So this is it. Four fabulous weeks of engaging so intimately with art and artistes have finally come to an end. Tomorrow, i.e., the 19th June’ 2013 is the open day for the PEERS Residency. The five artistes who have intensely negotiated with their materials and artistic thought processes are ready with their works in their varied structures and non-structures. Today was a flurry of activity abuzz in the Khoj residence. Last minute arrangements and the rush to finish up the installations and work has made busy beavers of the artistes.

 

Juhika weaving in the blades into the ribbons almost appeared as a cellist playing the strings of the cello passionately. Pratik was hassled trying to arrange for a particular electrical cord while Parag was busy cleaning up the larger than life vessels that he’ll be installing. Its been a very wet four days in Delhi, and though there is muck and water logging everywhere, it has not been the least bit of a dampener for these young creators. The casualty however was the studio visit planned for Zuleikha Allana’s studio a couple of days back. Due to heavy water logging and incessant downpour some of us couldn’t make it. But for the one’s who did get the opportunity to visit her studio, it was an enriching experience. For Parag the visit was exciting as in the course of his interaction with Zuleikha, he had an insight into her thought process. He is quite intrigued by her play with text and her look towards creating art stemming as stories basically.

 

We also had an impromptu interaction with one of India’s foremost photographers, Dayanita Singh who just dropped by at the Khoj studios. What followed was almost an hour of intense conversation regarding the medium of photography. In that one hour, Singh gave us some meaningful insight into the virtues of being patient and not jumping the gun to have shows without building up an oeuvre that is unique to the individual. How in order to be an artiste one must strive to gather experience and live the experience in a country like India.

 

For me as the critic-in-residence, PEERS has been a challenging period. A challenge to my perceptions of contemporary art, a challenge to what I thought of as the artistic form, a challenge to my understanding and imagination of materiality, among many others. It was a strange space that got together six diverse individuals with their own vocabulary of art and understanding of who an artiste is. This encounter meddled with our minds and forced us to step out of our comfort zones and think out of the box. And it is this tangential thinking process that has been the most important and essential take away for me from PEERS 2013 and one that is crucial to my shaping up as a critical thinker/writer of art.

(PEERS 2013 Open Day is from 7 pm onwards at the Khoj Studio on the 19th June’2013)

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‘Art is a game between all people of all periods’ – Marcel Duchamp

While looking into the creative processes of the artists at the PEERS Residency, the one critical aspect that has struck me is the word PLAY. Is it necessary to create art in a sense of veneration that makes the process or the artwork sacrosanct canonizing it in art history? Or is there room for play in contemporary art? While contemplating on this dynamic in art, I found the above mentioned quote by Duchamp, one of the master artists in the history of modern art who so effortlessly blended play and humor in his works and one of my favourite artistes. While at times I have seen the artistes indulge delve into their artworks with absolute fun and at times with almost a sense of frivolity. Therein lie my role as the critic to be able to deconstruct this synergy between contemporary art and play.

According to Nicolas Bourriaud, artistic activity is a game, whose forms, patterns and functions develop and evolve according to periods and social contexts and is not an immutable essence. Contemplating over how Parag or Shashi has been developing their artistic process in these few weeks, one can discern this very sense of a game evolving in their creative process. For instance in the ten days that Parag was involved in his intimate engagement with the wheat flour (atta), he constantly reiterated that he was enjoying the process and that he had to have fun while engaging in the performance. In his process of creating the video work, Shashi too indulges in a sense of play and the efforts behind the shoot with a black string and water clearly had an element of fun and humor. So how does this play become an important aspect of the artiste and his artistic process?

For me as a student of theory, I have been deeply intrigued by the theory of relational aesthetics where Bourriaud propounds that ‘art is a state of encounter’. In all the works that these five artistes are creating, it has been more than just a passive viewing of the works unlike a cinema for instance. It has been indeed an encounter for me as the viewer/critic when I step into their studios to see the works and observe their processes. There is not just a play in the creation of the art works, but also a constant re-negotiation with the idea of the artistic form. Contemporary art practice has problematized the idea of the artistic form and no longer can one go back to the earlier formalistic ways of looking at artistic form. Form has become a lasting encounter that is constantly befuddling the aesthetic experience of the viewer. This is the nature of contemporary art that has gone much beyond the canvas on the wall.

With the open day for PEERS 2013 almost knocking at our doors, I am eager to experience the encounter that these forms and materials seek to create with the viewers as well as the artistes themselves. And oh, by the way the open day is on the 19th of June at the Khoj space and everyone is welcome. Do share your aesthetic experience with me, I am awaiting that.

It has been just over two weeks now into the PEERS Residency and the Khoj space is crackling with activity and creativity. The artistes are now full swing into creating their works of art having familiarized themselves to the space and the city of Delhi. The sun has also given way to the city’s first shower. In the midst of such developments, the one aspect of the art-making process that has struck me as a thinker, has been the question and the notion of material and materiality.

 

The artistes at the residency are using a plethora of materials ranging from found objects to wheat flour to ribbons to photographs etc. This begs the question for me how significant is the material to an artiste when she or he is creating an artwork and especially in the context of contemporary art. Materiality as an aesthetic concept has evolved out of formalism’s interest in the purely visual aspects of art and structuralism’s interest in context and communication[1]. Hence, while pondering over the artistic processes of these artistes, I am beset with understanding what is it that the artiste wants to communicate with the materials that he/she has chosen. What is the allegorical or metaphorical significance of that particular material being which will be displayed in that particular space? Does it encompass a bit of the artiste’s personal history as well?

 

For instance Parag has been in a continuous performance with wheat flour for 10 consecutive days whereby he shuts himself up in his studio for hours and plays with the flour which has covered up the entire studio, so much so that by now, the distinction whether the flour has become an extension of him or has he become an extension of the flour has become blurred. What does such an intimate engagement with an inanimate object mean to the performance artiste? By such an act, Parag has subverted the traditional meaning of flour and has infused in a life that is unique to that inanimate object. But while probing him further, he opened up about how his fascination for stones as a child has actually been transposed into this negotiation of his body and atta for this residency. So how much of a personal history then, does an artiste imbibe in his creative process? Last week we also had an interactive session with one of India’s foremost artistes – Pushpamala N, who is known globally for her photo performances. A sculptor by training, Pushpamala has effortlessly made a shift into the medium of photography performances many years back. She has created some of the most interesting and important works of performances in this medium in contemporary Indian art. In her works, one can discern the influence of elements of history and popular culture which she has appropriated and then subverted. Does such work also carry traces of a personal history or does it question the teleology of history?

 

In my quest as the critic-in-residence to understand this significance of materiality and its impact on the aesthetic experience, I have gone around engaging with the artistes in a dialog on materiality – is the material the most important element for an artiste when they are conceptualizing the work or is the material secondary to the concept? For some it is the concept that is of primary importance which leads them to pick up the material later whereas for others, materiality plays an equally important role even at the conceptualizing stage.

 

Thus, in this last couple of weeks here at Khoj, I want to pursue the meaning and the understanding of the many different trajectories that lead to the creation of works of art in context to contemporary Indian art. Observing the artistic processes closely has clearly given me much food for thought as a critic and thinker than I had previously thought. This almost syncretic exchange of values and ideas between me and the artistes is what has been the fulcrum to provoke me into thinking beyond what there already is to study in art history and theory.


[1] Mills, Christina ‘Materiality as the Basis for the Aesthetic Experience In Contemporary Art’, The University of Montana, Missoula, MT, May 2009

Remnants from Pratik's StudioShashi at his studioThere is something always exciting and enlightening for young artistes about getting introduced and acquainted with the works of established senior artistes. The last few days at the Khoj PEERS Residency provided us with the opportunity of getting to know intimately the work of such established artistes like Vishal K. Dar, Arunkumar HG and Asim Waqif. While Vishal visited us at the Khoj premises, we got well-rounded sneak peeks into the studios of Arunkumar and Asim Waqif.

Through the week, the engagement that we have had with these artistes and amongst ourselves have given rise to understanding new vocabularies and process in contemporary art work. Vishal Dar’s works span a plethora of mediums and materials. He has to his oeuvre installation works along with video art, video film, photographs etc. In his interaction, Vishal posited some provocative questions regarding art. What makes a work sculpture and not installation or vice-versa? This question brought forth questions of one’s own artistic practice as well as how to view artworks from a critical point of view. The two hour long engagement with Vishal complicated notions of the digital medium within my own ambit of understanding what is the materiality of the medium. What defines and how the medium can be subverted, how cross-referentiality can be played in this hyperreal simulacrum that we find ourselves in. For the young artistes it was also an enlightening discussion on the performativity of performance vis-à-vis the digital medium and live performance.

The studio visits presented before us two stark realities of how different the artistic process may be. While Arunkumar’s studio was a study of structured work, Asim’s studio was a study of organized chaos. As a critical thinker on artistic processes, I am sort of beset by the question if the geographical positionality of an artist’s studio has any sort of influence on her/his works? I would like to think that the location of the artist’s studio engages the artist in a dialog with the cityscape[1] in myriad ways and their works do reflect that regular one-on-one engagement that they have with the locality. Asim’s studio represents the diverse range of works that he has experimented with in his artistic career. An architect by training, the studio is a unique study of ‘accumulation of waste’. From bamboos to broken sewing machines to mirrors to empty cigarette packets to the chassis of an old discarded out of production bike – one just needs to look at the studio to be able to gauge the fact that artistic language need not be fixed on a certain idea of materiality. Waste becomes a discourse in itself when engaged with the notion of art. What was however a common thread that could be discerned between all the three artistes was the internalization of the current political discourses in their artworks. Vishal’s works plays intelligently with the subversion of popular visual tropes and tropes associated with the Indian nation-state. One of Waqif’s work ‘Lavaris Vastu’ is an unsettling work on the otherisation of the citizenry in the city whereby public space is appropriated by an over zealous state machinery.  Arunkumar’s works are again deeply personal and political in his responses to crises such as farmers’ suicides in India’s villages.

The five artistes too have been undergoing a process of transformation and re-looking at what their own idiom is in their art practice. The studios are buzzing with activity – with retaining and discarding of ideas, of materials, of verbs, of nouns, of words, of art. Pratik is contemplating with the idea of engaging a found old two seater sofa in his installation. He is almost deriving a cinematic sense of art-direction in his installation piece, which again may alter dramatically over the next few days. Parag too is in a flux where he is re-thinking on his original idea of performance and performativity. Juhika is playing with a new material – local ribbons – for her site specific installation but again in the process of incorporating an idiom from her art practice – steel blades – with the ribbons. Niyati is working on her appropriation of the documentation of certain street performing traditions from Delhi. Sashi is again working with a plethora of objects ranging from empty egg trays to bricks to water colors.

Boris Groys understands contemporary as not necessarily being in present, it means to be ‘with time’ rather than ‘in time’. Thus, negotiating the artistic ruptures of these five young artistes in the contemporaneity of time, I feel that through their artistic process, their works are evolving into being ‘comrades of time’. According to Groys, art begins to document a repetitive, indefinite and perhaps an indefinite present as well. This present that was already there, can be prolonged into an indefinite future – and this is what I am looking forward to as the critic-in-residence, to see the infinitesimal possibilities that the to be born artworks of these five artistes can become into a study of locating the present in a time that is yet to come. To study how temporality need not be a real time temporality and how that hyperreal temporality plays with the space into which it is located at this moment or at the moment two hours away from now or even two months or two years away.


[1] Because I am based in a urban milieu and the artistes that I have interacted with are also from an urban setting

It is the middle of a searing summer in Delhi where the temperatures are engaging in some kind of a sinister internal duel to go one up on each other – one day it is 44 degrees Celsius and the other day it is 46 degrees. In the midst of this sweltering five young artistes and one art critic have convened from all over the country at one of the most intrepid art spaces – KHOJ, for the annual PEERS Residency program. The residency kick started on the 23r

 

At the Khirki Masjid

At the Khirki Masjid

In quiet contemplation

In quiet contemplation

d of May and it’s been four days of discovery, ideations, critical thinking and creating.

As the critic-in-residence, I have this enviable position of engaging critically and closely with five interesting young artistes with their own unique idioms and styles. The artistes for this year – Juhikadevi Bhanjdeo, Parag Sonarghare, Niyati Upadhyay, Shashi Thavudoz and Pratik Bhattacharya – come from different schools of art and thinking. And to negotiate their works in the contemporaneity of art in specific and visual culture in general is the challenge that I see myself in. What is truly exciting is not just trying to locate their artworks in the discourse of contemporary art but also seeking avenues that may give rise to a new idiom in art-criticism or even re-thinking what art in the contemporary entails.

The introduction to the residency program started with a presentation of the artworks by the artistes in the presence of Pooja Sood, the Director of Khoj and the other members of the Khoj team. We were lucky as two stalwarts of contemporary Indian art – Arunkumar HG and Sumedh Rajendran were present and provided the artistes with their critical inputs. The presentation session was the right impetus for each of us to engage in with one another’s artistic language and concepts. As a theoretical person I am quite interested in the theories of transculturalism and cosmopolitanism and that of the polysemous identity of the individual. Thus, after getting introduced to the works and interests of the artistes, I had an engaging discussion with Pratik and Parag regarding the flow of signs and signage systems in the contemporary neo-liberal world and how it presents itself in every aspect of the world outside and in visual culture.

Every since Baudelaire came up with his theory of the flaneur which inspired the Impressionists like Manet to move wander through the streets of Paris and create their artworks. The first two days of the residency, we donned up the gear of the flaneur and the flaneuse to know and respond to the city. Delhi, as a city is a city of nostalgia and memory. Hence, our first trip was to the nearby Khirki mosque – a resplendent relic of the Delhi Sultanate remaining static now in ruins followed by a trip to the historically significant Chandni Chowk in the older part of Delhi. These urban spaces represent the implosion of the oppositional poles of modernity and tradition, the old and the neo. Thus, seeing these art-practitioners engage with the immediacy of a memory and history centuries old vis-à-vis their own artistic practice reminded me of Collete Conroy’s investigation of the foundations of self determination and the emergence of the individual in a network of discourses. She posits that the body is a way of thinking about the points of connection between the person and the world; it is a way of thinking about the flesh or matter or morphology or biology of a person, and how that conflicts with, connects with or constitutes culture[1]. The negotiation of their bodies and the materiality of the surroundings is significant in the creation of new artworks of these art practitioners and the search of a new lexicon to look at their art practice for me. The coming weeks hold promise of some radical creations by these artistes and I am eagerly looking to the rupture that they may create in the construction of a decisive art work in an idiom that truly belongs to them.


[1] Conroy, Collete, “Theatre and the Body”, P 32