Friday, January 14, 2011
Mild Terrors of Altered Objects
Today evening my friend asked me about the shows that I am going to catch up in the coming days. Then he enquired about the venues. I told him, ‘get out of your home, get into your car and ask your driver to take to any direction. You will reach to a place/gallery where some art show is opening.’ I am not joking. In Delhi, in winter you have a spring; that is the spring of art. Consider Delhi as a tree and galleries as its branches, then you find each of them filled with flowers, I mean, works of art. The forthcoming third edition of the India Art Summit has made all the gallerists so alert that they all want to put up their best shows. And there is a lot of struggle in it.
So one day you start hopping between galleries. And you find a lot of interesting as well as boring works of art. It is just human tendency that during the bad times you think about the good times, the same way you think about King Fisher when you stand in the check in counter of the Indian Airlines. Hence, I think of an artist who is neither in the mainstream nor in the alternative stream. Someone recently asked me, ‘is there any alternative art?’ Yes, I told him immediately and added that alternative is the childhood of mainstream. Once alternative get matured or as the artist Alex Mathew once said about cats, when it grows facial hairs, it becomes mainstream. What about the art which does not have the hormonal support for growing facial hairs? I leave that to your imagination.
Seriously speaking, I am thinking of my friend and artist C.K.Rajan. I don’t know whether Rajan accepts me as a friend because during the boom time relationships had gone for a toss everywhere. Recently C.K.Rajan had a solo show at the Galerie Mirchandani+ Steinruecke, Mumbai. Titled ‘Mad Furniture and Psychic Objects Part I’, this show was real treat to my eyes. And I am sure you also would find these works interesting, thought provoking without much laboring on the visual jargons.
C.K.Rajan studied painting at the painting department of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda and later went to the Hyderabad University to do his post graduation. Ever since, he has been operating from Hyderabad. Born in 1960, Rajan lives a very different life. He is not the party hopping type and he is that kind of artist you tend to speak to in Hindi. Oh, yes it is like that. When you look at a person who does not have any airs on his educational background and does not pin up his laurels around his sleeves, you tend to speak to him in Hindi because you assume that he is a desi type. What a hypocrisy!
If you look at the bio-data of C.K.Rajan you would see, he does not have too many shows to flaunt. He was a member of the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association, popularly known as the Radical Group. Of late there are efforts from various intellectual quarters to call it ‘Kerala Radicals’. What a shame and this shame is supported by establishments run on the fuel of the University Grant Commission. Anyway, that is not our issue here. Rajan hit the scene with his ‘Mild Terrors’ in 1998, a time when the established and the struggling artists looked alike. So when Rajan came to exhibit at the Siddharth Hall of the Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, nobody thought about his looks or complexion.
‘Mild Terrors’ was an exceptional show because the whole show was made out of collages. They were not like the collages made out of grand imageries. They were simple and unassuming imageries collected from the discarded newspapers and magazines. And Rajan simply cut them and pasted them together and in the act he created a scene of terror both cultural and political before the viewers. Those collages told the viewer that as in a language, when certain syntactical rearrangement is done the meaning changes drastically and the shift in meaning reveals a terrible truth before us. And Rajan’s mild terrors were all about the terrible truths hidden like codes in the daily pictures. Rajan put them together as if they were the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. And the show was noticed, of course not by the galleries, but the friends like us. Then it was dark age for Rajan…for a long time.
With the boom, Rajan was brought back. I say, Rajan was brought back because Rajan was always away and working. He did not care about what people thought about him or about his art. He did not even think what his friend thought about him. He was/is rustic in a very philosophical way. Those people don’t know Rajan personally would take him for an arrogant artist. But he is like that. He speaks truth with a smile and the truths that he spells out are very disturbing. Only solace is that Rajan uses tremendous amount of irony and pun in his works so that the truths hits you like music. It goes deeper into you but it does not hurt.
Theories on Museumization of objects say that when a functional object is taken out of its functional context and defunctionalized and exhibited for philosophical contemplation, it achieves the quality of a work of art. In this sense, a work of art is a de-functionalized object incapable of performing anything of its own. The artist makes the functional into de-functional. This was what Duchamp did with his Fountain. But Fountain becomes a meaningless object when it is not interpolated with the author’s signature. In that sense, a de-functionalized object is like a patient. A work of art becomes a patient, observes Boris Groys and it needs the ‘curation’ either by the artist himself or by a curator. Rajan is an artist and a curator in this way.
In ‘Mad Furniture and Psychic Objects’, Rajan defunctionalizes the functional objects through simple alterations on them. In fact he creates objects that show the possibility of being functional or herald their erstwhile functional status. But it is just an illusion. It is like a linguistic code that in fact does not exist. It gives a suggestion and also underlines the violence acted out on them in order to change the meaning and function. Rajan chooses the functional objects and adopts their basic forms for the alteration, almost the way a linguist approach a language. Then the form is re-articulated in a different fashion, almost evoking a feeling of fun and terror at the same time.
The titles of these works suggest the ironic and deliberate twist imposed on the language by the artist. In ‘Psychopathic Killer Fan’ one sees a fan in the middle of a room with long leafs filling in the room, thereby rendering both the room and the fan de-functional. But instead of being functional it becomes an object that could hurt, obstruct and divide human beings and objects. It is like a psychopath, whose linguistics of logic is altered in a different way. In ‘Newly Wedded Bucket’ you see a bucket looking like a mangalya sutra, wedding pendant. In ‘Ageing Question Mark’, Rajan plays between the political and social connotations of a sickle which has now become bent by age.
Each work has its pun, both visual and interpretational. When I exhibited Rajan’s work titled the ‘Silent Assassin’, a wrist watch with an unusually long strap, in a show curated by me titled, ‘Fly High My Beloved Birds’ in New Delhi in 2006, people asked me what was the relevance of that watch in the show. I told them to look at the watch and try to see what purpose did it served. They were offended and some even tried to pull the watch down from its display. I had felt a sense of elation as I could see people still getting offended by art, which did not have any political connotations. But the offended parties were just ordinary people who came to see the show only because they knew me as a friend. The gallerists in Delhi were not offended by Rajan’s work because they did not come to see the show.
Time changes things. Rajan has not changed but his works have. So are the gallerists’ and curators’ approach to him. He does his work for his pleasure and purpose. That’s why Rajan could say in a work, ‘Time is Running Out’.