Art News & Views

Cutting the ‘Edge/No Edge’


by Snehal Tambulwadikar

Snehal Tambulwadikar, in her article, traces the cutting edge art against the backdrop of the world art history. According to her, the tendency towards the cutting edge art has always been present in the works of the artists of all ages. What differentiates the contemporary cutting edge artists is the way art questions, is being questioned and how the artist’s identity is defined.

It is difficult to mark the origins and practices of something whose existence itself is denied, the task thus goes to define it in the first place, and to define would be to cease its being; for nothing and everything could be a cutting edge. The definition rather complicates the matters as every period has its rebels, fighters and cutting edges. One would rather probe into the reason that the need to talk about these practices to such extent arises now.

Where and when exactly can cutting edge art practices said to have began. Could, Manet’s (1832-1883) Olympia or Luncheon on Grass would be the earliest of cutting edge art, a strong comment on contemporary or it could be even earlier, with the Romantics; for cutting edge is something which have changed the ways of seeing. The cutting edge practitioners are generally the artists form conceptual art, the ones who went beyond the limits of perception of what and what all could be art. As is it interesting to enquire into the actual art, so is it equally significant to understand what led these artists to get off the mark. The 70s saw the rise of activists questioning the social, gender and economic order. With the coming up of number of critical theories, structuralists, feminists, psychoanalysts and deconstructions, the way to conceive and perceive an artwork underwent dramatic changes. The practices of Marina Abramović (1946), Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), Damien Hirst (1965) opened new vistas in the art practices. But these have undercurrents of politics and social order. The artists were responding to the events that upturned the humane there, the Holocaust, World War II, the Capitalism, Cold War. The works were reactions; the aesthetics of these was drastically deviated from the early practices. Abramović not only marks the earliest of performance and body arts, she initiates the very pioneers of cutting edge, breaking the barriers between the artist and the medium, artist herself becomes the media. Ana Mendieta is another of the artists whose art is off the hook. A Cuban migrated to America at young age, her works comment on issues of gender, social order and that of belonging. Her land art works have undercurrents of her non-belonging of a single land, identity crisis. The Conceptual artists, Piero Manzoni, who sold Artist Shit, Artist breath, Artist autograph could be easily goofed as gimmick, but is a comment of the then relevant market rule in the United States. Damien Hirst, one of the most powerful market persons, uses the same, plays with the conceptions of mind. The Stuckists (who call themselves as the international art movement for contemporary figurative painting with ideas), emerged as a powerful comment on these practices, scorn Hirst strongly, the latest art product they have is a book, How To Draw Objects As You See Them.

The essay, by no means, is an overview of Western art practices, but these few examples suggest that the art practices there have had some political, personal, social lineage, the artists are responding to particular orders. It would be interesting to probe into similar matters in the context of cutting edge in India. The Indian artists have not had any of the singular/particular factors on which they have unanimously commented, the first comment on these practices is thus that the artists are not responsible, to which the reply is that art is individual expression and does not need to be a social comment. The Western practices, which are generally taken as lead, are not such individual comments, though they seem to be anti-art. It would be rather fruitful to swot the aesthetics of these deconstructions, what really should be compared are not the Western art practices with India, but the methods to study either.

Having being discussed the artists like Mendieta and Abramović, let’s get along with the idea of body as an art. The artist who previously tried to locate his self in others now himself becomes the ‘other’, the body becomes a medium, a way to protest, a way to statement, the cutting edge. One can certainly say that Amrita Shergill was the earliest of cutting edge artists in India, who used her body as a medium of expression, her art and life paved a new way to the modern. Bringing her example in simplifies and complicates matters at the same time. The cutting edge cannot be just for the usage of media, it is just the simplest one can express, like Shergill put up her liberty by her portraits. Then what is the reason that takes Sonia Khurana to have a naked performance for putting forth of an issue which Manet could do equally well with his painting Luncheon on Grass or an Amrita Shergill self portrait? The comparison may seem unruly, but one needs to understand what exactly has changed, the artist mind, the viewership or anything else, for the core concern is similar. With more and more youngsters adopting these practices, to define and understand the cutting edge is becoming seemingly difficult. If all is cutting edge, it would cease to be a cutting edge at all. There seems to be a wide aesthetical gap between the actual works and the understanding of the same. There does not seem to be a natural lineage which leads to ‘the art’. Many of the successful cutting edge practitioners have taken to the likes of Damien Hirst in marketing, and have made it big, banking on their Indianness, which does not identify with the local audience. The Indian artists seem to be in binaries of self and national identity, wanting to make an individual mark as also in the global village.  Most young artists by projecting their lives are reflecting the dilemmas of their contemporaries. The visual language shall take time to be rooted, the new media cause much rage rather than ideas. The cutting edge is rather created than natural, not all artists’ attempt deliberate. Ranbir Kaleka (special mentions for his transition from traditional to the exquisite video art), Rumana Husain, Kiran Subbaiah, Mithu Sen, Baptist Coelho and many other artists seem to be using the media to an interesting juncture, giving more and more possibilities for further queries.

What exactly marks the edge, media or the idea, why does one consider art of Subodh Gupta cutting edge, only because the medium was not used before? Now that becomes a very dicey way of looking at the practice for today every art could be the cutting edge. The misunderstanding not only confuses us, but has also confused the artists, young and masters. The young have the conception that only innovativeness becomes a cutting edge, while veterans question its validity as art. Jogen Chowdhury makes a candid comment, the experiments should be done, but in the end what began as art should remain art. He says that the not the idea itself, but its expression is art, only putting up a concept leads nowhere. And expression has no bounds of media. The youngsters on the other hand are willing to experiment more and more, as nothing new can be created any more, they have to grove up novice methods to present/represent something which has already been done in one way. The contemporary aesthetics is not about beauty but identity; globalization has led more and more to regional politics, artists unduly becoming a part of it. They are trying to gather the traces and leave back their own. It would be an easy escape by stating that the contemporary practices are hardly art, or imitations. There must be a strong reason why such a large number of artists unanimously wish to be influenced by singular concepts of practice. They seem to be gathering their ‘selves’, sometimes through the sociale, many times through subjects very much their own. Rather the artists have never been so responsive/responsible to their identity and beings. One has to answer new questions now, can art be good or bad, or should the artist be responsible for the society/state. Is the artist not trying to gain a social status by trying to find his identity, and if so how could he be non responsible? Many artists use their third world identities to showcase out and gain out of it, but that ends where it began, that too makes a statement of national call for. High time one ceases to label and overrate artists, anywhere/everywhere. The problem is not with art, rather with the theorists, methodologies; for terming artists may not take us places; not artists, but art is cutting edge.

Cutting edge is all encompassing, painting, photography, sculpture, performance; all and none are part of same. Chandralekha’s experiments could also be cutting edge, where she brings visuality to performance, while visual artists perform. It’s about transgressing the media towards a curious aesthetic, curious for accepted/rejected it makes a mark; and aesthetic for it is about the expression/impression rather than beauty and pleasure. This transgression is evolution, and await the new is what one has to do. By defining the art which is so dynamic, one could make it deceased, which has happened to some artists who banked upon their success and pickled their art to bore. The new art puts upon more of a responsibility on writing, for it becomes an equally significant performance, cutting edge is fast diminishing boundaries between ‘the entire’, no stopping to ponder.

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