Art and shit. They are strangely connected
since eon. `Shit’ is one of the words that we adopted from the western
films as well as from the Euro-American policy makers. This word with
a lot of power expresses what we really want to convey, at the same
time it leaves a lot of gap in between the utterance of the word and
the conveyance of its meaning. In short, the word `shit’ has got an
ambiguity in itself. It does and does not repulse the listener. So
when your spoon slips from your hands while eating you can say `Shit’.
When something boggles your mind, you can shout `Shit’. Recently a
well- known art critic clad in Thatcher suits told us in a meeting;
`I do not want any shitty art here.’ Yes, the word shit is a beautiful
metaphor devoid of its colour and stench./ Children express their
wordless passions through the act of shitting, say the psychoanalysts.
Perhaps this is from where the artists got the idea of using excreta
as a powerful medium. If human feces is too repulsive then there is
cow dung, which is shit at the same time holy. Irrespective of the
identity of the bowels from which the muck is expelled, shit is a
source of energy. Those who have doubt, check with the scientists
and environmentalists. If shit can be this powerful why cannot be
the act of defecating at par? It should be more artistic than Susanne
Linke’s or Chandralekha’s choreographed movements. Sovon Som, a young
artist from Orissa has found the action so inspiring and he uses it
for his Video art.
Whether your action and appreciation
is shitty or not, let us tell you Video as a medium is not so shitty.
It had revolutionised the mindset of the Indian middle class before
the onslaught of the cable channels began. Films and news came to
one’s drawing room through videos. In small towns the meaning of the
word `library’ was reconstituted as `video library’. And if you do
not mind, the video-grapher demoted the still-photographer from his
social standing as a key player and historiographer of marriages,
deaths and all other human related ceremonies. The presence of the
video camera redefined the whole concept of a function. Even deaths
and marriages were re-enacted for the video recording! In more than
one ways video changed the aesthetics of the Indian middle class.
Kalachakra, the pioneering video magazine in India changed the aesthetics
of journalism, though it became obsolete soon. Whatever Kalachakra
proposed was later on taken up by all other news channels.
Against this background let us see
how Sovon Som re-enacts or simulate the act of defecating. He sits
on a western commode, European Closet in the Indian middle class parlance,
which is placed in the middle of a lawn of a farmhouse. He makes some
facial gestures. These could be the result of some motor-muscle-movements
that happens all over the body during the act. Using editing techniques
he does the usual gimmicks with the visuals. The second part of the
video is a festival encasing martial arts. No logic is seen in this
forcible co-habitating of two concerns./ What is the real intention
of this artist? Does he want to register a critique of the paradoxical
Indian situation in which one set of people revel on the `European
closets’ and the other set goes to the open fields and waysides with
`respectable Bisleri’ bottle full of water to perform the easing out
act? Or does he want to make a shitty exotic exercise to please the
foreign viewers by showing the Indian geography with sprout-like squatting
figures with bare bums? If it is just an `aesthetic’ gesture, what
would he be calling the visuals given by the Channels like V, M, and
NG, AXN and a host of regional channels? If at all Sovon’s video art
is an aesthetic product, in what manner does it differ from the other
prints and paintings or any other art object that we see in galleries?
Who could be his potential viewers, those who use `European closets’
or `the bum exposing squatters’? In the age IT video art cannot be
gallery bound. It is expected to be disseminated through the cable
networks. If the cable operators do not relent, hire one local cable
channel and telecast it. Make multiple copies of the cassettes and
sell them either through art shops or video parlors. Video art cannot
be gallery bound. If it is it would be as absurd as a street play
performed in an auditorium, that too with tickets!
Manjunath Kammath is sleeping inside
his computer-monitor. Thank god he is not shown doing the other act.
A face in close-up and the eyeballs are visibly moving inside the
eyelids as if sensing the presence of the camera. Once in a while
he opens his eyes, observes the onlookers and then goes back to sleep.
The monitor is placed on a comfortable cushion. A sleep that is dehumanised
and then computerised. Does Kamath want to say that the Americans
are insisting the IT professionals to take up an 18 hours or 24 hours
day so that they can take rest thereafter till they die? An innocent
sleep killed by a scheming Macbeth. No more sleep for the king. He
will be tossing himself in the bed. We do not think Kamath intended
it. For him it is just a language, perhaps an elevated and up to date
art lingua. No we are not against Kamath. But we are against his art
for it does not have a critical edge. He does not look into his deeper
self and identify the ugly truths there. When we confront his billboard
`print’ the critical edge becomes as flat as a playground. You go
to any up-market shopping mall or you just watch the ads that appear
in newspapers. Kamath simulates the dominant advertisement visual
language. The problematic arises here. Why does one imitate a language?
As a parody with clear reference or a pastiche without reference at
all? Post-modernism gives theoretical flexibility to use pastiche
as a respectable art language. When it comes to Kamath’s works simulation
of billboard for the opposite purpose is automatically reversed, perhaps
without the knowledge of the artist himself. It is rendered edgeless
thereby it becomes a glorification of the hegemonic ideology of the
market, that is make the man more and more a consumer. Kamath the
protagonist of the billboard evokes desire in the onlooker. He/she
craves not for the act of licking popcorn from the real bowl but the
desire is directed towards the protagonist’ clothes and other consumer
wares on his body. In other words, the artist reproduces the desire
that he wants to kill and what the market want to see reproduced through
the cultural workers. Even the mock-scientific charting of the taste
buds in the format becomes an added appendage to the market ideology.
We, as critics would like to believe that Kamath as an artist reproduces
his personal desire as a consumer in a larger glossy format.
A rose is a rose is a rose. If Madam
Stein forgives us, we would add that while saying art is three times
away from the reality, Plato too meant the same. Here we have Mritynjoy
Chatterjee and Raqs Media Collective presenting an interactive site,
which they rightly say that rehashed from the world wide web (www)
information garbage. We quote from the artists’ statement, ``The artists,
coders, and writers who generated the materials that we have used
here are our co-workers. In this sense, and in other senses that you
will discover as you navigate through it, this body of work is a work
about work.’’ (Italics added). And they have got Walter Benjamin and
his consideration of city as a drawing room and the hoarding as the
works of art as a convenient tool. A revealing line from Benjamin
as quoted buy the Raqs group, ``the principle of a Work of Art has
always been reproducible.’’ True reproducibility brings more participants.
And social participation changes the art and its quality.
Where do we see the mass participation
in the `Work in the Age of Virtual Reproduction’? The participation
in this work is two folded. On the one hand the visuals and texts
are rehashed by a group of people. Also it is relevant that the garbage
material used is also produced by a group of personalities unknown
to the user and the `used’. And the result is a fusion of various
brains, various ideologies, thinking levels and varied ways of participation.
Once you rehash them to be a third comprehensive product and give
to the social participants, that is the gallery goers, the second
level of participation happens. But most of the social participants
found this as messy and confusing. Finally they took the pleasure
of handling the mouse. And that too can be result of a work of art.
We do not insist that the art to be
pedagogic. But when you leave the gallery you need to carry something
in your mind to brood over. What does Raqs Collective give us to ruminate?
Where is the critique? What does the Raqs Collective think about the
malnutrition in India? What does it think about the Indian beauty
industry? On what level it wants the participants to play the game
of participation? What is the computer density in India? And what
percentage of Indian populace is connected to WWW? Walter Benjamin’s,
Foucault and Barthes’ theory of the death of author and participation
of the collective holds any weight only when art is disseminated amongst
the populace in a larger way. With paintings and sculptures and up
to an extent with the graphic arts also this has happened and the
individual artists are still fighting it out whether they are dead
or alive. Computer and WWW even during the post-capitalist days (is
it possible to call India a post-capitalist country?) IT and WWW are
still in the hands of the hegemonic ideology. If police, school, hospital,
jail and media were reproducing the ideology of the State (Foucault)
in a so called uni-polar world the IT is everything rolled into one,
a good and efficient tool in the hands of the hegemonic ideology.
If somebody has any doubt about it, please replay the Independence
Day speech delivered by the Prime Minister of India Shri. Atal Behari
Vajpayee at the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August 2000
An art critic and artist friend of
us, who used to be one of the younger generation even a few months
back and of late graduated into older generation says that what we
see in this show is an experiment with new language. It is a celebration.
Then we would like to tell her that it is a celebration of tragedy.
When tragedy is celebrated in this way it becomes a farce or a mock
epic. And we would like to add, whether the language is new or old
when you tell some thing new with it, it should be sharpened to its
maximum. The British gave us English and we used the same language
to liberate us from their own clutches and to lead ourselves to progress.
Why the new IT lingua could not be used towards that effect? Why Indian
boys prefer to shit only in Western closets?
Authored and Published by JOHNY M.L MRINAL KULKARNI
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