Art News & Views

An Attitude for the Indian New Media


by HA Anil Kumar

The irony of the New Media is that it tries to prove that it is not a media, forget about being new. It defies the terminological essence as well as the essential terms (and conditions) of a medium, in an attempt to terminate it in newer modes, as well. In other words, New Media in Art might be different from technological media in the general sense, though the same apparatus is engaged. This is the premise and the way in which those within the art community might demarcate, owing to the human limitation of artists rather than the artistic limitation of humans. 'Defining' a recognized media like painting, sculpture, graphics means 'defying' new media in essence. What do I mean by this?

New media, first of all, is a readymade. And readymadea la Duchampdoes not outrightly defy conventionally familiar media as much as it defies the manual labour attested to a medium. What else is there to the convention of a media beyond its manual labour?
  (a)     The coinage of the term 'work' in the phrase 'work-of-art', since Modernism;
  (b)     Its Marxist attitude underlying therein; and

The invention of photography -- did not together lead to readymade but suggested the possibility of new media as an attitude with the essence of a unique kind of readymade within.

Thus trying to ascribe or decipher new media in the same mode in which we identify a conventional media would be a desire to drive motors with a pre-supposed determined training in bullock-cart driving. Thus new media art, equipped with the readymade-ness, different from that attested to Duchamp, defies the definitive possibility of media. In a way, defying the idea of a media is new media. The new media not only (i ) rejects the clear-cut outline of a media and (ii) falsify the interactive ability between two media, but also (iii) refuses to wear the mantle of any semblance to any artistic media known till date.

In other words, new media in art contests the institutionalization of media. By doing this, human expression has found a literally virtual premise to 'real'ise its creative expression, beyond the 'real'. There is a third angle in which the new media refuses media-isation. Portions of the conventional elements of a known media is translated from real to the virtual (using virtual documentation of actual work as ingredients of an artwork; for instance the photograph extracted from a documentary video and proved as a creative work of art), by commixing it with or without its virtual avatar. For instance, a photograph or a videoas part of a new media artshifts not only its essence from domestic usage to a creative premise, but also alters its very existence, by becoming a medium-of-expression, by agreeing to being a medium to transport something real into virtual; and also accommodates the co-existence of these two together in any which way possible. (a) The infinity of the universe is replaced not only by the possible existence of multi-universe, but also the co-existence of infinity of universe with impossibility of interaction between multi-verses is being permitted. Interestingly, the widespread reception of new media and the scientific imagination of multi-verse occurred at the same time, perhaps with the aid of the very the same technical apparatus that triggered both of them!

A quick look at the way the media-suave art in last one century has traversed, indicates the attack of the media over 'an' idea (collage upon realism), idea over 'the'ness of media (conceptual art), but the distinguished premise of 'idea' and 'media' refuse to dissolve or collide, like, say, just a multi-verse. Photography or/and video is thus definitively indefinable as part of the project called New Media, but it is not to be considered as a failed project. The very nature of new media, from the perspective of the convention to which both the artist, audience and the media is conditioned, is hence understood only conditionally. And the condition is that the new media can be grasped only in comparison with another familiar one and along with the baggage of perceptive strands that this has implanted within us. There is a media which is new, just because there are/were many older ones, agreeing to co-exist or even submerge within the new, so as to renew the latter.

Hence we come to the most difficult part of New Media art. How definite or defined is its definition? The history of expressive media in visual culture, since Renaissance, indicates that a self-definition followed a media; or a definition was allocated to a creative media after and based on the latter's birth and evolution, and never the other way round. New media, seeming to gel with this what seems to be in line with the millennium's definition of media, both endorses and refutes it both at the same. The difference is this: the norms of history of media dealing with representational realism from past five hundred years are integral matter to the documenting apparatus called as photography and video. Alternatively, the 'complexity' becomes much more 'sophisticated' when the outline of very documentary apparatus juxtaposes with the outline of a media of expression when video and photography is engaged. This can be simplified: the frame itself is framed and the documentary apparatus itself deserves to be documented. This is the achievement of the new media works, in general, no matter be it the videos of Nam June Paik or the photo-sculptures of Boyd Webb or Bruce Nauman irritating by saying 'thank you' innumerable times in his sound installation or a photographic still from a video being claimed as a self-complete creative entity.

The new media in art, owing to its virtual-as-real characterization, had to face its challenge from a premise which the new media (outside art) had nothing to do with. The technical 'gadgetisation', as Baudrillard famously said ('Simulations'), removed that power one gets by owing a car and everyone is empowered to own a mobile. However, that was not to be and the way new media art in India has been inculcated is testimony to this.

Consider a case: the practice of video-art in Indian context. Owing to the assurance that new media guarantees aspects like uniformity and globalization, an art critic was once instructing a video artist that the edges of the video frame should be blurred. An artist-photographer, after practicing for a while, which seemed like a while, was enquiring with one of her friend about the details of the practice of 'artist proof' (A/P) and the like. And the simplest questions always asked by never articulated is “does photography and video make new media art?” as if to ignore the fact that the virtual essence of the sum total of the real and artistic world was the beginning of the simulated, cutting edge and similarly named art attitudes. Making a new media work might sound absurd, for, it is absurd. You can paint, sculpt but not 'make' a 'new media work'. For, there is no clear cut division between the known media and the unaccounted material consumed within the premise of new media. At the same, most new media Indian artists are also those whose past was engaged in creating media-specific artworks.

Artists making photographic-art, video-art and video-installations in India began to place their physical-self in front of the camera (Umesh Madanahalli, Surekha, Pushpamala, Anita Dube, Archana Hande, Shakuntala Kulkarni, Sonia Khurana, Smitha Cariappa, Bharatesh Yadav and the like). On the other hand, there was no reference of these artists' self-portrayal in their own pre-techno-suave artistic expressions. Also the way in which they pose themselves in front of the camera--with exceptions though, particularly when they perform in natural or orchestrated settings are to deal with fragmentation of the notion of manual labour of sort. Most of these artists are not professional performers.

Thus, with the absence of an earlier tendency to self-portrayal, and with a current ambition for self-referentiality, such preoccupation of the artists behind technological device and within the camera-aesthetics re-attributes the 'cultural definition of manual labour in a nationalistic premise', with artists themselves serving as live testimony to such a social practice. Just like the popularity of new media in art and that of multi-verse coincide, the re-allocation of manual labour and cultural effect in Indian context unites. The boom in the outsourcing of this manual labour through Indian Information Technology sector and the new media artist pushing his/her self in front of the camera have something in similar.

In other words, photography and videography, as engaged in artistic expression in India, are technically unsound in relation to the way in which these very media are engaged in, say, the new media. This lack is deliberate, intentional and is the result of a pre-condition amongst such artists to overcome or meander through the intimate relation that technological excellence and gadgets have in between them. What the outburst of digital cameras did to the authoritarian arrogance of the dark-room photographers is the way in which the self-performative desires of video-artists did to new media in general. Not only the final output but also the very studio-practice was dissolved, deconstructed and dislocated. In a way the classical, filmy picture of an artist holding a palette and brush in front of the camera was modified into squeezed spacing of the manual involvement.

New media art, in this sense, contests the pedagogic practice of art education. The number of hours spent by sculpture and graphic students in particular in any well known or ill known art schools makes them doubt the credentiality of the metamorphosed image of authorship of an artist. The conceptualization, camera handling skills, engineering the sound and editing nuances (of both that of photo and video) are the various skills that a new media artist adopts, borrows or debits, during the course of which the relationship between authorship of Indian new media art becomes very specific to a fast fading national art. It could be the last nail not in the coffin of Indian nationalist art but into the general acceptance that virtual media of art is universal throughout the Earth!


Image Courtesy: The Artists


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