Beyond the traditional: A têtê-à- têtê with the quirky and the unconventional

Beyond the traditional: A têtê-à- têtê with the quirky and the unconventional

  • Posted on: September 9, 2015
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By Divya Joshi

Does art only revolve around an artwork, an artist and the artist’s intentions? Is it not about interaction and generation of dialogue between the artwork and the viewer/participant? Can art not be defined beyond the interpretation of the artist? Taking into consideration all these questions, we are going to understand an all together new realm of art which is both interactive and for public use.

Every art has a purpose to fulfill. Every artist has a story to tell through his artwork. Contemporary art is liberating. It is more than what it appears to be. Today, artists don’t want to limit their artwork to any one particular meaning, instead they leave it to the public eye and mind to make sense of it. They leave it open for scrutiny, criticism, discussion and interaction.


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Installation is one such medium that allows the viewers to engage and connect with thought provoking art. Unlike the traditional media, such as, painting and sculpture, installation art addresses the viewer directly as an embodied presence in the space. Both objectivity and subjectivity coalesce together in this space for artistic intentions to unfold. The installations, which are for the public, bring the artistic process, both metaphysical and material, into the public sphere and create an interactive space for the viewer, artist and art. Such public works not only perplex the viewer’s sense of time and space, but also makes them revel in a different kind of an experience which provokes them to think out of the box.

Let me take you through a few of the installations (large scale, multi media etc.) so that you can interact with the artist, his/ her invention and intention and see what other possible meanings you can add to this open ended and engaging art medium. The art work will dumbstruck you when you see it for the first time, but it will require your intervention in order for it to look complete. You will need to immerse into this form, as it will appeal not only to your sense of sight but also to those of hearing and smell.

Born in Tamluk, a small town in West Bengal of great antiquity and famous for its remarkable heritage of terracotta art, Paresh Maity is an artist who has explored all mediums- water colours, drawings, oils, mixed media, sculptures, installations and photography. His large scale installation, ‘Procession of 50 Ants’ is a tribute to the undying spirit of something as small and as mundane as the common ants. Why ants? Take a minute and think. What do you think are the qualities found in an ant? Don’t you know that ants have colonized almost every landmass on earth! Some of you might be thinking that, “what can these tiny little ants do?” Well, you’ll be astonished, but ants have so many qualities that will make us feel ashamed of ourselves. Ants are not only very disciplined, sensitive and intuitive, but they are skilled communicators and can easily sniff disasters. Maity used 100 motorbike spare parts to reassemble them to resemble large ants. The idea of ‘what appears to be small is actually not small” comes across this piece of installation which gives these tiny ants such a larger than life size and also imparts a lesson which is most important for a modest and resolute life.

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Paresh Maity, Procession, Motorbike Parts, Lights and Wood

Francesco Clemente’s ‘Taking Refuge’ (2013) is another great piece of installation which presents a dark interior space, where a multitude of blue and grey painted Buddhas line the walls. Varying in scale, they meld into one another such as the heads disappear into the torsos. The heads of animals such as cats and mice are depicted upon these Buddhas. Any thoughts on why does the Italian artist choose to replace human heads with animal heads? While you think about this question, let me give you a little background on Francesco. Dividing his time between New York and Varanasi, the artist embraces diverse mediums and cultures. Thus, both geographically and conceptually, the metaphor of nomad is attached to him. So, why the animal heads? This raises a lot of questions about life and death, demise and return and the relation between the prey and the predator. Clemente’s love for contemplative traditions takes him closer to the spiritual space, the dark tent where he wishes to seek refuge. When we walk inside this tent, we feel solace away from the outside worldly desires. The ease of contemplation can only be possible in such a space where the mind doesn’t battle with desires. The images and the Vajrayana vow inside the tent move the viewers such that they are forced to think the relevance of all the paintings. The embroidery outside the tent is fascinating. But, what looks so simple from outside is very a complex narrative of spirituality.

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Fracesco Clemente, Taking Refuge, 2013

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Fracesco Clemente, Taking Refuge (detail), 2013

When was the last time you wrote a letter to your family, friend, or loved one? By the way, have you ever written a letter? You belong to a fast paced age where everyone is dependent on technology. Do you get the time to express your emotions or has technology overshadowed that too? In order to capture the sensory and emotive experience of the viewers, Nandita Kumar ,a multi-media artist uses her multi media innovation “Emotive sounds of an electric writer”. Perturbed by the loss of writing, the artist seeks to resurrect the art of writing letters. She sets out to enagage people in her innovation. She asks people to write letters full of love and life. After the letters arrive, she converts them into vector lines (language which the machine understands). The machine writes/ blots into the paper. The 30 ft scroll (letters) is then digitized and a graph is layed down to make a musical score. After the score is uploaded on the vimeo, it is sent to various musicians across the planet to build a sound palette for the sound composer. Finally, when the sounds are scored to the video, the multi media installation becomes a fusion of technology and a harmonious melody. Would it have been possible had the letters not arrived? The engagement of the public for this project was not only required as an input but also left a deep impact on the lives of people who gave way to their emotions while writing these letters for their dear ones and showed how important their existence is to them.

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Nandita Kumar, eMotiVe sOuNDs of the eLEctRic wRiTEr, 2013-2015

The scintillating scarlet dress is not just an installation. It speaks for the woman whose body and individuality faces continuous changes. Through the dress, the artist, Anoli Perera discusses the ‘being’ of a woman which is constantly in the state of flux. This Sri Lankan self taught artist was part of the wave of Sri Lankan artists in the 1990’s who professed a new ideological position in respect to the social context of their country, especially creating a new space for female artists to prosper. Red is not just the colour of love, but also stands for pain, anxiety, violence. As a social being, she is deprived of any agency and also in the domestic space; she faces the brunt of so many tensions. The viewers may see this dress and imagine it to be some flattering bridal wear, but only when they go into the deep; they realize the dress has a lot more to it.

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Anoli Perera, Second Skin: Elastic Dress

From simple viewing to interacting and critically engaging with the art form, the viewers participate in the meaning-making exercise and give their own interpretations to the piece of art. The artist has his own set of intentions behind his creation, but in order to make his piece more fulfilling, he leaves it to the viewers to endow myriad meanings to it so that his purpose of making his art work intriguing becomes successful. Had all the meanings been visible in the art work itself, how would the critical thinking follow? Only an interaction among the art-work, its creator (the artist’s intentions behind his work) and the viewer allows a space for meanings to flourish and true engagement to take place.