Art News & Views

Definitional Lack in an Inclusive World: Cutting Edge as Responsible Art


by Johny ML

The freer you become the heavier your responsibilities. Art without responsibility could be trendy and fashionable but all trends get dumped when new trends appear. To remain as an engaging practice, cutting edge art should have an inclusive approach and the artists should have a political awareness and responsibility, says Johny ML

It has been always there in the art scene; misinformation, misunderstanding and miscommunication. Today, many artists, gallerists and art journalists speak a lot about cutting edge art. At times, even some of the art lovers refuse to look at the 'conventional' stuff like painting and sculpture. 'We want more and it should be cutting edge', they seem to say. Cutting edge art does not sit on the wall. Nor does it sit on the floor. It sits there precariously within the dark rooms, plasma television screens, computer monitors, strange frames, hazy photographs and so on. But remember, they sit there without being defined.

Between idea and practice, between execution and understanding, as far as cutting edge art is concerned, there is a very huge gap, at least in the case of India. Primarily, the problem lies in where the definition becomes next to impossible and theorization is still a not-seen-anywhere possibility. Hence, cutting edge art often operates within a definitional lack. This lack is accentuated by the speed with which technologies change, software re-inscribes beliefs and above all by the speed with which certain artists pursue these changes. Thanks to this newness of art that they do, the sheer novelty and the ingrained surprise element thanks to the lesser faculties of the onlooker to tackle with all what has been dealt in such a work of art, cutting edge art has gained a revered position in our art scene.

Let me come back to the mis-es that we see in our art scene. The sudden proliferation of cutting edge and even certain artists abandoning their skills only to be lured away by the challenges posed by technologies point out how we are fed with misinformation about cutting edge art in a big way. This misinformation was rampant during the last two years as evident in the galleries' indulgence with installation art. This indulgence was the direct result of a misunderstanding by these agencies that they thought that installation art was one of the latest forms of art. They did not think even once that Indian Installation art practice had at least two decades of history to claim for itself. I would suggest that it was miscommunication generally seen in our art scene, created not only by the artists and galleries but also by the writers and journals, about whatever they do, promote, write and publish.

Keeping these mis-es as a larger backdrop to understand cutting edge practices in Indian art scene, I would dare to say that what makes cutting edge art different and what facilitates the production of cutting edge art today is the inclusive thinking that most of the intellectuals have developed all over the world during the last two decades. I insist upon these two decades because it was during these twenty years that the world saw the consolidation of nation states and their sudden allegiance to the world imperialism through economic liberalization.

The idea about a free nation state with a lot of pride about one's own nationality, and also the traumatic baggage that comes along with such a pride has helped the people understand their own histories in an exclusive fashion. However, this idea of an exclusive citizenship was challenged completely by the economic liberalization, otherwise known as globalization. Information technology driven by internet changed the perception about the world and this forced most of the world citizens to look at the world as an inclusive field of theory and praxis often contested though virtually by the former traumatic histories. For any citizen who is connected to the world through internet, it became almost a necessity to have a double citizenship; one within the nation of birth and the other in the virtual field of multiple nationalities facilitated by internet.

This double bind of the new citizen to a world that is virtually inclusive has made him think differently. He/she cannot be thinking of one singular medium with the same kind of pride that he used to feel once. He/she cannot be arguing vehemently for one singular way of expression without considering the fact that there are many ways of expressing the same issue using not only different materials but also mediums. Medium is not just message or massage. Nor do we think today that message is medium. Anything that communicates something to someone or many is the conglomeration of a set of ideas (both complicated and simple) and mediums. In this sense, whatever, these ideas and mediums could touch upon, besides them being critically engaged with the materialistic and spiritual circumstances that give birth to such ideas and mediums, becomes a message in itself.

In short, these messages do not demand a fixed material form. It could be anything, when it comes to the discourse of art. By saying this neither do I endorse the saying 'anything goes in cutting edge art' nor do I deny cutting edge art's capacity to use 'anything' to communicate an idea or a set of ideas. The inclusivity on which the cutting edge art flourishes facilitates the artists to move across disciplines, skills, technologies, ideas, theories and practices. In my view, as against many views prevalent today in our art scene, cutting edge is not oppositional to what has been termed as 'conventional', it is actually a natural, but necessary and unavoidable growth of any milieu of art production.

Therefore, cutting edge art becomes more political than what has been considered as political within the aesthetic discourse. Depicting incidents or scenes with political connotations has been one way of engaging aesthetics with politics, for most of the artists. But today, for an artist who does cutting edge art or he/she considers what he/she does is cutting edge art, whether he/she uses technologies or not, the very act of making or doing such an art form itself becomes a very political act because any art form that takes shapes in and away from the existing art forms is liable to address the very vital issue of it being different and locating the difference is a political act. Besides, cutting edge art, so long as it operates as an inclusive form of ideation and (re)presentation, is directly in touch with the entity called society, which is nothing other than a politico-economic and cultural body.

Today, however, many young people who are in fact born to this new milieu of inclusive economics and culture, and pretty much ignorant about the aesthetical debates of the yester years, tend to do and deal with cutting edge art as an easy way out to be trendy and fashionable. One could be fashionable and trendy by doing cutting edge art because cutting edge practice and products are qualified by their distinction and anything that is distinct looks trendy and fashionable. But fashionable things are seasonal also. It comes and goes and the public memory is short, whereas something that enters into the discourse only with its sheer force of existence cannot fade away easily because discursive memories are large and deep. The lack of memorable cutting edge works, though it is in its infantile stage in our country, could be discerned when we look at them as fashionable and trendy things.

Hence, I would argue that cutting edge artists have a very huge responsibility in any art scene. First of all, though at present thanks to misunderstanding so many galleries come forward to promote them, perhaps to gain visibility for themselves, cutting edge art has not proven its capacity to monetize itself in a larger economic discourse mostly driven by assets, possessions, investment ideas and so on. Cutting edge art is in a peculiar dilemma and it is in an ironic situation. Considering the lack of investment interest on cutting edge art and also despite the attention that it gains within the gallery circuits, one could say that cutting edge art is a marginal form lauded by the mainstream.

Secondly, the very inability of the cutting edge to monetize itself, at least for the time being, helps the artists to be more flexible therefore hugely critical than the artists who do conventional works. (Think of any artist who paints foliage with beautiful portraits on it. He/she is under the pressure from the dealer or gallery to continue the same because this style is what monetizes his product. In the case of a cutting edge art, a dealer cannot tell the artist to do a hazy photograph or a nude act or a video grab or a software manipulation in this or that way because number one, the dealer/gallerist does not know a thing about it and number two, even if it is in the original shape, as monetization is the last thing in the deal in whatever form it appears would make no difference to the dealer/gallerist). That means, a cutting edge artist is many times freer than a conventional artist.

But no freedom comes with less responsibility. The freer the heavier your responsibilities become. Technology, space, medium of articulation and the self are not free operational entities within the aesthetic-political discourses. The moment you utter the word technology, you smell the presence of state, corporate, economic monopolies and other defining forces that regulate our lives surreptitiously as well as blatantly. The moment you speak of space, you engage with several nuances of the public and private. Medium cannot be innocent as anyone thinks today. It is ridden by political-economic ideologies. Medium is hegemony; a hegemony that could be used against its own purpose, as we see in the case of revolutions spearheaded by social networking sites, which are primarily camouflaged business and surveillance portals. Hence, a cutting edge artist should be the most politically engaged personality of our times. If someone says that I do it because the technology is so fascinating, I would say that novice should go and play some simulated war games in his pad or pod.

To conclude, cutting edge art has been there in every juncture in the human history. But we have defined them differently. It was in 1960s we saw the efforts of formulating politics and social positioning of the individual artist through indulging greatly into the economic discourse; and it happened in a Euro-American milieu. It was then called 'conceptual art.' Today conceptual art has largely embraced technology and other fields and systems of knowledge. Alternative ideas, life-knowledge practices have given birth to new ways of thinking. Marginal ideas of the bygone times have become cool and attractive propositions of today's world. The world and its thinking have become very inclusive. Cutting Edge Art practice cannot be nothing else than being and becoming an inclusive practice, and one great thing about cutting edge art is that it is not yet defined.


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