The Presence of Past a New Media Workshop
by Jamsheed Malik
It is perhaps more important today than before that we review our relation with the histories we are blessed with. What is needed- especially for artists and academicians- is an awareness of the present through critical and creative thinking. An attempt in this direction was made through a week long workshop at Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan, between March 1st and 8th, 2011. The Presence of Past was the theme of the workshop. Seven practitioners were invited as resource persons to Kala Bhavana by the coordinators Sanchayan Ghosh and Parvez Kabir. Each artist was joined by 15 to 20 students who jointly explored and worked around the theme. The theme was not meant to limit the discourse but act as a starting point from which the artists could flexibly take any course. It was completely on the artists how they would deal with it.
The workshop gave us an opportunity to explore how we respond to and use images from visual history, and how techniques and mediums of art making carry historical associations. We also explored how our social and personal histories shape our identities.
Rakhi Peswani, who is from Hyderabad, pointed out to her group something very basic within the students' own practice; their shortcomings or lacking that might be hampering their art practice. It could be skill related to writing, painting, drawing or any other medium. The students were not expected to just make a work of art but also to clear the clots within their minds.
Vasudha Thozhur who presently lives and works in Baroda, began interaction with her group with a short presentation of her works and some public projects she had done. Students showed their works to her and through discussions came up with the idea to choose elements from their early works and create a new art work. The group concentrated on issues related to their art practice from the past which were still unresolved. Visual grammar was given the most importance.
Subodh Kerkar, a Goa based sculptor and installation artist, began the workshop by discussing his work with his group. The idea was to give students an introduction to the practice of installation art. The students took the memories of their past to another level by installing some wonderful earth works in the open spaces of Kala Bhavana.
Tushar Joag, from Mumbai, started his group work with what he called “some mental aerobics”. As an exercise, he asked his students to look at a visual model for history. The students were asked to consider history not as a straight line or loop or many parallel lines but a more three dimensional representation, where the past and the present collide. They decided to work with vehicles. The vehicles travel towards an intersection and collide with each other and the explosion creates a new hybrid vehicle POP 005 (Presence of Past 005).
Bangalore based Umesh Madanhalli who is a performance artist, believes that even if a person is not skilled as an artist, they can be discerning observers of art and develop a good taste. He proved his point by having his group hand out sumptuous dishes at the end of each working day, where the creator and the consumer freely shared opinion about the dishes. As a performance, his group also walked backwards from the Museum, through the Kala Bhavana premises, and ending up at the chatal, the raised platform for performance, as an expression of traversing the history of Kala Bhavana.
Vipin Vijay, a filmmaker from Kerala, and a student of Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, started his group with an introduction to camera techniques. Then he asked his students to take anything from their memory and prepare scripts for it, in a way so that they could make it in one frame. Students went around the campus and other local places to shoot videos and take photographs. Finally, they came up with some very innovative experiments with frame and camera.
Manjari Chakravarti's group came up with the idea of using boxes of memory as a tool for negotiating their past with the present. So, a movie box, a pitcher, a vase, a tray, a stationery stand, and even a fan were conceived of as a 'box'. The odd participant also felt that memories could not be contained within such physical boxes, and he supported his arguments with a video. Thus, dialectic was created within the group, and between the notions of the possibility as well as the impossibility of expressing oneself with the given materials.
At the end of each working day, the resource persons would give presentations of their oeuvre on a projector screen, which would be followed by discussions and question-answer sessions.