The Institution and Beyond.
It was often said about Mathew Arnold, the 19th century English poet and cultural critic that he was a poet among critics and a critic among poets. This dual position often argues for structure against a liberal state and vice versa. To conceive a presentation of students’ works, an approach as such of an insider-outsider to the institution plays a vital role. A simultaneous agreement and criticism constitute the complex and layered relationship between artistic academic structures and practices. Though the latter outgrows the former in so many ways, an important part of its commencement remains held within academic thoughts and practices. A potent artistic language however might appear to be closely related to academic disciplines, a careful examination would show it to be a shredder of academic knowledge systems. This contradiction is intrinsic to the fact that a large portion of the academic formats remain not only imbedded within Imperial/colonial histories, but also at certain institutions, the structures remain almost unaltered. Yet it has several times been admitted by practitioners that the possibilities to extend boundaries, thereby revitalising these disciplines and even to an extent to reinvent them remain rooted in these structures. Hence their relevance remains alive in spite of anxieties of becoming redundant. It is needless to mention here that individual practitioner-academics, who in different capacities get absorbed by institutions, would push boundaries creating scopes for re-imagination of artistic visions. The works of students produced at institutions, have been looked at from both the positions of practitioner and academic to locate areas of ruptures and continuity, conformation and deviations, flexibility and lack of inclusiveness. Each of the categories appearing in the form of sub-curation though looks into issues concerning craft, history, mythology politics, land and practices;, there is an emphasis on overall development of language that deals with all of it with a sense of contemporaneity situated within reality.
Pixelated fragments is a collection of fragmented visions on self-transformation, imagined through the artists’ experiences with socio-political changes, which also reflect on one’s personal and social circumstances. These changes bring upon a displacement and disjointness, but are physically attached (unrelated/disconnected/estranged) in various forms – from the lives of migrant workers to the state of imbalance visible in the economical, class and stature systems that exist.
Right from the selection of projects to their completion, there were a set of words that frequently surfaced – loss, memories, displacement, uncertainty, loss of identity, fragile, death, lack of access, tradition, culture, identity, me, myself and nonfunctional mode. My curation was built upon their thoughts and the process, which we (students and myself) journeyed together. I became a facilitator more than a curator.
Archiving became a very important tool, allowing one to peep into the past, introspect the present and envision the future. The application of various methodologies such as research, recording and collecting relevant material allowed them to investigate and explore various options. Working with newer mediums and tools, they were able to work with forms they had not explored yet. The questions of loss, lost identities or tradition along with the importance of archiving became a crucial direction for the team.
My methodology was to simply allow students to work with each other, share practices by teaming them in projects that were similar, but through different umbrellas. The process was carried out through phone calls and Zoom sessions, allowing students from diverse backgrounds and institutions to interact with each other and work together. The sessions allowed them to step out of their comfort zones and work collaboratively, and yet allowed them to retain their personal identity and individual practices.
Due to the current situation, most of the students were either homebound or had moved back to their villages/hometowns, shifting their bases from urban cities. This shift had sparked some of the relevant questions of loss of self-sustainability and dependency (on technology). A majority of the students are from farming backgrounds or rural areas and had not realized the importance of making the best of that opportunity, or rather using it as a tool.
Art practice and their geographical dislocation had impacted them as individuals and as art practitioners. The process implemented during this project by working in a collective form through the groups allowed them to build the bridge. The socio-cultural backgrounds; such as looking at the current times, the places they came from, the familial professions, etc. intersected with their works. The challenge seemed to be more subjective, to differentiate between everyday chores and their individual practice. Every student in this project overcame the hurdle of stepping out of their specialization and trying out different mediums or formats – which I believe, was the most significant challenge surpassed in the activity.
For the students-artists, the academic training heavily influences their artist practice, choices and forms a set of unsaid rules. Unfortunately, the methodologies employed today tend to narrow down their visions rather than setting them free on a creative spree. They are bound within academic cycles, where they only work through the form of assignments and to appease the grading system. The deliberate choice was made to group students from different institutions and geographical locations to allow them to share, discuss and create a safe platform where they would feel comfortable sharing their opinions, critiquing their works and also have a healthy conversation around each other’s practice.
The idea of exhibiting work in a physical space in a conventional manner has been shifted to a virtual platform and each student had to adapt to the newer forms and learn new skills. Most of them, for the first time, envisioned their works in a totally new form and to accommodate their practice in the process of conceiving their works on a different platform and interacting with the virtual site as much as they would have done in Kochi.
Very interestingly in the course of this process, their home/town/lane became the studios and the sites; the conventional idea of studio/classroom practice was altered and now they were practicing but through the act of archiving various virtual mediums (Zoom calls/Google Hangouts/WhatsApp/Google Docs/Drive) to a collective session.
The online platform allows the students to have a broader audience across the globe, not limited to the one who would visit the physical space. Hence Fort Kochi is as foreign as the other places for the students who would have come to Kochi from their towns and villages.
Thus the process highlighted the concept of archiving, collection and recording, which were the outcome of conversations, interactive sessions, exercises or workshops that were conducted throughout this period. The recurring thoughts, ideas and themes were researched and extended through individuals and groups, with an attempt to build a library for themselves and formalize them into their artworks. The learning curve rested mostly on the processes – understanding the surroundings, adapting to the current situation and using the tools available to create. This could be seen through the journey of each project from inception of the idea to the end result.
Despair and Hope in the times of the Pandemic Pandemonium
Art is among the highest forms of hope mankind owns and has always been the device in the past to overcome any impediment. It still functions as a therapy to a world of maladies. The dawn of the new decade saw the worst pandemic gradually hit the world, affecting art institutions and the art students in particular. Even though it is believed that art is born in isolation it functions not in remoteness but in a liberal space of community and the world. Art students need to come out of the shell to express their worst fears, resist tyrannies, ideate a new society, rebuild optimism and celebrate humanity. The only method is to continue their insistent practice and reaffirm hope in the human plight.
As art becomes a broader term and function, students and artists tend to explore an array of possibilities it offers, be it in its traditional methods or in inquisitive, inter-disciplinary ways. The projects that I included from my selection of artists encompass a sphere of artistic experimentations and explorations, both in theme and materials, and include daring dissent and sensible protest. While some of the works endorse the freedom of artistic expression and some the indispensable flavor of individual talent and creativity, most of them extend art to a sphere of deep experiences of the body and the soul. These young artists react and respond to the recent events of nation-wide protests against discriminatory laws, cry foul against the injustice inflicted upon the hapless population of downtrodden mass over several centuries, remind the over exploitation of the geography and its consequences, and expose the inequalities that still plague the subcontinent. Even while their art is a political tool these young artists are equally conscious of the metaphor they build on and the effect their images and constructs may have upon the world they engage in.
The projects presented here don’t just demand a change but instead instill a new world, new people, new order, new reality and new imageries.
Suresh K Nair
Art making has become increasingly personalised, consisting of individual thoughts and ideas with a context to connect to more such experiences, in an effort to communicate to a homogenised mass, sharing the same space and events. Without being concerned with the outcome of the manifested form/act or even its impact on the viewers/audience, the young artists seem to share and experience a world of their own, as one observes from the current artworks by the student participants of the KMB.
In an attempt to relive the childhood memories of the photo-negatives, Ashwini Singh draws our attention to the ‘Identity Crisis’ that is depicted through faces, mostly young and some old, revealing their contextualised materiality, polity and violence through memory and time. Atanu Bakshi similarly explains visually, the pain that life goes through by the Jharkhand workers, where the underground ablaze has been continuing for the past 107 years, referring to the cracks both in the ground and metaphorically on the paper, carefully crafted through embossing method in printmaking. The prints are subtle and create a reminiscence of makers like Somnath Hore and Zarina Hashmi, who took to expressing their idea through paper pulp/prints with a minimalist approach. Anit Kumar and group have resorted to creating an installation with bottles filled with pictures from the ‘Life of Slums’ and creating a statement to reverberate upon, how the fleeting character of life searching for a momentary shelter in large sewerage pipes. It is also in the context of the recent mass labour migration forced by the pandemic threat, wherein the people, during their journey back home had to recourse to such shelters. Through his work, Anit also hints at a larger picture of homeless people in India, living their lives in jhuggies.
Ashita Gupta’s ‘Day Dream’ reflects several traces of her fancied experience with the impressions on paper pulp that are unclear and unsettled, expressing a sense of insecurity through spiral feeling as if removed from the roots. The reality bites are coarse and painful in the world, as the artist explains her work. More personalised work comes from Ahmed Jafar, whose video-based on Panchamahabhuta is reflected through moving alphabets in transitory mode, explaining the self and its understanding by the viewers.
Debashish Paul explains, through his video enactment, a gender fluidity that is merged with the religious ceremonies of Varanasi through a spiritual feeling. Through his subject Debashish removes the gender identity through the unisex attire (clad) that he wears, relocating the fragile emotion and conflict within the human entity pressed through the gender lens. Madhavi Srivastava contextualises the social evil related to gender issues through her performance being surrounded metaphorically by the news revelations of atrocities associated with femininity.
The artworks by the students also reveal their limited surroundings, ecosystems and use of available materials to express their ideas. Some of the students shared their day to day classroom practices and experiments in traditional mediums which provides us with a range of techniques and their understanding of different mediums like animation, photography, videography, mix media, installation, paintings, performance, sculpture, printmaking, collage, including traditional mediums like acrylic, oil colour and watercolour.
ToxiCities: DisEase and Conflagration in the New Millennium
We have together accomplished a fair amount in terms of education and the production of art, with the support of grants, residencies, and experimental spaces. However, a way of life that could continue beyond time-bound projects or events remains a precarious proposition. The in-between times are as, or more important, precisely because they are of long duration but invisible, and difficult to negotiate. Apart from the pervading political volatility and sense of threat that marks the times we live in, cities are increasingly uninhabitable due to cost, competition and an imploding capitalist economy. The shrinking space for art practice and a life of the mind is a deliberately engineered outcome; at the root of it is an utter lack of comprehension of their regenerative force.
Many discussions regarding art practice during the pandemic seem to focus on ‘visibility’ as if that were the primary concern, whereas the crux of the matter is survival, outside the immediate centres of power and even within them – which are eroding due to overload, privatization and abdication of responsibility by the state and centre. The ruptures already exist, and are merely magnified and brought to our notice in times of crisis. In any case, the metropolis is by no means the only reason or site to make art. With or without the pandemic, there are many artists, some exceptional ones too, who have remained and continue to remain outside the immediate zone of visibility. For some, it is an ever-present condition, a continuing state of emergency, political or otherwise and an indication of the absence or disintegration of an art practice that is being woven into the cultural fabric of societies even as they change.
The current situation gives us the opportunity to redress the balance – students are compelled to stay in their homes – in cities, towns, and villages rather than where their universities are situated, and are actively looking for a way back into an intellectual or creative work sphere. They need to find ways to generate these spaces in their immediate environment. Other professionals are re-locating for life, as it seems increasingly possible to do so from where they are compelled to remain. A different kind of migration is taking place, the full implications of which are as yet obscure, but it is evident that the socio-demographic map could change drastically.
This curation represents an attempt to read certain re-groupings and formations across this map. It has necessarily involved a compilation of existing tendencies and an acknowledgment of their diversity, in order to explore or expand their scope. The unbounded space of ether has underpinned these efforts. The resulting exhibit could be treated as an archive for further research, in envisioning an eco-system that would at all times elude a complete breakdown.
One fully acknowledges the excitement and stimulation, the serendipitous potential of the city, and cannot fault young people for flocking to urban centres for work, and more importantly, for motivation and a reason to practice. We are however suggesting and facilitating the possibility that this might eventually become available outside of these centres, and are indeed necessary given the erratic trajectory and catastrophic outcome of our developmental strategies.