Art News & Views

Video Art of India- Gigi Scaria and his Videos

With the contemporary Indian art getting a foothold in the international art scene, video art by Indian artists has become one of the focal points of aesthetic debates. There was a time when Indian artists found it extremely difficult to practice this genre of art thanks to the apathetic approaches by the commercial galleries as well as the state owned establishments for art. This scenario has been going through various changes facilitated by the art market boom during the mid-2000s. Commercial galleries in India now have developed infrastructures for presenting video art. Though, these facilities are not at par with the facilities seen in their international counterparts, considering the fact that the state owned agencies are not giving any attention to video art in India, any facility for showing video art is a welcoming thing.

The development of video art should be seen along with the developments and inventions in the field of science. A camera with the spools of analogous tape that could register visuals as 'positive' without darkroom chemical actions on the 'negative' was a thing of wonder when it was introduced by the Sony Company in 1960s. Nam June Paik, an artist who pioneered video art, employed this camera in 1965 to play back the visuals as per his design. This was the beginning of video art and ever since so many experiments have been done in this medium by several artists all over the world.

In India, pioneering efforts towards making video art forms were undertaken by artists during the mid 1990s. Ayisha Abraham, Ranbir Kaleka and Sonia Khurana worked towards establishing an art language of video which was hitherto unfamiliar to Indian audience. Artists like Shilpa Gupta took this art form to different dimensions by incorporating technological innovations in their scheme of works. Video art for Indian artists, like for the artists from elsewhere, was not just a technological medium. They used this technological medium not only for registering events and images but also for forwarding critiques through the registration of 'body in action' and the 'real people'.

Seen against the rich and complex history of video art, Indian artists who work with video as a medium use their works as powerful tools to establish their politico-cultural visions and critique. Gigi Scaria is one of those young Indian artists who has used video as a medium not only to extend the ideas that he deals with in his paintings and installations but also to create a new visual language that could cut across the boundaries between documentaries, docu-fictions and performance art.

In one of his early videos titled 'Lost City', Gigi Scaria traces the daily sojourns of a young man living in a city. In his own dwelling place, he lives like a stranger and inscribe his trajectories on a wall as if he were creating a map of his own memory. Gigi imparts the idea of history as a fight against oblivion and loss. In a video titled 'Interview', Gigi in a three channel projection, vivifies how an 'employee' is 'read' by his future 'employers'. Physiognomic markers become discriminating codes in this act of 'reading' by the employer. Through this Gigi establishes how an aspiring liberal democratic society holds feudal values in its collective unconscious.

While Gigi Scaria uses a fictional style in 'Lost City' and an staged performance (theatrical in its effect) in 'Interview', in his recent works, he takes an objective approach of a 'witness', who happen to see his world through the images in the way that are seen in his videos. For instance, in 'Amusement Park', Gigi witnesses a city revolving around its own core using its own present history as its engine. As in a maze in flux, these buildings, bridges, trains, towers and shanty towns throb frantically but rhythmically. When one sees this work along with his famous video titled 'Panic City' (where a city rises and falls according to a programmed symphony), it becomes clear how Gigi envisions the idea of progress and its soothing and menacing effects on the human psyche, through his video works.

The idea of progress and its intimidating effects on human intellect and feelings is one of the areas that Gigi revisits again and again. He emblematizes the transforming images of a train (from its origin to now) and creates an effect of chronological progression of history, which later appears as a movement that defies the very chronology itself in a work titled 'Prisms of Perception'. The moving train could be seen in 'Amusement Park' as well as in 'Political Realism'.

While negotiating between the history of progress and the progress of history, Gigi evokes the icons of international politics in order to exemplify the fallen faith and ideologies. As in the plays of Ionesco, Gigi brings the dead fallen statues of political leaders into one's drawing room; one is destined to live with the dead ideologies while the time zooms past in the form of a train seen through the back window (Political Realism).

In his earlier videos, Gigi had shown the tendencies to mix up reality and fictional documentaries in single format. In 'A Day with Sohail and Marian', Gigi follows two young rag pickers and asks them to describe the city of Delhi from their perspective. On the one hand, it appears as a 'reality TV show', and a closer look would reveal that the reality is at times 'designed and manufactured' in agreement with the subjects and the author (here the artist). Gigi shifts into a documentary mode when he does 'Raise Your Hands Those Who Have Touched Gandhiji'. The length of the video, at once imparts the idea of history, myth and the witnessing of it in 'real-slow' time in contrast with the 'fast edited' time of the present.

Social witnessing as the gaze of subjection is one of the favorite ideas of Gigi as he deals with the 'city' as an organism with 'eyes' and 'powerful hands'. In an interestingly done video titled, 'Conscience Keeper', the viewer is 'made' to see a circular patch of light moving across a dark surface and in the process revealing a city lying beneath it. The movement of the light patch suddenly becomes an eye of surveillance that watches a city even when it sleeps.

Gigi Scaria is an artist who uses his exemplary power of contemporary imagination for establishing visual parameters that could generate not only an aesthetic discourse but also a politico-cultural dialogue. His video works become pertinent in a global context as they do not emulate an established 'language' per se, instead focus on creating a visual language, which is conducive and effective to the contemporary realities of his own location.

  Johny ML 



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