Thursday, July 2, 2009

Remember To Breathe

An explorative pursuit that seeks to survey internal resonances of an itinerant mind; by using still images in a fluid manner, I have sought to create layered visuals that speak of penetrating surface realities. The short film is an attempt to link the creative cycle to the breathing process and thus, understand it as a living, regenerative experience. While questions flicker in the subliminal horizon, the mundane is rendered a tactile consciousness.

Thoughts embedded in the discursive imagination are agents of infinite possibility, it is when they are given a tangible birth that a stable identity becomes manifest. Yet this work seeks to convey the rupture in each articulation by addressing dualities that are inherent in the expressed images.

Visual Artist, Paul Klee once said, "We must stop and listen for a response to the world in ourselves. This means becoming intimate with objects, reaching a stage... where we can wait attentively and silently until the essence of their being is revealed."

When seen through a phenomenological lens, this endeavour seeks to comment on the act of critiquing. It acknowledges the repetitive nature of visual analysis involving the drain-ing of the mental realm to translate thought into propositional modes of meaning-making.

An Address to the Unknowable...

My writings throughout this residency have emerged as notes in the margin, rather than elaborate essays. It seems contrived to formulate a fixed piece of writing based on a lived process that is still a continuing quest of sorts. This 4-week journey have raised critical questions for each of us; while some have transformed into purposeful voyages acquiring visual dimensions; others continue to float and unfold in the subterranean niches of mindscapes. Though the experiential spirit is not something that can be pinned down to a document; it is through the terrain of visual language, reflective ponderings and socio-cultural environment that ephemeral currents may be explored.

The experience of being in the midst of creative activity and contributing to the unleashing of energy and ideas has been extraordinary; as over time the coming together of a varied set of young art practitioners led to the building of a unique dialogical space that generated freedom for self-cultivation within an ambience of collective enquiry. Working outside the academic realm has allowed resident artists to challenge normative standards of art-making by crossing disciplinary thresholds, thereby expanding their oeuvre of artistic expression.

While viewing art-works as showcased end-products, what we might miss out on is the layered nature of creative endeavours: process-based cycles, the pulse of imbibed logic and the flow of intuitive subjectivities. Participating in this residency has enabled me to witness artistic impulses oscillating between the meditative to the frenetic, and to significantly engage with covert in-betweens, like filtration of thoughts, construction of forms and distillation of intent. Often such vital steps appear as unknowable realities in the garb of interiorized characters that may not be seens but strongly felt. And hence, these words may be nothing beyond corporeal deposits of intensely felt momentum.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sammy Chien, In The House...

We had a talented visitor at Khoj Studios today - Sammy Chien, a Vancouver based experimental filmmaker, electroacoustic composer and media artist. He has recently begun experimenting with the interspersing of Analog and Digital film techniques - creating a powerful juxtaposition between the stunning feel of celluloid and the malleability of digital formats.

Acting as a bridge between past and present - his latest film, Oceanic explores the terrain of memory, individual quest for belonging and the playing out of remembrance rituals. The use of mix formats is useful in communicating some of the debates that surround rapidly developing film technology. Sammy believes that the answer lies in instilling sensory elements in media projects by blending old and new methods thereby, generating a layered visual language.

He has also carried out exciting collaborative projects through the use of real-time programming environments like Isadora. While performance artists and VJs are mostly familiar with programmes like Isadora, there are a lot of us who are yet unaware of the possibilities of such hyper-interactive media initiatives. This programme was initially created to facilitate the media intensive dance practice of Troika Ranch, a performance company managed by Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello. It is at the frontier of merging dance and technology through the generation of interdisciplinary performances and workshops.

Real time manipulation enables body movement to inform the visual canvas. Light and sound become sensory devices that alter the image; constantly connecting mental consciousness and body language with computer generated output.

Sammy Chien's Website:
Troika Ranch Website:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

AT work...IN Play

Photographs by Prateek Sagar

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fragmented Communitas

The notion of community has changed dramatically with the entry of digital culture. With cyber relationships forming vast global networks and swift infoways feeding fluid knowledge systems, the means to form inter-relational societal structures are extensively diversified. Besides a virtual coming together, there is also increased mobility between geographic boundries as governments put on a friendly face for foreign businesses, tourists, students and scholars. There are exceptions as not all 'outsiders' are welcomed within closed borders. Today, racial conflict and socio-economic neglect are pervasive in refugee colonies and migrant ghettos across the world. As transnational politics becomes complex, and social neighbourhoods become larger webbed cross-cultural realities it seems as though we need to re-conceptualize the idea of community.

Ever since I've come to Khoj, I have been observing the micro-neighbourhoods that exist within the area. With a highly fluctuating demographic composition, Khirki village is a melange of many social imaginaries. The emergence of the Citywalk mall opposite the road, has had a huge impact on the socio-economic dynamics of the locality. The urban village was once occupied by large groups of migrant labourers but with the altering of the surrounding cityscape it is now becoming a convenient living space for young call centre workers, students and basically those categorized as 'upwardly mobile.'

A visit to the Khirki Masjid built under the Tughlaq dynasty provided me an enlightening peep into the manner in which residents engage with a historical monument in their midst. While children consider it a playsite, young males treat it as a congregational space for a lazy afternoon of card-playing. To the tourist and the occasional student of architecture or archaeology, a visit to this site holds another set of values all together. I enjoy watching the streets around the Khoj studio metamorphose through the day. As evening approaches, residents begin to wander through the lanes - making conversation with passer-bys, squatting on porches, collecting around tea stalls, momowallas and ice-cream carts.

When I got here I was hoping to gain a more meaningful insight on art emerging from community based processes, now I'm beginning to concern myself with attempting to address fundamentals, starting with what constitutes a community...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Presentation Spiel

I’m very excited to be engaging with five young artists who work in varied formats and modes of expression. We come from diverse social and geopolitical realities, yet there appear to be common concerns emanating from a connective cultural ethos and the rapidly changing built environments that surround us. There are overlaps as particular issues like mass violence, cultural identity; gender and sexuality become resonant themes. Though each artist here has a unique way of conceiving and charting leitmotifs - they seem to combine an approach that blends social investigation with personal narratives and experiential tonality.

Coming from art schools across the country, at this juncture we gather to escape academic rigour, and work in a syncretic manner. PEERS is an opportunity that encourages us to be unafraid to question some of the things we have been taught to take for granted, where are can think outside quotes and where expression is not guided by entrenched conventions and commercial currents.

Though I have been labeled critic, I perceive my role here as a collaborator working towards amalgamating disparate creative journeys. This residency provides me a chance to closely observe thought trajectories and ideation, serving as a laboratory to probe and participate in creative processes. I see myself deriving great value and insight from working closely with emerging artists as we maneuver through discussions, intentions and obstacles as a collective.

In a discursive space such as this – the visible culmination maybe an essay, a blog and audiovisual documentation but it is the intangibles – questions and dilemmas raised during this time that become exploratory possibilities and avenues for fresh debates. The past ten days here and my interactions with the resident artists have already got me thinking of a whole range of issues. I’m significantly interested in looking into the manner in which traditional knowledge is merged with contemporary art practices, and in how community related processes can be ethically and effectively displayed in an exhibition space. Further, with emerging artistic trends that blend research methodologies and technology related approaches, I believe it is time to create new habitats for art-works. While institutional inertia continues – much else can be done to capture the present creative moment. The six of us, hope to start here...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kinetic Exploration...

It has been a while since I have responded to an art-work with a dropped jaw reaction - I confess that viewing contemporary art often leaves me with a furrowed brow as thoughts of psychosocial-cultural-ecological contextualization race through my head...But today as Prateek, Shine and I collectively stared at the laptop screen looking through the works of Dutch sculptor Theo Jansen, we had no words - we were left wide eyed and dropped jaw-ed.His Kinetic works have been informally described as wind powered robots since he employs biological mimesis to generate realistic dynamic motion in his sculptural projects. "The walls between art and engineering exist only in the mind" says the artist. His light-weight structures are infused with a sense of live activity as they interact with the surface they tread upon; simultaneously working through synthesizing natural energy to plot maps of mobility. These works appear to project the increasing reliance on technology driven apparatus in daily living as well as the complexities that crop up when a new kind of mechanized creature is placed within our environ.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Visting the Guerilla Girls...

A lot of our thoughts-conversations seem to revolve around gender debates and questions of femininity.

Shine recently highlighted that while many aspects of traditional masculinity have been brought into question and radically displaced as societies move toward an overt display of gender parity - remasculinization is becoming a cultural reality within the subcontinent and beyond. One wonders, whether this phenomenon could be linked with the accentuation in social insecurity, mass violence and fundamentalism.

Kriti is attempting to deal with gender issues through her work, especially looking into questions of home and world - exploring social divides that limit opportunities and create boundaries for women in civic participation. She is also hoping to survey the manner in which women personalize their living spaces and interact with one another within more private settings. These questions co-relate with her earlier work based on the incorporation of traditional community-based processes in contemporary, urban constructions.

While discussing Feminism and art activism, the name 'Guerilla Girls' is bound to come up sooner or later. As soon as it did, I realized that I did not know enough about their work as I had only heard/read glossy, over-stated comments/writings on their intervention based practice.

On reading further I found that while gender and racial equality form the core mission of this anonymous activist group, their public actions not only strive to generate visibility for women artists of colour but expand to exposing the discriminatory practices in art institutions across the world. The collective uses social irony, humour and innovative fact-finding to reveal the extent to which artists of colour are overlooked and underrepresented in large museum collections and at times even in Art fairs as well as Biennales. While they may be criticized for their participation in seminars at the very museums they protest against, it is significant that even at these platforms they maintain a critical stance and continue to use inventive diagnostic tactics.

Guerilla Girls on YouTube

Purani Dilli - Through the Lens...

A Walk Through Old Delhi...Quick Re-cap

Since most of the PEERS participants are 'non-delhiites', we were looking forward to a walk through Chandni Chowk with freelance photographer, Abhinandita Mathur. There were few images already lingering in our heads based on earlier descriptions of Purani Dilli and it was valuable to have a one-time resident take us through the congested capillaries of the old city - supplementing visuals with engaging narratives.

After a quick breakfast near the main road at Chandni Chowk we made our way to Nai Sarak, which was filled with dilapidated Havelis and residential complexes converted to cloth and stationary markets.

The lanes became narrower and crowds grew thicker as tea stalls, chatwallahs, flower-sellers, vegetable venders and loaded handcarts battled for inches of space.The constant movement around us was almost dizzying yet exhilarating. The entangled network of wires overhead helped block out the blazing sun. Next came Kinari Bazaar which was flooded with zardosi fabrics, glitter trimmings and wedding accessories. After a short Nimbu Pani break at Chawri Bazaar, we finally ended up at the Jama Masjid.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who Cares about Processes...?

We don't have art movements any more. We have market movements. -- Walter Robinson

As emerging art practitioners working in a time when the words 'Boom and Crash' have become inescapably linked with art culture, and a creative impulse is often self-consciously fashioned as a consumable luxury product - there are several challenges for those who wish to take on different paths and voice other concerns - since, the questions Who and How much most often take precedence over What and Why...

Thought maps, artistic processes and basically the steps that lead to the making of an art-work are neither effectively looked into nor valued. Hence, this student residency becomes a useful experiment for each of us to examine the creation process and provide the artists in residence an opportunity to instill a sense of collective participation in their individual practice.

While the commercial face of art shouldn't be critiqued through a unidimensional outlook, as it has certain benefits and delineated purposes in our culturescape, there seems to be a gap between market-driven art and inclusive art practices grounded in social relevance. This could perhaps be best bridged through critical engagement with the changing dynamics of the contemporary arts. Organizations like KHOJ thus, have a crucial role to play at this juncture - stimulating collective action towards developing a more open creative field that allows for problematization and subversion of mainstream narratives. In addition, moving beyond a codified lexicon of 'art activism' to accommodate individual investigation, alternative experimentation and diverse community based practices.

Personally, PEERS is a chance to thoroughly observe the creative process as a lived collaborative journey. During our time together as we become acquainted with one another's visual language and the distillation of ideas occurs through shared conversations, it is hoped that projects will be conceptualized as ongoing processes informed by our socio-cultural environments. For fresh graduates and continuing students from leading art schools - this interaction process enables a stepping away from institutional frameworks where pressure to produce an acceptable 'end-product' can be grueling as didactic Juries often congregate to test the worth of a creative expression.

The residency provides us an opportunity to freely introspect and experiment with new visual vocabularies - as we are no longer bound to quote from established strands of academic debates but rather encouraged to follow fresh thought trails, carry out intense interactions with contemporaries and in turn, re-align the place of the self with a widening worldview.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Introducing Peers 2009

First encounters are usually filled with a mix of excitement and curiosity and at times interspersed with awkwardness and shy silences. As the participants of the student residency - PEERS met at the Khirkee studios, an informal introduction round soon led to marathon conversations. We instantly found common areas of interest and points of debate. As we sat around the courtyard space, ideas and views were tossed about within an ambiance of camaraderie. Hours flew as we spent the day meandering through all sorts of topics from Psychoanalysis to 'high fashion'.

Prateek Sagar began to discuss the ephemeral nature of his conceptual art works, Dorendra Waribam shared his experience with video art and Aliya Pabani chatted about her projects at CEMA (A new media lab at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology). Many of the works discussed seemed to incorporate an intense exploration of community groups, inquiry into social patterns and creative expression using diverse technological modes.

A brief conversation with KHOJ members on the studio space, ongoing projects and the current residency helped us familiarize with new terrains. We knew we had landed into a stimulating and FUN space when their instructions included - 'watch out for falling slippers!' and 'We have a hen who wanders about the courtyard...'

As the artists went about choosing studios, we conversed about projection techniques, sonic art, light installations and various aspects of contemporary curatorial practice(s). We began to imagine the exciting possibilities and transformations that could be undertaken in the empty, whitewashed rooms. Shine Shivan began to share some creative ideas he wanted to explore during the residency. He talked about his interest in using material such as bones, feathers, and insects in his art-works. This led to a plunge into the widening discourse on extreme art. Aliya talked about the politics behind the display of human beings and specifically 'Bodies...the exhibition' in which human remains were showcased. Speculations on the origins of these bodies continues as they were allegedly linked to the secret trade in Chinese bodies.

At that point I remembered visiting the preview show of Damien Hirst's 'Beautiful Inside My Head Forever' in Delhi. As I stood before a glossy butterfly work, I had overheard a young visitor nonchalantly quiz a Sotheby's employee , 'So, he actually kills to make his art?' The reaction was a stiff smile and an impressive justification. But the larger question remains unanswered 'Is killing for art truly justifiable?'