Ghosts in the Machines
Maripelly Praveen Goud's explorations in our digital/mechanical age
by Waswo X. Waswo
In a recent Untitled Video Projection with Installation (as the artist has called it) the hands of Maripelly Praveen Goud could be seen methodically crumpling sheets of printed paper with the mindless determination of a machine. Each flat sheet of paper had been previously printed (by an offset press) with a solid black field containing only a white-lined grid. As the artist crumpled these gridded sheets he transformed them, disturbing their austere logicality and imparting them with randomly evocative form. One by one the crumpled black forms were fixed upon a white wall to ironically form yet one more grid. What is left is just as much the documentation of a performance as it is an installation. The young artist ingeniously couples printmaking with performance with video with sculpture with installation. The entire act of creation, destruction, transfiguration and re-creation becomes in fact the essence of the work. Currently working out of his studio at SPACE in Baroda, Maripelly Praveen has managed to assert the importance of his work at a young age. He is one of but a handful of artists in India who have sought to push the boundaries of printmaking into the realm of installation and new media.
At first glance a viewer might find a disconnect in Maripelly Praveen's imagery. The artist often presents both low and high tech subject matter through media that is historically the oldest forms available to the printmaker's craft. Both the woodcut and the serigraph (silk screen) were developed hundreds of years ago in China as methods for producing multiples, and both were widely in use in Asia before their introduction to Europe and the West. The original function of these forms of printing was to disseminate religious imagery for the edification/proselytization of the masses. Strangely, Goud has used these extremely ancient techniques to explore today's world of electronics, technology, gadgetry, and the cultural implications of this use.
A good place to begin looking at the artist's oeuvre might be the lengthy, thirteen part untitled woodcut which spells out the word “ENLIGHTENMENT”. Each letter of the word appears to be white, but in fact is an absence of black. The letters seem trapped within ironically dark light bulbs. Surrounding each bulb a grid-frame of white spots both disturbs the eye and alludes to the mathematics of circuitry and digitalized knowledge. Praveen's interest in science clearly runs deeper than an attraction to gadgetry and invention. His historical awareness runs back to The Enlightenment, considered by scientists and rational thinkers to be a turning point in humankind's ability to empirically reason, logically deduce, and separate themselves from the unproven dogmas of superstition and religion. Goud is in fact utilizing the same historical methods of multiplying imagery that were once used to circulate Chinese religious iconographies to explore where the values of “enlightenment” (perhaps in a religious sense) intersect with the values of “The Enlightenment” (the era that ushered in the current scientific age and continues to shape the world today).
Some of M. Praveen Goud's works, such as the combined woodcut/serigraph titled Creation, hold no such obvious philosophical queries, but none-the-less engages us with thought. In Creation we find a tightly intertwined mass of grey circuitry reminiscent of the intricate folds of the human brain. The circuit-brain of this image is not however “plugged in”, and we are left wondering if it is best to leave it that way. The viewer is not allowed to stare at these images impassively. We are presented with a tension that demands a judgment or reconciliation, a tension visually intensified with the optical confusion of the dotted borders.
Similarly the artist's “portraits”, hip and fun as they first appear, actually pose darker questions of contemporary life's addiction/dependence upon machines and technology. In Goud's portrait series we encounter modern day characters that are sometimes reproduced from fashion magazines and other forms of pop media. But the artist has transformed these individuals with the addition of plugs, sockets, light bulbs, wiring, conduit, and the ever encircling “digital grid”. As the title of the series Electro-Sapiens suggests, these individuals' grasp on reality is questioned by their seeming need to consume and be consumed by technologies. It is as if they live in a limbo between the real and the virtual, the self-performed and the mechanical. Playful as these portraits are, they never deviate too far from the artist's primary concern.
In the large triptych Modernization we are given a metropolis whose central feature is a pair of twin towers impossible to disassociate from New York's ill-fated World Trade Center. With oversize light bulbs crowning these monumental structures (that seem to need bracing from their architectural surroundings) they might represent the very pillars of technological accomplishment that has its roots in the rationality of The Enlightenment. Yet, in a seeming sequel, Goud gives us Falling Towers, a sculpture of the same two towers cracked and about to topple.
As a young artist M. Praveen Goud is far from realizing a complete development of his ideas. But in what he has accomplished to date we see a mind probing the relation between reason, science, art, and religion. His dark light bulbs that fail to illuminate, his plugged in people with unplugged brains, his towering structures that seem ripe for a fall, all posit questions for our age. Has the human race become addicted to technologies while at the same time it has forgotten the light of reason bequeathed to it by the thinkers of The Enlightenment? Have we entered a new age of technologically driven, but rationality deprived, “Endarkenment”? Maripelly is, like most all of us, a member of the digital age and a benefactor of electronics and gadgetry. Yet he returns to the ancient arts of woodcut and silk screen to disseminate a new mantra. This mantra sounds from a mandala of an encircling and seemingly infinite digital grid.
The artist admits to being enthralled by the beauty of machines, and has expressed their utilitarian beauty in an earlier series of woodcuts. During his student days at the FFA, Baroda, he created a set of ten woodcuts oddly (digitally?) numbered 0 through 9. Each of these woodcuts is titled Machine and depicts various types of road building apparatus. Whether or not these images symbolize progress in the form of infrastructure, or devastation in the form of environmental loss, is left up for the viewer to decide. They stand as mute but powerful emblems, managing to evoke both the nostalgic and the contemporary simultaneously.
At the age of 25, Maripelly Praveen Goud already has to his credit an H.R.D. scholarship from New Delhi's Ministry of Culture, a National Academy Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi (2009), and an H.K. Kejriwal Young Artist Award from Mahua Art Gallery, Bangalore (2010). He has also participated in group exhibitions at Gallery BMB in Mumbai, Art Konsult in New Delhi, and more recently, KHOJ New Delhi and a prestigious group exhibition at the International Print Center New York.