Exhibition::Remixing Charm : Post-Painterly Art of The Local:Kolkata:03-25 July 2015
Art News & Views

In Transition

Feature

By Nanak Ganguly

Nanak Ganguly, citing the works of Chhatrapati Dutta, Chitrabhanu Majumdar, Sudarshan Shetty and Gigi Scaria argues that contemporary art production is in transition and cutting edge is an inclusive category that could accommodate even the performance art practices.

Contemporary India may be said to be in the throes of a transionality that defines itself in terms of a challenge in political theory and to earlier paradigms of nationhood, govenmentalism and developmentalism. Rapid political, economic, social and cultural upheavels that have taken place over the last one decade fuelled by a world order. In the sphere of culture and the arts, these new reflections manifest themselves as a series of questions, about how to rediscover domestic/indigenous spaces without disengaging the world system. Probably one zealous orthodoxy gives way to another. Even the trivialization of sexuality is especially ironic. For one of the ironic achievements of cultural theory that preceded this has been to establish gender and sexuality as legitimate objects of study, as well as matters of insistent political importance. It is remarkable how intellectual life the advent of sexuality and popular culture as chief ingredients of study has put paid helped to demolish the puritan dogma that seriousness is one thing and pleasure another. Cut edge artists of the present reason out proposition for locating the subversion of art practice in the interstices of urban spaces and beyond. Intellectual matters are no longer an ivory tower affair, but belong to the world of media, and shopping malls, bedrooms and brothels-they rejoin everyday life seamlessly.

These practitioners dwell on the characters, messages, and vicissitudes of physical and emotional reality inherent in New Media installations in the very definition of real is; that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction. The real is not only that which can be reproduced, but which is always already reproduced. Throughout these works in the last few years there is challenge, both in its formal construction and in the themes these artists tackle. That of the artist's struggle with inhibitions, contradictions, disillusionment, political and personal isolation. Each new step, each new possibility retreats into old solutions and is discarded. But it would be impossible to stop- one has to create the text in spite of the odds. It confronts our traditional experience of sound, of light, of setting-these are wrenched out of context, re-ordered and returned to a new, subtle questioning role of reflecting the artist's choice of subject. Perhaps it is already time for a moratorium on things; a temporary withdrawal from real objects during which the object analogue formed in consciousness may be examined as the origin of a new generating system. Another historic gain achieved by these cut edge artists have to establish popular culture is also worth studying. Traditional scholarship has for centuries ignored the everyday life of a commoner. Today the scene is different. It is generally recognized that everyday life is quite as intricate, unfathomable, obscure and occasionally tedious and eminently worth investigating. Today what is worth studying is not necessarily how futile, monotonous and esoteric your subject of study is.

A recurrent issue in the new media most often is the plight of the individual in a highly technological world. However, these works are ultimately optimistic although bristling with images of war, aggression, confrontation, displacement,  there is a sense, achieved through ironic focus, that beyond lies something more hopeful but first it is necessary to overturn what we have and create the neutral space from which new things shall grow. A decade back artists began to combine image and text and over the last decade, these works have increased in subtlety and in the interplay of meanings. Today's new media artist opposes what he calls the old-fashioned “logocentric” Renaissance view of painting's “presence” with an art whose new apparatus include the notion of the institution and which uses today's primary means of communication , photography , video, cinema, television. The use of the despised medium, and a critique of the means of production led this practitioners to cast conceptual art as gesture not of denial but of opening up of the institution of art to the world outside, letting other disciplines. These include linguistics, semiological analysis, political theory and above all psychoanalysis.

But the mere image of say, a computer or video cannot act in the same way with respect an advanced technological capability which is electronic rather than mechanical. These new gadgets are not simply the products of a particular society but are themselves the means by which that society reproduces itself. The form bears itself no relation to their content. It is only through the process of their functioning that they are able to represent the world, and when they do not function they are nothing. Time-based work is about something more than the reference of events to the passing moments, it is the involvement with a culture which can only be adequately be represented through these passing moments dwelling on the characters, messages, and vicissitudes of physical and emotional reality inherent in the very definition of real is; that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction. The real is not only that which can be reproduced, but which is always already reproduced. That was the time of cable revolution when the Iraq war broke. The coverage of the war entered into our drawing rooms through TV's latest avatar the CNN-Fox.  Above all it was a matter of the collapse of reality into hyperrealism, into a painstaking reduplication of the real war into any American war saga.  In preference to starting out from some other medium, be it reproductive, publicity, photographic; from medium to medium the real war volatilized, it became an allegory of death, a new mega serial but it also reinforced itself by its own destruction, it became a proxy for the real, a fetishism of the lost object, no longer the object of representation, but an ecstasy of denial and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.

New media artists have always seen their practice as an attempt to make changes in the perception of the social and cultural future through their interaction with the audience. These new media artists set out to create an artwork that will instigate in the audience perceptions, understandings of their own creative potential. There can be little value in mainstream social life. What is most politically most fertile they ask? The marginal, mad, deviant, perverse, transgressive- stands askew to a society as a whole. The white males have been strung metaphorically upside down from the lamp posts, while the ill gotten dimes and farthings cascading from their pockets have been used to finance community arts projects.

The logic of the process whereby the fixity of art object is challenged is seen in the increasing degree to which exchange value takes precedence over the use value. And if we take into consideration the knowledge, in the sense that art might provoke one to an understanding that a video monitor could provide us with must be characterized in some artists' work more as information, the means to something other than the end in itself that is the performance. Art addresses the physiognomy of power: autonomy has ceased to operate as a paradigm because the space in which art functions has dispersed itself within the social fabric. There is no longer a separate realm capable of acting as a container for the ideal solutions to real problems, no longer a safe distance between the dirt of day to day actions and the purity which surrounds ones hopes and aspirations. The two spheres have merged into one complex hyperspace which is as yet incompletely mapped onto our consciousness.

We realize that throughout these works there is challenge, both in its formal construction and in the themes these artists tackle. That of the artist's struggle with inhibitions, contradictions, disillusionment, political and personal isolation.

The present process of making the process, the continual erasing of memory and reconstruction and reworking of material is a reflection of an erasure that reflects our spoilt and scarred landscape- Chitrabhanu Majumdar, Sudarshan Shetty, Chhatrapati Dutta, Gigi Scaria or Kousik Mukhopadhyaya's installations. Each new step, each new possibility retreats into old solutions and is discarded. But it would be impossible to stop- one has to create the text in spite of the odds. It confronts our traditional experience of sound, of light, of setting-these are wrenched out of context, re-ordered and returned to a new, subtle questioning role of reflecting the artist's choice of subject.  A recurrent issue in the new media most often is the plight of the individual in a highly technological world. However, these works are ultimately optimistic although bristling with images of war, aggression, confrontation, displacement,  there is a sense, achieved through ironic focus, that beyond lies something more hopeful but first it is necessary to overturn what we have and create the neutral space from which new things shall grow.

In Chitrabhanu's site entropy is not the reigning spectre; instead, they are pervaded by lightness, exhilaration of layered space of transgression, memory and tumult. In spite of his enormous erudition and sense of form, he puts them together with a calm detachment in which a clear structure combines intimately with politics and expressiveness to achieve a paradoxical visual image to create scenes of artifice and makes him one those rare successful practitioners. These artifices do not by any means resist our emotional identification or intellectual response. Celebrated by his contemporaries for his formal rigour and invention, and his language provide unending possibilities for learned exegesis and decoding of his gestural rhetoric His installations are distinguished by an absence of the moat of theory surrounding much contemporary and conceptual art and gives that quality of a world whose contents might be said to be suspended in a simultaneous presentness of being. Majumdar who according to the experience of all times, recites to us the entire dramatic scale of his political passions and appetites, and breathes it.

The signified and referent get absorbed in Ranbir Kaleka's video installations to the sole profit of the play of signifiers, of a generalized formalization where the code no longer refers back to any subjective or objective reality, but to its own logic. All reality then becomes the place of semiological manipulation, of a structural simulation in Kaleka's work. 'He was a good man', a single channel video projection with sound and painting-acrylic on canvas. There is no objective presence to the world. The world is signed into existence not by reference to the real but to a code; at this point one is left to engage in acts of consumption which show is no longer really there. We expect the attempts/practices by with some memorable of images of our living and an artist's responses to simulacra. Using a variety of media these artists work from a distinct perspective and sometimes with an explicit feminist agenda. Through the panoply of increasingly complex means, including elaborate and large scale installations.

New media artists showcased at the recent Summit n Delhi in January this year have always seen their practice as an attempt to make changes in the perception of the social and cultural future through their interaction with the audience. These new media artists set out to create an artwork that will instigate in the audience perceptions, understandings of their own creative potential. In some the logic of the process whereby the fixity of art object is challenged is seen in the increasing degree to which exchange value takes precedence over the use value. And if we take into consideration the knowledge, in the sense that art might provoke one to an understanding that a video monitor could provide us with must be characterized in these cut edge works; work more as information/archive, the means to something other than the end in itself that is the performance. Art addresses the physiognomy of power: autonomy has ceased to operate as a paradigm because the space in which art functions has dispersed itself within the social fabric. There is no longer a separate realm capable of acting as a container for the ideal solutions to real problems, no longer a safe distance between the dirt of day to day actions and the purity which surrounds ones hopes and aspirations. The two spheres have merged into one complex hyperspace which is as yet incompletely mapped onto our consciousness.

Frustrating full perception, Chhatrapati Dutta's language shifts from spectacle to presence, a psychological space where there is absence in spite of presence; and that presence is the sole key to a state in which ratiocination of any kind is suspended- the inadequacy of the faculties is accepted and the viewer advances humbly towards faith. Here concrete objects become tokens of a concealed desired principle.

Chhatrapati Dutta's many antecedents range as far diverse as patriarchy, subjugation and gender. But the artist's unconscious seems responsible for some of the subtler and pleasurable elements in his carefully modulated pixels. His Barthesian touches are merely teases. He seduces the ominous, but delivers the fantastical in “suprerimposed realities”. The camera's lost gaze is both mysterious and threatening, a solid which appears impenetrable or lost or this is no more robust an enterprise than the thread of open dialogue which is also destined to remain unresolved with these works. Chhatrapati Dutta demonstrates with almost poetic vigour, just how fine and fragile these threads are. His visual text is almost like a pictorial territory- a jerrybuilt borderland intensified into a meditative pitch. There is always an element of disdain and sardonic charm; schematically his imagery seen with a linear gaze acts as a map of elegant fantasies. Instead of moulding in the cast of a Structuralist intellectual are overwrought and rather ecstatic- emerge through a soft treatment of projected sites to engage the viewers gaze in a variety of orientations.  And the question of the self, of one's own cultural space, of one's own body, of the historic and the histrionic prop of the body proper, as polyglottal theatre of our passions as they explore psychological spaces and critique our positions- differentiation enumerating various forms and corresponding patriarchal traditions. Curious to know whether Dutta uses 'Adobe' techniques to manipulate the images as tangible objects, treating his digital prints as sculptures? His masterful use of digital editing, today's equivalent of montage in Flaherty's time, turns the manipulated universe/text of this into a very familiar delightful terrain.

Even the performance of an artist's performance today has become a systematic interplay of light, music, movement and drawing. These elements and their rules of combination are deployed to make a work specifically in tune with the total ambience of its location at times, from which takes its effective cue. For example Audio Arts set out to extend the language of art by extending the exhibition possibilities available to artists. Despite the fact that “product” rather than process has come to dominate the art scene. Some has even articulated through sound sculptures.  These works are to be considered within a suitably extended category, as visual art by virtue of the character and provenance of artists like Shetty, Kaleka or Chitrabhanu. A proposition which runs contrary to the current valourisation of 'oil on canvas' as the privileged medium and signals new media artists stance as ideological albeit one that eschews sloganizing.


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