Towards The Future: New Media Practice at Kala Bhavana
by Soujit Das
Every little space witness change through time but such changes are often scrutinized as if the condition of evolution was not intended by many. Accumulating ideas and expectations suffocates a particular space by burdening it with certain cultural ethos, which virtually transforms it into a utopian land. These specific domains tend to become non-functional as certain practices are coerced within the structure. Here pride is found in the senility of orders, where the scope for new is restrained strategically, by opposing the attempt in the name of heritage. In an institutional structure such hazards multiples. Kala Bhavana the institute of fine arts in Santiniketan has undergone such experiences and probably still engulfed by the popularised/stereotyped fame. Though the locus had shifted into the 21st century, the emergence of new practices within the pedagogic domain is criticised and neglected by many orthodox critiques. Many would ponder upon the institution's nationalistic lineage but would not be able to deny that Kala Bhavana had always been an inquisitive and experimental space, even though the exposure of such practices mostly remained silent.
The emergence of New Media Art equipped artists with new extensions of tool. Thus prior experimentations matured as early as in 1998 when academicians like Late Dipak Bhattacharya and Angshuman Das Gupta took the initiative to introduce the new genre in the campus. The collective enthusiasm saw the light of the day through the workshop titled Blip. Many senior students and artists came along to explore and exploit the potential of the New Media. Ritendra Roy, Sumana Jana, Kingshuk Sarkar, Sumitro Basak and many other alumnus of Kala Bhavana were the participants who engaged in the new discourses within the academic pattern. Though Blip was one of its kind but such similar initiative was not encouraged in the coming years. The following passive years noticed no further remarkable engagements. The factor was primarily lack of interest and secondarily it was an alien motif in the academic design.
Gradually the studio spaces opened up into public domain with new students shifting their mode of practice. The influences of contemporary art scenario was quiet obvious but such assimilation was indeed credible. Artists like Dhrupadi Ghosh in 2006-07 (in her final years of master's programme) had already shifted to much interactive zones of operation. Dhrupadi along with her installations and performances was delving on the textual grounds. Her textual fragments were pushed to the limits, in order to provoke the perceptual criteria. Her narratives were feminine introspections, where seldom her own body became the aggressive playground. Her works echoed kitsch where she referred from graffiti to subway culture. Such modes of functioning left some imprints on the younger lot. The technological affordability in the past decade made this job much easier. The digital intrusion in the academic domain probably lured the artists. In the recent past senior students like Shibaji Pal or Mantu Das were using the technology and digital media in the most literal way. Shibaji's work involves various principles of physics, mechanics and dynamics. One of his works Limit of Products explores the temporality of objects. He used four fully blown round rubber bladders where a mechanized flexi glass plate consisted of metal nails moves up and down in a random manner. The nails at a counted fraction of time creates a visual tension, as each time the mechanized plate is about to pierce and puncture the bladder it retreats back to the safer zone. The material identity is left in question with the functional identity. Here Shibaji rather challenged the relative retentivity of the object. In other works he traverses from the virtual to the physical space employing multisensory gadgets and gizmos. On the other hand Mantu Das's works are more inclined towards the regional archive, memory and violence. His videos and digital prints go beyond the simple illustrious narrative to intimate experiences. In an early video based work I Feel Insecure Without My Helmet Mantu wandered around the public spaces on a bicycle, veiling his own self with the helmet and even in the most secured interiors, he refused to reveal his face. This video addressed the insecurity of an ALFA terrorist from his native place, who never came out unmasked in the public, fearing of getting executed if recognized. Mantu extensively works with video and digital print formats and uses the image manipulating software randomly in his process, making the images multi faceted.
Over the years Nandan Mela – The annual art fair has become an alternative platform of experimental exhibition, where students come up with several collaborative/individual installation projects. In 2009, another alumnus artist Sabir Ali ventured into confrontational virtual combat. On one of the academic buildings on the campus Sabir drew blown up hunting/battle scenes from Persian miniature where he projected and created a virtual battleground. The viewers poured in and engaged in the video game thus the game was being played on a physical surface creating layers of perception. The Islamic backdrop and the American computer games got juxtaposed to reveal enough socio-political messages. Sabir decoded the entertainment tool to the level of mass violence and destruction. The projection wall was situated just opposite to the Gandhi statue thus provoking a different conflict between violent and non violent icons.
Recently some student's workshops also produced remarkable works reflecting the diverse attitude. In the 2008 Censorship Workshop titled – Freedom of Expression, artist Sajad Hamdani along with few students went on to document the views of people on the issue of censorship. This particular work called Mashq recorded comments in audio and video formats and then projected in a fashion, where the looped video and the audio were played in a relative reverse motion. The participants were given small slates to write on. The slates became the metaphor of education/information as well as the space of constant erasure and re-constructions. The students expressed their views through collages, paintings and texts which collectively came alive through the installation. In a much recent workshop on New Media Art titled Cema Paar in February 2011, students of master degree were introduced to new cutting edge technologies which are now used extensively in our modern day lifestyle. Several tracking devices and their mechanism were explored followed by the encoding and the decoding process. In a collaborative project called Adda – An Informal Gathering a group of six students (Mantu Das, Kalikrishna Bhattacharya, Bhanu Shankar Roy, Sreejith, Manoj Biswash, Pooja Mendhekar) tried to recreate the past, present and future images of Santiniketan. The works involved the usage of RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification) where the signals were transmitted through radio waves and were designed for bulk reading. The students made a playing dice with each plane depicting their own portraits. Once they roll the dice, the portrait which appears on the upper surface transmits a signal to the RFID reader, which instantly projects an imagined image of Tagore associated with the corresponding person. It dealt with the first impressions of the utopian land thus denoted the past. For the present phase - students created an image puzzle. Once the puzzle is solved a drawing of Tagore's self portrait superimposed over images of university fences appears on the screen. In the futuristic phase - they prepared a map of a proposed landscape using the GPS (Global Positioning System) technology. The recorded sessions of their informal gathering was being played randomly with each work. Today such technological revelations are drawing attention of the young practitioners. The virtual spaces though are gradually devouring the physical and emotional space but it marks the new inception, which is indeed going to survive within our pedagogic realm.