Bihar in particular and India in general. Atul abstracts the political critique by giving emphasis to the pillars of the bridge in a couple of digital works titled ‘Distant’.


As an end note, I would like to say that one of the highlights of the show is a wash basin with a faucet spluttering water through some kind of automatic mechanism. The wash basin becomes a new altar and to worship that one could sit in a chair that is strategically placed a few feet away from it. You sit and wait for the tap to eject a stream of water. And after sometimes it becomes a game between you and the water.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bhavna Kakar’s Love is a Four Letter Word

(Bhavna Kakar, Director Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi)

‘Chai keliye jaise toast hota hai’ (The way toast is needed with a cup of tea) is the new anthem of Airtel, one of the mobile phone service providers in India. Somehow, when I see the show, ‘Love is a 4 Letter Word’ at the Latitude 28 Gallery of Bhavna Kakar, this line comes repeatedly in my mind. Why? I ask myself several times. Finally, yesterday evening while I was driving my car and listening to the same anthem in my FM Radio, I got my answer. There should be ‘some’ reason to have ‘something’; that something could be anything.

As a title, Love is a 4 Letter Word is catchy. It has been inspired by a Joan Baez song, one of the write up says. From movies to novels to serials to dialogues, this phrase has been there everywhere ever since man realized that ‘love’ is also a four letter word like many other four letter words. The phrase is intense, at the same time tacky. It is emotional and serious, at once it is sentimental and ironic. I don’t know whether Bhavna while organizing this show thought of all these multiple possibilities of this popular phrase. However, the wall text by Avni Doshi gives a very sincere effort to define love. Love is this that.....what not. But then after three lines it goes blah blah blah. If any doubt please go to Latitude 28 Gallery, enter, turn your head to your right and it is just there.

Bhavna has always been interested in tongue-in-cheek titles. We should not forget how she, for two seasons continuously asked us, ‘Does Size (really) Matter? (parenthesis mine). So that pre-occupation with ‘size’ is over, now there is no problem to move on to the ‘four letter words’ like love. After D.K.Bose lyrics from ‘Delhi Belly’, now if some Lado Sarai Gallery comes up with other famous ‘four letter words’ starting with ‘F’, don’t feel surprised. I am talking about words like ‘Firm’, ‘Form’, ‘Farm’ (Strength, Shape, Environment and so on. I know you all think the other way round. We are dirty minds).

(Invitation card for the show)

My revelation through Airtel anthem was simple: During recession (is it an illusion?) to sell works, without losing the name, fame, dignity of the gallery, there should be a (curatorial) theme that justifies a show with a collection of works by a set of artists who have already a niche market. There in Palette Art Gallery, the show ‘Red’ was one such effort (Will come to that in another review). So Chai keliye jaise toast hota hai’, waise, sales keliye ek theme hota hai. There is nothing much to think about the title as it is not argued well by the gallery or the wall text writer (no curator’s name is mentioned or did I miss it?)

Now to the artists and their works. There are four dear artists in this show. Fifth one I don’t know personally. Manjunath Kamath, Bose Krishnamachari, Chintan Upadhyay and Chitrovanu Majumdar. Sana Arjumand from Pakistan is the fifth one. And their good works together make a ‘dud’ show. As an art critic who is a close friend of the participating artists it is very difficult to say something like this. But let me clear the air: Good works, but together they don’t make much. Each work is marooned in their own island like lonely travellers waiting for a saviour ship to appear there in the horizon.

(Bose Krishnamachari and his work)

Braille paper and script has always been an inspiration to Bose Krishnamachari. During 1990s he did a lot of portraits of artists and philosophers on the Braille paper. Also during his abstract period in mid-90s, he had experimented with the Braille papers. But with his NO solo in Dubai (2010), Bose became a full-fledged lover of Braille systems by converting them into certain wall sculptures (relief sculptures). In this show, he comes up with the word ‘Love’ written in Braille script. It is sensuous and invites touch, though none is allowed to do so. ‘Going blind’ is a theme, I believe, that has been pricking his conscience for a long time since his ‘NO’ show. We can expect more Braille works from Bose in the near future. The present work in this show is quite successful within the given context of theme and engagement.

(chitrovanu Majumdar and his work)

Chitrovanu Majumdar surprises with his sculptural installations and reassures the viewers with his paintings done in his hallmark style. In the paintings that depict the most passionate moments between a male and female, with so much of aesthetic discernment the artist removes the ‘points’ of encounter through the hazy blacks and reds. He inscribes the surfaces of the paintings with letters (as if they were culled from love letters) at once giving the pictorial plane a pattern orientation and design as well as an abstract quality. Chitrovanu’s sculptural installations with two metal blocks stuffed with artificial rose flowers, vertically fitted on a wheeled platform, interestingly remind me of the male-female principles, hard and soft cores, reversed and inversed quite consciously and made ‘kinetic’. In Latitude 28, I thought it needed a different display space. Perhaps, right in the middle of the upper gallery with darkness surrounding it with only two spot lights from up illuminating it.

(Chintan Upadhyay and his work)

But in the upstairs we have Chintan Upadhyay’s new avtar; two huge paintings and one series of digitally manipulated photographs. Love has been a problem for Chintan for a long time. So there is no problem if he paints like a wounded soul. So in the paintings we have two huge bouquets with blood dripping from here and there, also now the smart alec babies playing the role of cunning cupids. It is like that, when people fall in love cupids wound them. The bloodshed is ironic; real/suffered and the unreal/aspired. The paintings are framed in decorated frames with golden sheen. They are aptly melodramatic in their imitation of the baroque. The digital photographs of house burning have a direct resemblance with the performance that Murali Cheeroth had done in Sandarbh 2010. Murali also had used a ‘home’ image and burned it down in a slow process. Anyway Chintan Upadhyay is unlimited. And the Dabaang sculpture of the smart alec baby head with punkish attribution is interesting. One is sure that Chintan is going through a period of ‘f**k off’ attitude. But I wonder why he did not present anything from his series ‘Love’ where he asked thousands of people to write the word ‘Love’ in their respective languages.

(Manjunath Kamath and his A Fake Love Story, Digital work)

Manjunath Kamath never fails to live up to the themes in his own quirky ways. He is a maverick who could play between the large and small scales and formats. The large paper work, which is curiously titled, ‘Tree Lover after Benod Behari Mukherjee’ has a man wearing a deer’s antlers and growing branches out of that. Those who are familiar with BB Mukherjee’s ‘Tree Lover’ would really be amused to see how the philosophical mood of BBM is inversed to create the dumbness of beings that mindlessly destroy their own surroundings. Manjunath does not connect love to the ‘love affair’. In his series of small works sizing up to a few inches (Does Size Matter?) Manjunath spontaneously creates a series of images that could connect with the so called ‘love’ between a man and woman. Hence, the shoulder strap of bra becomes as important as a young man enthusiastically wearing an Anna Cap (Gandhi cap is old fashioned) that has an inscription, Mein Kaun Hun? (Who am I?). The digital work of Manjunath looks a bit less inspired though it has all twists and turns and puns of a quintessential Manjunath.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Neo-Monster- A Project by Vibha Galhotra- Story and History

(Neo-Monster by Vibha Galhotra at Select City Walk Mall atrium, Saket)

In Delhi we don’t have a turbine hall. We don’t have a Thames either. But now we have the atrium of the Select City Walk Mall to make a comparison with the great hall of wonder at the Tate Modern in London. And of course we have our own Yamuna but no luxury cruises and no Delhi Eye to see the whole of city from a bird’s eye point of view.

I cannot argue that the Select City Walk Mall’s atrium is equal to Turbine Hall of Tate Modern. But what makes it equally fascinating for me is the reach of the people who could take a view of a work of art displayed in the atrium from close proximity to different levels of perspective as the structure of the mall provides an ascending and descending view of the atrium as well as a 360 degree view of the same.

(Vibha Galhotra)

That’s why, the ‘Neo-Monster’, a public art project by a Delhi based artist, Vibha Galhotra looks really impressive at the Select City Walk Mall’s atrium. ‘Neo-Monster’ is an inflated balloon in the shape of a heavy earth mover, often called after the company that made it famous in India, JCB. This JCB machine whirrs to life as a hot air pumping machine works from inside. At the shape of the mechanical shovel on the front side, a video of an actual JCB uprooting a tree is projected.

One could easily understand the interest of Vibha who has been living in the city of Delhi for almost a decade, witnessing and at times guiltily participating in the changes happening to it. JCB machines have been a part of the urban landscape of Delhi for a long time. Also the cranes that mark out the sky with vertical and horizontal lines, full-stopped by a pair of heavy concrete blocks. Anyone who is interested in the theme of fast urbanization of the world, would recall the Dubai skyline during global market boom, criss-crossed with cranes.


Here, in ‘Neo-Monster’ project, Vibha is at once a hard truth teller and a romantic soothsayer. The machine that reminds you one of those works by L.N.Tallur or Mark Streicher who had worked with Abhay Maskara or even the works by Jeff Koons, works well in the atmosphere of a mall. Neo Monster is a plain name as it directly suggests that this is ‘new’ and it is a ‘monster’. The JCB s are the new monsters that gnaw the essence of the earth.

But as a soothsayer Vibha directly connects JCB as a tool of urbanization with the same machine as an enemy to nature. She subtly brings the ‘culture-nature’ polemic within the visual discourse of this work as she projects a footage that she had captured during one of her trips to the hills in North India. This footage shows an actual JCB machine ruthlessly bringing down trees causing de-forestation and realizing/making way to urbanization.

(Mark Streicher at Abhay Maskara Gallery)

The debate is as Rahul Bhattacharya, who has given a verbal back up to the project, puts it, that of fear and desire. Urbanization has become a perennial desire of most of the human beings on earth. They want to move into the city centres or suburbs and live a life that is mechanically devised the urban systems that include both human beings who are in power and the machines that are in control. At the same time, this desire engenders the fear for the uprootedness or the impending dislocations. Caught between these two emotional states human beings live in edge, expending their ultimate doom or deliverance.

I appreciate Vibha’s decision to show this project in the atrium of a mall. Mall is a place where fear and desire manifest literally amongst the people who visit there. I have observed the emotional status of the people who hang out in malls; they believe in what they see and what they experience. The temperature controlled and glass cased atmosphere of the mall give the people a feeling of eternity. Mall is like a film or like poetry; it helps you to suspend your disbeliefs willingly. You completely absorb the ‘given’ reality into your system until you are rudely shocked to the ‘real’ real once you step out of the mall. Mall is an ultimate example, a micro world of spectacle as envisioned by Guy Debord.

(Shoppers walking past Neo-Monoster)

What Vibha does is placing a spectacle within the spectacle. Hence, even a non-citizen of the art world, an ordinary loiterer, a casual visitor, a discerning shopper, or a shopaholic, would find this spectacle believable and its ideas palatable. Could the ideas be thought, discussed and debated by the onlookers who just pass by? I don’t think we need to expect them to do so. Neo-Monster stands as a gentle reminder of the shocks that we otherwise receive in our day to day life, as we witness the expansion gears shifting to top by the developers. The very spectacularity of the work invites the viewer to it.

As I stand there at the atrium witnessing people responding and reacting to the work, I realize one thing; people touch anything fluffy and soft. And also they pose before anything that is big, spectacular and eye catching, for a photograph. Irrespective of the discursive meaning what attracts people to Vibha’s works or in that case anything that is put it in a public place like the atrium of a mall, is the tactile and visual presence of it. The surprise and joy comes from the realization that they too are familiar with this ferocious machine called JCB but not this cute and ‘Disney’ version of the same.

(Neo-Monster, detail)

In due course, the visual discursive zone created by Vibha’s Neo-Monster, opens itself up to be more participatory acts. From caressing to poking, from patting to punching, from sliding to leaning, from frowning to smiling, a series of physical and emotional responses are evoked amongst the people on the very witnessing of it. Unlike the huge objects, commercial product promotional activities pepped up with light and sound, this object of Neo-Monster does not try to tell people anything. It does not ask the enthused and amused viewer to do anything with it. But the very presence of it is provocative enough to land them up into sort of discourse, which could eventually reach to the intended idea of the artist.

(Settlement, a painting by Gigi Scaria, 2007, from the show Absence of an Architect)

Art historically speaking, earth mover machines or JCBs have been a major inspiration for many artists for quite some time. Gigi Scaria, in 2007, in his solo project painted a JCB, which was structured as a building complex in itself. Though Gigi was not debating the romantic involvement with nature, he was addressing the fast changing landscape of an urban location. The brutal mobility of the machines that could primarily deconstruct and then construct a space was implied by Gigi in his work. This work was later done in a site specific sculptural installation in 2009 and was exhibited at the Christian Hosp Gallery, Berlin.

(Gigi Scaria's sculpture, 2009, before it was sent to Christian Hosp Gallery,Berlin)

Lijo and Reni Jose, two architects and artists, who excel in site specific installations and performances along with their architectural projects, had done a project with an actual JCB machine in 2007. Titled ‘Earth’, this work was performative in nature as Lijo drove a JCB machine over the earth collected from different dislocated sites.

(Site Specific performance by Lijo Jose, 2007)

Kochi based Mathai Tom had been painting the scenes of a small village near Kochi for a long time and his major concern has always been the JCB machines gnawing away the earth from the habitats, leaving houses and agricultural fields marooned in stacks. In one of the paintings, he paints a boy playing with a plastic toy while a monstrous JCB works behind him, taking away his earth.

(Paintings by Mathai Tom, 2007-08)

Shivananda Basavanthappa is another artist who has painted JCB as a monumental icon, almost loveable and worship-able in his paintings.

(Painting by Shivananda Basavanthappa, 2008)

Prasad Raghavan, in 2008-09 painted a JCB machine as an emblematic mover of the deluge. He connects its presence with the judgement day and final escape of a few species to safety as in Noah’s Ark. In his video titled Noah’s Ark, Prasad shows a JCB machines eating away earth within the Noah’s ship.

(Work by Prasad Raghavan)

To watch Prasad Raghavan’s Noah’s Ark in youtube, follow this link