Immateriality of a Work of Art and its Quirky Operation in Contemporary Art History
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Loss of Decisive Moments or its Endless Continuity: About the Lack of Arresting Pictures from the fields of Death, Despair and Electoral Victories
Deserted streets from all over the world at a given had caught the imagination of the Reuters photographers and the series had become a rage and motivated many other photographers to venture out into the streets and click similar ones. The pictures were eerie in their very appearance but there was a strange beauty to them, a beauty that none had witnessed till then. The undressed virginity of the streets beckoned the human beings who had been locked up for around eight days straight. The photographs were taken on 31st March 2020. Still trying to figure out how to deal with the seclusion imposed on them, human beings were some sort of a living mess without the regular messiness; the cupboards and cutleries remained untouched. Bed lines were not changed. Time slowed down until one could listen to the slow ticking or smooth sailing of the clock hands.
The first wave was photogenic in many ways and there was a constant supply of images from all over the world, especially from India; of laborers vanishing into the remote villages, hapless youngsters getting thrashed by the lawless law enforces and images of uncountable and unbearable suffering and pain. Each picture vied for attention; they shrieked from the pages or screens for our conscience to wake up and do something. Dried rotis scattered all over the railway tracks, blistered feet of young and the old, children walking on their toes on the cruelly melting asphalt roads on the days of merciless Indian summer. Artists safely marooned at homes had many images to bite into and chew too; masked human figures were the mildest of them.
Somehow the second coming of Corona has not provided the world with arresting photographs. Is it because the pandemic is not now orchestrated itself simultaneously and severely in different parts of the world? May be that is the one reason for the lack of impactful images. People dying in the Indian streets, pavements, in front of the failed health care systems did make touching pictures but the images were still isolated in their frames and too scattered within Indian cities to create a solid and focused impact. The funeral pyres burning even on the residential parks and footpaths, the mass cremations and so on were registered for the world by the BBC photographers. An aerial shot of lights; it was the anti-thesis of that day when the megalomaniac Prime Minister had asked the country to light lamps that night for expressing gratitude to the health workers.
Tragedies always do not make good pictures. Prolonged tragedies scarcely make good photographs especially when the decisive points are everywhere, all the time, non-stop. So they make impactful videos and reels, helping television camerapersons to do the needful. Photographs are the static statements of an event whereas video cameras see events as events in its continuity. Or is it the over exposure tragedies through videography that has rendered the photographs of the same event less impactful? I am not sure. I was looking for some interesting photographs from the election campaigns, the winning and losing camps, but could not find any. People were prevented from celebrating the electoral victory considering the pandemic but the photographers were not asked to stay at home. Somehow, none could come up with a good photograph.
Photography is a medium that tells lies to establish a truth but relies on a lot of truth when it wants to establish no lie. News photographers and documentary photographers are destined to capture the perceived reality in aesthetically presentable frames. If that is the case, the perceived reality seems to have turned cold and uninspiring, be it the scenes from the pandemic affected locations or from the victory stands of the election candidates. Most of the thanksgiving photographs issued by the political parties and the victorious candidates are not candid; they are photoshopped and airbrushed images. We are in a time when photographs from the real locations do not look real. They may be look like pictures from wastelands nothing but endless agony in offer. Has death and despair killed the photographable moments? Has victory itself gone into the depths of existence to negotiate with the futility of winning and losing?
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Cultivate friends in media and if you are an artist it is a pre-requisite. Do not wait for the art historians and critics whose nose are up in the air, to come and take a cursory glance before they go back to their dens to pick up their pens or log into their laptops and jab in the words and ideas about you and your works, stuff you have not even thought about or dreamt of and come up with a critique of the art work that you have taken a few months or a few years to create, and demolish it in one go or praise to the heavens where your work in fact do not have any space as you yourself are sure about but have already found its place in the hell of discourse down there on there on the earth itself. So cultivate friends in media who talk about you and your works the way the bees do when they come to the flowers. Don’t you know the bees do not do anything to the flowers nor do the change the fragrance of the pollens; they just carry and disseminate elsewhere.
Do you think I am cynical when I say this? No, I am not cynical but am trying to be as sincere as possible, as vehement as a critic who could muster up courage to tell the truth. A critic or a historian is not going to help you immediately, here and now. Their job is there in the future and they are like the carriers of a certain gene along the streams of thoughts and bloods, striving to make them relevant at some point in time. Think of it. Maximum that could become revelations gained as you pour into the toms in real time or scroll up or down in the virtual time. Minimum is that they could become the provenance in some auction where works literally go under the hammer of economics and get encased in super strong cases that would in turn go into the vaults or walls till they are called up again to do the service to economics. But people from media are not like that. Aha, they talk about you and your works, exactly the way you want and the way you desire.
Oh dear media men and women who come to the places where works of art displayed, take your seat at the reception or art the café out there, go through the press material that you hold dear as your life line, and much over the goodies that you have just been given and hark upon the words that the artists have in reserve. You may hear an odd word that sounds so high and mighty among the simple talks that the artists usually have. You run to the urinal first to ease yourself once you are back in the office, then to the online thesaurus so that you could discern what is said and what is unsaid in the press release. You have a tendency to copy to repeat the press release so it is always good for the readers, no matter the daily that they subscribe most of the have the same material on art. And I do not make this condescending comment on the journos. Some of them are so good that they kick the press release into the place where it belongs, a dust bin and take out their smartphones and play the record in which they have registered your seemingly intelligent rambling.
See artists, unlike the critics, these journalists are gifted with readable vocabulary and they know how to employ them in the right contexts and eke out the right responses from people. And remember, they are so good at cooking up things when it comes to making up a feature that explains the life, times and works of an artist. Any artist invariably starts off from a remote village where his father was a communist and mother, an illiterate. Then he goes to the big town to study art because he was inspired by a local school teacher. He gave him some books and some names and he is hooked. Good they were not crude pedophiles. After the education you to the city to struggle and you make it and you come back to the village. All what you want to do with your life is to uplift your state into the heavens of international art. If you were born in a rich family and had the luck to study abroad, the story is always like how you have spent all your time in the museums and galleries and got a head start with good art. Stories are made for you neatly by the media friends and you need them. If you don’t have friends in media you are as good as dead.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Artists of the world wake up! You have a lot to lose, not just chains. In fact there are no chains around you no. If you think you have one, then you must be hallucinating. The governments are no longer interested in your paintings or sculptures or any other work of art because your artistic acts no longer matter to the governments. They have become so apathetic and ruthless therefore they are not going to chain you. Governments are only concerned about facilitating the corporations. The corporations are concerned about manipulating big data. Data, as they say, is the new crude. In the long run the majority is going to be irrelevant in the game. Artists are a lot that faces the threat of irrelevancy. Why so, let me explain.
Creating art is one thing and making money out of it in the market is another thing, so says Jasper Johns. And do we need a Jasper Johns to tell that now? He had said it long back before many of you were born even. The current market is all about the object experience of art and its conversion into monetary value. But of late, we are talking about the NFTs- the Non-Fungible Tokens. It may sound so good to the ears of the artists. Your work cannot be replicated once the NFT is here. You are the unique creator and your creation has been transported into the digital realm, with a virgin code, so pristine, and the kind of one that goes back into the previous state once the monetization with it is done. But in the long run, it looks like there is a problem.
NFT talks about the digital piece even without the original one; original is perishable. At times it is forcibly destroyed depending on the nature of transaction. Next is nothing but an NFT whose original never existed! Who is then the maker of it? It is a simple question with a simple answer. The AI could do it for the market as you are made obsolete by the market itself. A work of art made to order to serve a particular economic purpose. It is projected that in the near future the number of global population that understands economics operations in the digital realm will be zero. You cannot fight against a system that you don’t understand.
So what are you going to do with your art and artistic skills? Your art could give you some sort of existential relevancy for the time being. But then even if you are a professional artist, your services are no longer needed. What is the point then in continuing with something that doesn’t create any value in the market? You may find some aesthetical value within your own limited functional society. But that society also would go for a sea change sooner than later.
When AI can replace HI (human intelligence), and if it happens in a decade or so what will be the role of the artists in the society? I am no doomsday prophet. But there are chances of art becoming obsolete or turning into some sort of a primitive human act. May be it is time that artists wake up and think about the present day deeply and derive strategies from a world that keeps evolving in terms of info-technology and bio-technology, two factors that speed up change in unprecedented and unpremeditated ways.
Bad artists tend to look for and talk about good art and often they are excruciatingly right in their findings and appreciation whereas good artists always tend to look for bad art why because in bad art lies a lot of elements that given a chance could bloom into good art. Interestingly enough good artists are wonderfully adept in picking up those little good elements from bad art and giving them a fantastic flourish in their own works. What does it say? Bad artists in their search become scavengers for good art and are enamored by its ability to enthrall and also slightly put off by their own inability to make use of those elements from the good art to better their own works. But the good artists who work on the elements from the bad art further the very idea of art making. In a way bad art is what triggers good art and there is a strong connection between the good and bad art as well as artists. The difference between them is fundamental though. Bad artists appreciate the living good artists but the living good artists are stingy in returning their appreciation. So they reserve their good words only for the dead and well documented bad artists.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
(This is Not a Pipe by Rene Magritte)
(This is Not a Pipe by Rene Magritte)
What’s the true nature of an art work? Is it what the artist anoints it to be or what the critic perceives it to be? Could an art work exist with multiple meanings and interpretations and still be taken seriously?
It is one of the fundamental questions asked by many artists and the question stems from the fear that his/her work of art could always be misinterpreted by critics and viewers alike. This authorial anxiety is legitimate as much as the interpretational freedom that the critics and viewers exercise. There could be a possibility of a work of art being over-read or under-read. When meanings are attributed to a work of art through multi-layered interpretative acts, the work is reduced to a mere trope that has nothing to do with the authorial intentions. So is the case when a work is under-read through negative deductions, stripping the work off of its strength to generate multiple meanings.
A work of art does not stand as a monolith. ‘This is not a Pipe,’ wrote Rene Magritte on his painting that depicted a smoking pipe. He was suggesting that a pipe is not a pipe where the word pipe does not stand in for the pipe in the picture. In structuralism, it is said that a sign need not necessarily be the signified. Through the act of signification the quality and intentional meaning of a sign could change. So the authorial intention may not be taken in the same seriousness and verve in a location/context where the work of art as a sign or a text does not signify the same. This heralds the death of the author, metaphorically at least and new ‘authors’ come to be through the creation of multiple texts/signs out of the given according to the renewed contexts.
(How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare by Joseph Beuys)
Joseph Beuys, the German conceptual artist lamented, how he could explain pictures to a dead hare. On the one level he was talking about the impossibility of interpretation in the case of a work of art for the listener could be ‘dead’ to its meaning. On the other hand Beuys’ act also could emphasis the fact the dead animal’s symbolic meaning was also dead to the stories or interpretations that he was making about the imagined work in his possession. We could deduce that here two narrative texts are brought into an impossible and improbable confrontation where both are dead to each other rendering the act of signification or reading null and void. In Beuys’ shamanic acts he freezes the meaning to its act alone and also connects back to the symbolic meanings developed around an object or act through the various layers of historic time.
We could pit Joseph Beuys against the Rene Magritte as they stick to two different methods of reading and understanding a work of art. Beuys makes his performances unique and no other meaning could be attributed than the autobiographical references and shamanic mysteries. In the case of Magritte each work of art in fact challenges the acts of making a singular meaning and opens up a possibility for reading and understanding it in varied ways. True that the autobiographical references play a major role in any artists’ works but as the works become texts and start their independent journeys through various cultural contexts similar and dissimilar to the original one it changes its complexion and could mean something entirely different, which however does not overthrow the authorial intentions altogether. They stand as one of the meanings, but not necessarily as the primary one.
(Painting by Rene Magritte)
For example take the seminal work of art created by Damien Hirst, something unprecedented in the history of modern art. Perhaps, Da Vinci had attempted at dissecting various animals including the human beings; his approach was purely scientific and no religious, ethical or symbolic meaning was attributed to it. The chances of symbolic attributions are considerably reduced when something done in a context even if it is artistically inclined but denied the chance of it being a work of art. In Da Vinci’s drawings of dissection do not enter into the symbolic realm. Hence, one could say that those drawings carry only authorial intentions, blocking almost all the chances of it becoming a text liable to be opened for the generation of multiple sub-texts.
Damien Hirst’s work is titled ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. A tiger shark was fished from the seas and was split into two to have it in the vitrines filled with formaldehyde for preservation. Other than the explanatory title no clue was given to raise it to the symbolic realm. One could contemplate deeply on life and death alike in the presence of this work of art. Too many readings came but none went far away from what I have just said because the authorial intention was such that it did not mean anything than a dissected shark in formaldehyde solution. The authorial intention perhaps was to shock the viewer and give a chance to think about life and death. There were many discourses regarding this work but all were extraneous to the fundamental meaning of the work of art.
(Dissection experiments by Da Vinci)
There are works that allow interpretations and there are works that block interpretations, that means there could be works as open texts and closed texts. Open texts have the tendency to move beyond the familiar cultural locations and assume new meanings whereas closed texts remain in one place with one meaning therefore gaining some kind of universal currency without interpretative symbolism. Beuys underlined the idea of textual collisions that dispel each other and in Hirst we see a one-sided bombardment of visual effect that could generate not meanings but extraneous dialogues.
(the Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst)
Authorial intentions cannot travel as fast the images especially in the contemporary times when transference of data and images is unimaginably fast. Images become open texts, almost ‘culture-less’ or devoid of a particular culture therefore liable to be interpreted according to the given contexts. Till the modern times, religion was the grammar that held the visual creations within the universal interpretative field. Modern times shook off the shackles of religion and the grammar was fragmented. Globalization and the proliferation of a homogenous market have become a new religion providing a universal grammar to the urban visual art creations so that interpreting the works has more or less become closer to the authorial intentions. It is always good to have authorial intention in the background so that the critic wouldn’t stray too far to make the work look entirely different from something imagined by the artist. At the same time it is not necessary that the authorial intention should rule the reading of a work of art, preventing it from being effective in multiple contexts in varied ways.