Thursday, March 12, 2009

The New Art India

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.


DS said...

The Playboy Interview book was our favourite !! and the Albert Speer one was the one that shook me up the most.I have to agree those are among the best interviews I have ever read. Please emulate.

Havent seen Art India as yet, tho the thinness you describe could be the lack of ads in these recessionary times.

Girish Shahane said...

They've actually got a decent ads to text ratio in the issue. I really think more in-depth interviews were warranted.

Anonymous said...

"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."

It was interesting reading your comment: especially since you have chosen to leave out words that seriously do make the questions sound ridiculous! "HOW do you think....." which you turn into "Do you think your paintings "... etc. I havent seen the issue in print yet, so I sure hope the edit hasnt been extreme. That having been said, Ranbir K. was as erudite as always, but with a word limit of 500, things do end up sounding ridiculous sometimes.

Anonymous said...

In case you're interested, the text as was sent to the magazine:

Latika Gupta: What is the process through which you arrive at an image? Could you elaborate on the evolution of your work over the years; the changes in direction, especially your foray into working with video.

Ranbir Kaleka: Over the years, what has not changed is what I want from my work: there is a process of meaning-making where I arrive at an ‘event’. The ‘event’ is more a psychological state which employs images that have a universal familiarity and tap into our collective sense of memory. In painting, the ‘event’ may be created through a configuration of people and objects. The stance of the body, the trajectory of the eye, the texture of surfaces, the vigour or otherwise of the painter’s hand all contribute towards creating what I call an ‘event’ , the reading of which is not linear and not necessarily temporally or geographically specific but carries the physiological buzz of familiarity or an emotional twinge of recognition. One major visible difference from my early work as a student to now has been the use of colour. From a range of greys, I started to push colours to the threshold of garishness. I felt that it was possible to produce a kind of sophisticated kitsch which is complex and nuanced. Earlier nearly all my work seemed as if it belonged to an ‘enclosed interior’. Those recesses began to slowly open up wider with access to the ‘outer space’ although this ‘enclosed interior’ continues to interest me very much. Over the years, I have also been looking at art forms of other cultures and acquiring a larger visual repertory. I like inventing metaphorical events as well which are not culturally specific.

I started to think of creating an image combining painting and video in the late eighties but it’s only in 1998/99 that I made my first video/painting piece. My interest in video arose more from my interest in cinema than from video art. I wanted to see what would happen if I combined the physicality of the painted image and an image made of light. I arrived at a sort of hyper-image which had a quality different from both painting and the cinematic or video image. This became another tool with which to create ‘events’; for creating meaning and telling stories with.

LG: How do you view the current video-art scene in India?

RK: I think younger artists are getting increasingly sensitized, they’ve grown up with the moving image and can understand its the meaning-making potential. In addition there are younger buyers as well and a new market which did not exist earlier.

LG: How involved are you in the display of your work. Does the work change in different contexts of display and does this affect the manner in which a single work is experienced and received? One example is the display of 'Man with cockerel' at Anupam Poddar's house and its very different context in Sudhir Patwardhan's travelling show.

RK: I am very involved in the display of my work. The nature of installation is such that it requires different solutions in different venues. Some work has the versatility to work both as monumental or discrete presences. ‘'Man with cockerel' has been projected in monumental size on a wall, viewed from afar, it has been projected on a suspended board with projection on both sides in a dark room where it looks like a floating mirror, and on a Plexi glass where the image seems absorbed inside the Plexi’s thickness as a trapped genie in a bottle, it has been back-projected in a small alcove as well as shown on a monitor. Entry into the work is affected in subtle ways where the work may appear intimate and inward looking and in other places it may appear reflecting on the general world, it can have a humorous twist as well, for example when Anupam Poddar projected it in a way where the best view was from the bathtub. As the work is not about any one thing and has multiple entry points, it only enriches the work if the viewers pass varied nodes on the spokes of a turning wheel.

LG: Do you feel that the perceptions towards your work are different vis-à-vis Indian audiences and those abroad?

RK: My work isn’t cultural-specific. I think the reading of them has been more according to one’s personal experience of life itself. Although people in the West have said one thing which someone here may not have asked me at all, for instance whether the cockerel is significant culturally in India! What surprised me though is that whenever somebody found something ‘spiritual’ in the work it was always an Indian viewer and not a Westerner looking for transcendental meanings in the work of an artist from the ‘spiritual East’.

LG: What work are you showing at the Spertus Museum in Chicago? I am rather intrigued, since the museum is being projected as having a double axis of focus- one is Jewish history and the second is to work with people who engage in various ways with ideas of ethnic or religious or cultural identity.

RK: One thing I discussed with them before accepting the commission is that I would interested in creating this work if we can make it relevant to everybody, so that it touches other lives. The installation ‘Consider’ was commissioned as a Holocaust Memorial by the Spertus Museum, but it has no Jewish or European people in it, it has no European sound. All the people are Indian but without being made ethnically obvious. There is a reference to an event that occurred in Auschwitz and this was originally narrated by a man from a small place near Greece; but here I used a woman to narrate his testament. In the other half, it is read by an American. My attempt is shift it away each time from specificity so that a more essential aspect of the work would come out. We wouldn’t thus feel sorry only for what happened to the Jewish people but we would be concerned with how humans behave with each other.

LG: What new projects are in the pipeline?

RK: I am working on a painting for the Khushi foundation auction in which I am collaborating with AR Rahman; also a free-standing triptych, with some sculptural elements that go with the paintings. I am also working on some sculptural pieces in which I am dealing with idea of porous or leaking bodies.

Girish Shahane said...

Latika, I'm afraid the print version does read, "Do you think your paintings and videos have evolved over time?"
Apparently it is the text editor at fault, not you, but my quote is accurate.

Girish Shahane said...

I'm glad people have the entire interview to read as you wrote it. It is clear that your actual questions went far beyond the standard magazine question format.
Word limits are brutal, and an editor will almost always cut from the interviewer rather interviewee. But cutting questions can actually detract from the answers, which has happened in this case.
That brings me back to the central point of my post: the interviews should have been deeper, more comprehensive. It's an opportunity lost.

Anonymous said...

Ummm..its a double issue and they couldnt find space to use the whole interview ?
What were they saving ? their costs or their reputation ?
another thing - the bal bharati type of edit on the question shows how limited that person's vocabulary was and how poor he/she may've been at precis-writing in school !