Friday, April 5, 2013

Notebooks as Curatorial Projects

(Ekalokam Notebooks on my table)

Yesterday a small parcel came by courier. I knew it was on its way. I signed the yellow sheet and received it. I did not open it for almost a day. I knew about the content of that parcel. I knew those were small little notebooks with the photographs taken by Abul Kalam Azad. Thiruvannamalai based Ekalokam Collective (One World) has published these note books. Ekalokam is an alternative publishing house with a proclaimed aim of taking the images of works of art to a larger common public. It is a gesture of initiating people into art and culture without using persuasive jargons. Ekalokam aspires to move into the lives of people with art and make them feel that they need art, like the way they need food, security and comfort. Today, art has gone away from people because people do not think about it as food (for thought) or comfort (of spirit). Ekalokam thinks that if the images of works of art are seen regularly in mundane contexts, they would grow into the consciousness of people. There will be empathetic relationships and graceful recognitions. Even a notebook with the images of works of art could be cathartic.

I did open them finally. The small notebooks are like the quarter size pocket books with thematic titles for each; ten in total. Then I thought of the whole set as a curatorial take on the works of Azad’s photography works. His photographs reproduced here are originally printed on Hahnemuhle paper and each print is 20” x 20” in size. They are edition works. Now what you see in these notebooks are the miniature versions of the same and they are in multiple editions. When you hold a notebook in your hand, you get to see only one miniature edition of the work. This is exactly what happens in a photography show. You see framed images on the walls of a gallery and they have editions elsewhere. Hence, when you carry these notebooks you are in fact carrying small little shows of Abul Azad. The choice of using these notebooks for writing down things is absolutely yours. You may or you may not. But you have a show in your hand and if you have any impressions on these works or impressions on anything you may write them down. Each time you revisit these notebooks, you feel like stepping into a gallery for an exclusively private view. The curator/publisher stands absent but the thematic takes you from page to page. After ten years or fifteen years, if you care to keep them, they would look like the miniature retrospective of the artist. It could happen with any other artist and his/her images.

(Ekalokam Brochure)

I don’t take down notes. I take impressions in mind. During the formative years and the years that I had spent as a journalist, it was imperative for me to take down notes. I could scribble down points in spiral notebooks when I attended press conferences or interviewed people of importance. Practice took me to intense listening. When you listen intently, each word and sentence gets etched in your mind. Your brain behaves like a spiral bound notebook. The notations of time that you take in automatically while listening become punctuation marks. I have travelled to places with a notebook. I have even bought small notebooks to write down my impressions. But it never happens. I look at things and they transform themselves into words and get stored in a folder in my mind. Whenever you need to reproduce them, you just need to click them open. But I have seen people writing down things in their notebooks. I see them as well organized people. They never miss an appointment or they forget missions. I wish I could do something of that sort. But often I fail to do it. So I do not know whether I would ever write notes on the pages of these books. What I could do maximum is maintaining a task diary.

When you buy a notebook with the images of works of art in them, it becomes a thing of pride. When you spend money, a little more than what you spend on normal notebooks, you tend to store it for keepsake. Whether you write notes in them or not, you are going to keep these notebooks as souvenirs and you are going to revisit them occasionally. Think of a museum. What are those objects kept in there labelled and categorized? Once up on a time they were all functional objects; they were functional in various contexts ranging from mechanical to religious, quotidian to royal. Once removed from their functional contexts, they become relics of culture and we tend to preserve them. Photographs are the impressions of functional objects and contexts. But when they travel from function to image, they become dysfunctional in the actual sense. They become relics of an immediate time. Hence, a photograph in itself is a museum piece. It museumizes contexts. And in turn the photographs as objects get museumized as they are identified as images invested with cultural values. Removed from function they become aesthetical objects. These notebooks, in a way, are museums in themselves. Once they are removed from their actual function (of making notes) they become museum items. As they are handy objects, they become a part of our daily lives. Like a memory these books remain.

(My Anger and Other Stories notebook)

Azad is a versatile photographer with a critical view on things. He oscillates between autobiographical narratives and documenting societies. Documentation, in a conventional sense is a very detached objective act. But for an artist documentation is a sort of identification with ideas or attitudes. These notebooks produced by Ekalokam have the following curatorial thematic in each book. Periya Kovil (Annamalayiar Temple dedicated to Shiva), My Anger and Other Stories, Untouchables, Chai, Charas, Chappati, Dockland, Samadhi, Coral Hills, Beatles in Rishikesh, Etimology of Rishikes and Southern Salt are the titles. Azad’s leaning towards gender politics and subaltern politics anchor him in finding his subjects in and around the areas where he lives. He travels to the places where religious rituals are performed for peripheral people. As an avid portrait photographer too Azad has an immense collection of people in his repertoire though they have not yet been published in a book form.

 (Southern Salt Notebook)

These notebooks are precious collectibles for the reasons I have recounted in this article. Perhaps, the real buyers of these notebooks would find their own reasons to have them. These notebooks are like a collective performance. They are books but not yet books. They are pictures but not yet pictures. They are museums but not yet museums. They are souvenirs but not yet souvenirs. They are functional but not yet.....Possibilities are immense. The real possibility of these notebooks lies in their ability to discard definitions. Not this not this. Perhaps, Ekalokam happens when we keep saying, note this, note this. 

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