I received in the mail a copy of the latest Art India, the magazine I used to edit a decade ago. It is supposedly a double issue, but no thicker than any normal volume, and is available at the usual price of Rs.150. What gives? Well, Art India has been appearing seriously behind schedule, and this will help it catch up somewhat. If I'm right, the current issue combines the October 2008 and January 2009 editions, which means the publication has only three months to cover now. The double issue is a neat trick except for subscribers who, I suppose, will receive three volumes for the price of four.
The double issue focuses on interviews, a good idea sunk by some ordinary question-and-answer sessions. Part of the problem is, I think, that many of the artists have been featured before in Art India and do not say anything new or revealing. Of those interviewed for the first time, Ranbir Kaleka is asked this opening question by Latika Gupta: "Do you think your paintings and videos have evolved over time?" How is an artist supposed to respond? "No, I think my practise has been static for decades"? Second question in the same interview: "Has the quality of your involvement with video art changed?" Third: "What do you think about the state of video art in India?" Seriously cookie cutter stuff. (Update: Latika has written to clarify matters, please read her two comments on this post).
Where the interviewer asks more probing questions, the length of the articles gets in the way. Most of the pieces are only about a thousand words long. That's just enough to get some basics sorted, stuff any newspaper would ask. The art magazine interview should really start from this point on. The editor Abhay Sardesai's chat with Sudhir Patwardhan works well, despite Patwardhan being a regular on Art India's pages, because it is allowed to proceed for a relatively long duration. I recall reading, in my mid-teens, a book called the Playboy Interview, which blew me away. Each piece was 10,000 words or so in length. Three of these exhaustive interviews I remember well even now: Fidel Castro, Germaine Greer and John Lennon. I hope someday to conduct an interview of that kind of quality.
I found the interviews with artists over 45 much more engaging than those with their younger counterparts, and this is something I've experienced repeatedly. There's a mix of personal experience and interpretation at play in the way Sudhir Patwardhan, Nataraj Sharma and (given a chance) Ranbir Kaleka, speak about their work which gives conversations with them a fine texture. Sharma constructs such marvellously modulated sentences, I'm inclined to believe he wrote rather than spoke his answers. For younger artists, concepts and politics take the place of introspection, and neither the concepts nor the politics are incisively thought through.