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The Google Art Project Experiment: Groping Around in Gigapixel Land

http://godownofmymind.blogspot.in/2013/08/the-google-art-project-experiment.html

 
Posted by Sourav Roy on 2/22




The ways of being at home: One hundred and seven examples

 



  1. For Indians, especially the Bengali, the relationship with the British could be likened to the kind grown-ups have with their part-benevolent, part-abusive fathers. Some of the wounds seem to have healed, but when you lift the scab, the pink still has touches of red. Over time, you realise that you are looking forward to that scar. It would be an inheritance, like your genes.   

 

  1. Today, we think twice before calling any city our mother, especially the massive, merciless metropoleis, yet the term in original Greek means the first, "mother city" of a state, that is, the city which sent forth the settlers all around. But to call a modern metropolis mother seems somehow to admit to a toxic genealogy, becoming less pure in the process. So we ruralise it as much as we can. “ My hometown is Bombay.”


  2. Exile House
    by Tenzin Tsundae

    “Our tiled roof dripped
    and the four walls threatened to fall apart
    but we were to go home soon.

    We grew papayas
    in front our house
    chillies in our garden

    calves trotted out of the manger.

    The fences have grown into a jungle,
    now how can I tell my children
    where we came from?” 3

     

  3. Even for those of us who have never lived in a village, the ideal home is always a rural idyll.  Preferably with an uninterrupted, high-speed internet connection. ( It’s perhaps an inherited burden from some of our parents who pined away all their lives for the rural homes left behind.) That is why, the real estate advertisements which keep screaming about ‘the best of both worlds in the suburbs’ never seem absurd to us. Until we live in one of them, that is. The ghost of the village haunts the internet connection. And the ghost of the city raises the onion prices.

     

  4. For someone who has grown up in Calcutta or even Kolkata, anything gently crumbling and molding anywhere feels like home. Colonial ruins, narrow lanes, hutments, people huddled in tea shacks even in Sierra Leone seem warmly familiar.

     

  5. “Calcutta we now know probably laid no more than two centuries ago. Yet if you look at paintings and photographs, and see old films of the city, you notice that these walls and buildings were never new - that Calcutta was born to look more less as I saw it as a child.” 1

     

  6. A private pastime of mine has always been, while walking around in cities, to superimpose them. There are neighbourhoods in Vadodara which look almost identical to some in Kolkata. The same is true for Bengaluru and Mumbai. Or Vishakapatnam and Gaya. But while superimposing, some of the parts stick out. And increasingly, those parts are becoming fewer. Should that make one feel at home everywhere? Or nowhere?

     

  7. “Calcutta would make its way back to me, unexpectedly, through Irish literature and Mansfield and Udora Welty and the writing of the American South.” 1

     

  8. “Edward Said had written in an essay that ‘[m]ost people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that - to borrow a phrase from music - is contrapuntal. For an exile, habits of life, expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment;’ I understand this completely, except that I balk at the bathos of the ‘exile’. I prefer ‘traveller’, with all its contemporary associations of banality - duty-free shops; frequent flyer miles; waiting for a car.” 1

     

  9. These ‘contemporary associations’ are what have turned the ‘exile’ into a ‘traveller’. The homogenisation of the world has made it easy enough to be in a perpetual state of displacement. And disorientation.

     

  10. ‘Ghar Kab Aaoge’ (When will you be home?) used to be a popular body illustration in almost all moving vehicles in my childhood. Along with the ornamentally painted text, It used to show a woman, her face buried in her knees, all dressed up, probably crying, sitting in a grassy veld with a quaint hut in the background. In some,  a steam train chugs by. An admission of guilt for being away from home and a proud display of being the intrepid provider, these illustrations don’t seem so commonplace these days. The women has stopped waiting up? Or all the long distance drivers can afford long STD calls?   

 

  1. “ Of the millions of mobile telephone conversations taking place every hour in the world’s cities and suburbs, most whether they are private or business, begin with a statement about the caller’s whereabouts. People need straightaway to pinpoint where they are. It is as if they are pursued by doubts suggesting that they may be nowhere.” 3 (John Berger, Ten Dispatches about Place)

 

  1. “Generally, on the day before I leave - sometimes, even two or three days before departure - I stop doing anything; I stop moving. I don’t like engagements on the day. I’m giving myself completely to the time left me - in the process, becoming a bore. I go through the motions, inwardly disengaged; I am convinced that I have no right any more to be here. Dusk is the worst time …  I am alone in the universe in knowing that this orchestration of the day’s close, ...I’m irrelevant to it. ‘It’s peculiar to musicians,’ he says, ‘I have a friend who is a musician who is exactly the same way before he travels.’” 1

     

  2. In a train, rushing from one city that you wished to call home to a city you used to call home is being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. So the time is spent between the pages of a book about the latter. Kilometres are quickly converted into chapters, and suddenly one feels at home. I remember the anecdote about a bookworm child who, when frequently deracinated by his itinerant father, would find the bookmark as his only anchor. The only thing that didn’t change around him was the page he last read when he left home.

 

  1. But to use home and homeland as a singular number today is as difficult as believing in an immutable soul in these post-modern times.

     

  2. “As Maalouf has written, before one is an immigrant, one is a migrant.” Latika Gupta. 3

     

  3. “So when you ask about my homeland, I am always struggling to answer.” 3 (Zineb Sedira in conversation with Latika Gupta)

     

  4. It is said that, “ Where are you from?” is a typically Indian first question to the just-introduced stranger as opposed to “What do you do for a living?” in the West. Together they ask the same old nature vs. nurture question, over and over again.

 

  1. In the days when every adult except the very near and dear ones were addressed by their last names, every call was an echo. Because every surname carries an origin story, traces of homelands, a history of honours and injustices.  

     

  2. “My father claims that the present spelling of his surname was given to it by a registrar’s clerk in Calcutta University on the day he enrolled there.” 1

     

  3. A vestige from the colonial past, the university still engages in this act of orthographical domination. It distorts the older half of one’s identity, leading to curious cases of mismatched spellings in the same family. For women, it’s akin to an involuntary marriage and for men, an involuntary severance from the past.

  4. “ People in South Calcutta shake their heads when an old house comes down - but are also plotting, of course, to move to a better city. …. Calcutta has still not recovered from history: people mourn the past and abhor it deeply.” 1

     

  5. “It may be argued that the past is a country, from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity.” Salman Rushdie. 3

     

  6. For the midnight’s children, many of whom were also the children of partition, past was literally a country. So many of them spent all their present to recreate that past, chasing after a perfect future. But memory is a fragile sieve. Foundations need stronger materials.

     

  7. “ In his original design the solicitor's clerk seemed to have forgotten the need for a staircase to link both the floors, and what he had provided had the appearance of an afterthought. Doorways had been punched in the eastern wall and a rough wooden staircase - heavy planks on an uneven frame with one warped unpainted banister, the whole covered with a sloping roof of corrugated iron - hung precariously at the back of the house, in striking contrast with the white-pointed brickwork of the front, the white woodwork and the frosted glass of doors and windows. For this house Mr.Biswas had paid five thousand five hundred dollars.” V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas

     

  8. “He read political books. ...They also revealed one region after another of misery and injustice and left him feeling more helpless and more isolated than ever. Then it was that he discovered the solace of Dickens. Without difficulty he transferred characters and settings to people and places he knew. In the grotesques of Dickens everything he feared and suffered from was ridiculed and diminished, so that his own anger, his own contempt became unnecessary, and he was given strength to bear the most difficult part of his day: dressing in the morning, that daily affirmation of faith in oneself, which at times for him was almost like an act of sacrifice.”V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas

     

  9. “Every day people follow signs pointing to some place that is not their home but a chosen destination. Road signs, airport embarkation signs, terminal signs. Some are making their journeys for pleasure, others for business, many out of loss or despair. On arrival, they come to realise they are not in the place indicated by the signs they followed. Where they now find themselves has the correct latitude, longitude, local time, currency, yet it does not have the specific gravity of the destination they chose.”
    3 (John Berger, Ten Dispatches about Place)

     

  10. There was once a man who built a perfect house for himself. After entering, he realised that it was the wrong house. So he climbed to the terrace and jumped.

     

  11. “It was something that’s older in this part of the world than disaffection, and more obstinate: the sense of familial duty.”1

     

  12. “To be in India...was to be reborn, to experience sunlight, stillness, birdcall, morning, evening, for a limited duration only, to realise it was possible to revisit some of the first experiences of your life as if they were new. Those student years consisted of a series of such rebirths.” 1

     

  13. “A Calcutta childhood is still a wonderful thing. It’s a city that...lends itself to make-believe, if you’re open to make-believe, and to the illusions precious to children...there’s ample space for daydreaming.” 1

  1. “I was doubly glad to be back in the setting I’d fantasised about there (Norwich, England) - ‘fantasise’ may not be the right word, because it involves a degree of volition; while I suppose I’m talking about a random and involuntary yearning that would come to me during my stay in England. I don’t know where it came from, because I don’t actually like the Calcutta of today.” 1

     

  2. They say after you have moved to a new place, until it comes in your dream, the transition has not yet sunk into the subconscious. Sometimes your conscious mind plays the same trick on you. I gladly accept an invitation in my last city, without realising my mistake almost for a week. No Dorothy around to borrow my bearings from.

     

  3. The character Ryan Bingham played by George Clooney in the movie ‘Up In The Air’ (2009) is a pathologically frequent flyer. He says, “How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home... I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office... and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks. ”

     

  4. He certainly doesn’t seem the kind to believe in the soul theory of jetlags. It is said that, souls being much more ancient than our bodies can’t move as fast as our bodies strapped inside flying metal birds. The jet lag is our body experiencing the separation from the soul, waiting convulsively for it to return, to feel like itself again.

     

  5. But when Ryan realises he had been just a 'parenthesis’ in a relationship he thought was real, he seemed to have underestimated other people’s capacity to pack their backpacks light.

     

  6. The British have travelled far and wide as well, and as a result “‘Britishness’ itself is now an increasingly fluid concept, with the capital city, London, home to 300 different nationalities, and its ancient principalities and former kingdoms now considering their political independence.” 3

     

  7. “Since 1934, the British Council has devoted itself to making links between the UK and other countries: to the exchange of culture, education and ideas, helping lower the frontiers that divide us.” 3

     

  8. The word ‘frontiers’ here is not just geographical and it might have myriad synonyms, some as harsh as ‘baggage’, some as warm as ‘legacy’ and the rest as neutral as ‘collective past’. Because ‘political independence’ clearly can not  detach the past surgically.

     

  9. “...as part of the British Council’s 75th anniversary celebrations. It was the first time we had ever asked curators outside the UK, and whom we didn’t know, to select an exhibition from our Collection, and the response was both surprisingly large and sobering. From all over the world, we learned how others see us. … One of these was Latika Gupta, who has curated and organised this exhibition, Homelands.” 3

     

  10. A sudden awareness of Mother Tongue Influence in how we pronounce other languages, especially English is a startling primer in ‘how others see us’. In case of English, it is a head on clash with modernity. It’s a moment of twin shame in India, the shame of not belonging to a common culture and (depending on the degree of Mother Tongue Influence in your English) an admission of the lack of a privileged upbringing.

     

  11. “Many people feel sad when watching Mother Tongue, as my mother and daughter struggle to converse with each other. … but where there are no words, sometimes there are other means. … they converse via looks, cuddles and kisses.” 3 (Zineb Sedira in conversation with Latika Gupta)

  12. During my childhood, seeing Bengali written all around as an official language: on shopfronts, buses, taxis and road signs used to be a sign of homecoming after long holidays in other parts of India. After a month-long hiatus, to the unaccustomed eye they would look like vaguely familiar patterns, till the brain whirred into action and the moment was lost.

     

  13. They say Bengali or rather Bangla is more precious to the people of Bangladesh than West Bengal. Because the former had to fight for it and the latter didn’t. Recently , a Bengali poet of West Bengal wrote that Bengali poetry is only read by the subaltern here and almost everyone in Bangladesh.

 

  1. Renaming of cities, states and territories in India started in 1947, following the end of the British imperial period in India, and continues today. 9 states, 2 Indian territories, and 99 cities have been renamed so far, though not all of them had distinctly colonial past names. Among the four cities Homelands travelled to only one retained its British-given name. (Delhi.  Mumbai < Bombay - 1995, Kolkata < Calcutta - 2001, Bengaluru < Bangalore - 2007)

     

  2. A March 28, 2010 article in The Telegraph lists the recently renamed  streets in England to reflect their Indian connection.

    “ Samsara Road, in Bromsgrove, and Karma Way, in Harrow, north London, both use phrases from Indian religions, dealing with concepts of reincarnation and cause and effect, respectively, which have become popular elements of "new age" western thinking.

 

Then there is Yoga Way, in Sutton, south London. … Among the new names which reflect Britain's multicultural society are Masjid Lane, in Tower Hamlets, east London...

 

In Lewisham, south London, a development has been named Khadija Walk, using the name of the prophet Mohammed's first wife, the first person after him to convert to Islam.

 

In Oldham, there is an Allama Iqbal Road, named after Sir Muhammad Iqbal, the early twentieth century poet and politician from British India, who was a strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islamic civilisation.

 

A nearby street is called Jinnah Close, after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the modern state of Pakistan. Neither man was noted for his close links to the Lancashire town, although the area does have a large Asian population.

 

There is also a Jinnah Road, leading to a mosque and a B&Q hardware store, in Redditch, Worcestershire, and a Jinnah Court in Bradford, which also has a Qureshi View and a Kinara Close, using an Urdu word meaning “at the water’s edge”.

In Peterborough, Salaam Court uses the Arabic word for peace which is a traditional greeting among Muslims.

 

Samira Close, in Waltham Forest, and Hussain Close, in Harrow, both use popular Arab names. Jamuna Close, in Tower Hamlets, takes its name from a big river in Bangladesh.”

 

  1. Just like the idea of India for the diaspora is trapped in the past and resists updating, so is the idea of ‘Britishness’ for Indians, especially Bengalis. Bengalis are often called the last Victorians. This gives rise to yearnings on both sides. The way we still write our English. The way we still take our tea. The way they wrote their English here. The way they took their tea when they were here.

     

  2. “Latika’s initial proposal was for an exhibition of work by British artists for a British audience to be shown in a London gallery. She has since refined her ideas, and tilted the exhibition on its axis to present it in India, for an Indian audience.” 3

     

  3. “The title Homelands is borrowed from Salman Rushdie’s collection of essays Imaginary Homelands.” 3

     

  4. “In the 1997 Special Fiction Issue of The New Yorker - an issue dedicated to Indian fiction in anticipation of the country's 50 year anniversary of independence this August--exiled Indian novelist Salman Rushdie contributes ... an enthusiastic introduction to many of India's emerging novelists. …

    “The prose writing--both fiction and nonfiction--created in this period [the fifty years of independence] by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the eighteen "recognized" languages of India, the so-called "vernacular languages," during the same time; and, indeed, this new, and still burgeoning, "Indo-Anglian" literature represents perhaps the most valuable contribution India has yet made to the world of books. The True Indian literature of the first postcolonial half century has been made in the language the British left behind. …

    English is the most powerful medium of communication in the world. Should we not, then, rejoice at these artists' mastery of it, and at their growing influence? To criticize writers for their success in "breaking out" is no more than parochialism (and parochialism is perhaps the main vice of the vernacular literatures). One important dimension of literature is that it is a means of holding a conversation within the world. These writers are insuring that India--or, rather, Indian voices (for they are too good to fall into the trap of writing nationalistically)--will henceforth be confident, indispensable participants in that literary conversation.”

    Benjamin Graves, "Damme, This is the Oriental Scene For You!"--Rushdie's Defense of Contemporary Indo-Anglian Fiction, 1998

 

Though Rushdie was, apparently, attacking the puritan nationalistic streak of the  vernacular rather than the vernacular itself (because his English is as laced with vernacular as it comes) he found it necessary to target and negate the ‘vernacular’ as the ‘other’ of English, as if they are mutually exclusive monoliths, as if the stream of hybridisation between them have been only one way.  As if India as  Homelands is a double act and not a group act.

 

  1. “No other modern writer, or culture, has given to handwriting the curious place of privilege that Tagore and bhadralok Bengal have. It’s where labour and design converge.” 1

     

  2. The ‘curious place of privilege’ is perhaps partly a legacy of British schooling that was geared towards creating efficient scribes.

  3. “ ...they were modelled on English public schools, but in a way they were a parody of those schools. Because there were no English students….And they were all single sex schools, they were all boy’s school.” 3 (Tariq Ali in conversation with Edward Said)

     

  4.  The puritanism of sex-segregation is not just a part of schools established by the British, but also the schools which came of Hindu revivalism, like those of Ramkrishna Mission. Manu-dictated Brahmacharya and appropriated Victorian puritanism melded perfectly together.

     

  5. Even today, during the evening arati-s at Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramkrishna Mission, the men and women are sternly segregated, separating nagging childs from their mothers, infirm ladies from their caregivers and fidgety teenagers from their responsible sisters, all to stop the ‘fuel’ and ‘fire’, the female and the male bodies to be next to each other. This feels as familiar as it feels unnatural.

     

  6. Sometimes homeland that you were born with feels alien, so the rest of your life goes in finding a homeland of your own. But  with this constant looking, dizziness and disorientation is a given, no matter how sure you think your compass is. It’s a lifetime of keeping your fists clenched, so that you can open them again.

     

  7. “One of the primary themes that runs through my work is the issue of displacement or mobility. This is emblematic of my own displacement from Paris to London in 1986, but also of my parents’ immigration from Algeria to France in the early 60s. Memory, oral history and transmission are the three main strands within this notion of displacement.” 3 (Zineb Sedira in conversation with Latika Gupta)

     

  8. But the other way is equally terrifying. Being forever lost in a familiar and permanent address. Being directionless, a ghost of yourself, yet as oblivious of the frog in the water that is gradually being brought to a boil.

     

  9.  The only direction that remains then is the one that’s lit the brightest and being pointed at by the highest number of people.

     

  10. “...things lose their use value, they are hollowed out in their alienation, and as ciphers, draw meanings in.” - Theodor W. Adorno

     

  11. An entire industry works overtime to stuff meanings into these ciphers, neatly seal them and sell them at a convenience store near you.

     

  12. “The consumer is essentially somebody who feels or is made to feel lost unless he or she is consuming. Brand names and logos become the place names of the Nowhere.”
    3 (John Berger, Ten Dispatches about Place)

     

  13. Children learning to recognise the difference between logos before they learn anything else hardly raises eyebrows today. Instead of the making sense of the world, they are reduced to making their choice from a predetermined set.

     

  14. “In the past a common tactic employed by those defending their homeland against invaders was to change the road signs so that the one indicating ZARAGOZA pointed in the opposite direction toward BURGOS. Today it is not defenders but foreign invaders who switch signs to confuse local populations, confuse them about who is governing who, the nature of happiness, the extent of grief, or where eternity is to be found. And the aim of all these misdirections is to persuade people that being a client is the ultimate salvation.
    Yet clients are defined by where they check out and pay, not by where they live and die. ” 3 (John Berger, Ten Dispatches about Place)

  15. When you encounter a familiar brand in a harshly unfamiliar street, you are lured in by the light and promise of the expected. But once you go in, you see strangers all around. The menu is in another language and the food, only partly familiar. You feel like touching a pedestrian on his shoulder from behind thinking he were your friend, who then turns out to be a perfect stranger.

     

  16. From a poster right opposite Aeroporto di Fiumicino - Rome, the stock image of an Indian-looking model hawks yoga classes that promise you the 'health secrets of ancient India'. It is the same image on a hoarding I saw on my way to Mumbai airport. Only there, she was promising a ‘world-class spa experience’.  Instead of feeling familiarised, I feel unhinged. I realise when George Bernard Shaw said that he disliked feeling at home while abroad, he was not merely being clever.

     

  17. I didn’t feel as unhinged being lost in the streets of Rome for four hours, looking for the Colosseum, the GPS device out of order. While making  my way from one alley to another, the sight of ‘Mother India’ - an Indian eatery, finally brought home the sense of being lost. Then at the end of the alley, the Colosseum loomed large and I was home.

     

  18. “The kitchen played a big role in my life as I was growing up, because I had to do a lot of work there. While a lot of my friends socialised, I had to spend my time cleaning, cooking or cutting onions. I would make breakfast for my brothers, since it was understood that boys were not supposed to do kitchen work. Interestingly, Shopna too spends a lot of time in the kitchen helping her mother. It is a well utilised space , especially for women in Asian families.” 3 (Suki Dhanda in Conversation with Latika Gupta)

     

  19. This work by Suki Dhanda, talks about feeling at home, while being away from home . It is easy to snicker at it, calling it the false freedom of fast food and consumerism.  But any break from the kitchen for Shopna would mostly feel like freedom.

     

  20. “ …(in) a fascinating study by Christopher Carrington that studies food interactions of gay and lesbian couples in the US to show not just how similar they are to straight couples… at the start of the essay he quotes an epigram he found in the kitchen of lesbian family: “Life’s riches other rooms adorn. But in a kitchen home is born.” Vikram Doctor, LGBT Sandwich.

     

  21. Just like we can’t reduce Shopna’s fast food freedom as mere consumerism, the slaving of our mothers, sisters and grandmothers in the kitchen can’t be reduced to mere machinations of patriarchy. It is a bit like wearing hijab. Neither being forced to wear it, nor being forced to not wear it seems like freedom. And we all know food from homeland or homelands is tangled, multidimensional, powerful stuff. A mere whiff (after a long enough denial) can bring us to our knees, a mere sound (after a long enough silence) makes our eyes moist.

     

  22. Not surprisingly, food is wielded as power by those women who have no other power over other women and men, just like the secret knowledge of daughters are wielded as weapons by their mothers. But sometimes, the roles are switched and something beautiful emerges.

     

  23. “In French, the word for the sea is very similar to the word for mother: La Mer - La Mere. So for me, the sea and the figure of mother became closely associated; the sea became a metaphor for my mother, stretching to my parents’ homeland.” 3 (Zineb Sedira in conversation with Latika Gupta)

     

  24. The antonym of ‘at home’ is ‘at sea.’

 

  1. The seas have long been home to those misfits who couldn’t cut it as landlubbers. To those for whom, land was too rigid, too imposing and too predictable. Once at home in the fluid expanses of the sea, aboard vessels that were world’s first cosmopoleis, they were rendered forever alien to the land and its dwellers.

 

  1. “ The history of the world, says the American poet Charles Olson in his little book on Moby-Dick, Call Me Ishmael, published in 1947, could be summed up by three oceans; the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and now the Pacific. (Homer, Dante, and now Melville.)

Yet how unthinkable Olson's proposition has become. Not because of the ordering but because of its substance. For now so few of us have any direct experience of ships or the sea. Today we relate to the ocean and its histories through the commodities brought in the hulls of ships. … Today the old ports have gone. Concrete container terminals have replaced them, and the wharves have moved to industrial sites far from the people who go as tourists to the gentrified old ports where sailing ships are resurrected as museums. Yet as never before, so we are told, is the whole world unified into the One Big Market, which must mean immense amount of shipping and human dependence on sea-borne freight. ...The conduct of life today is completely and utterly dependent on the sea and the ships it bears, yet nothing is more invisible.” The Beach (A Fantasy) by Michael Taussig

       

  1. Though Indian Ocean is not a part of Charles Olson's version of world history, yet when ships in Indian Ocean are capsized, the effects are still felt at home. Salaries pause in Kolkata and vegetable prices go up in Port Blair.

     

  2. We often overlook, that when boats and ships sink and are never recovered, they become part of the land again. The brief freedom the constituent trees and the metal ores enjoyed from being landlocked ends. The vessel becomes the anchor.

     

  3. Wearing a thread on our bodies is common for us in India. It doesn’t need to be the sacred thread looping the Brahmin torso. It could be a protective thread around your waist, on your ankle or most commonly on the wrists for men. When I got rid of the one around my waist, I felt a rush of freedom and vulnerability at the same time. It was both like letting go of a leash which was also an anchor. It was like becoming naked by one more degree.

  4. We are used to the philosophical dichotomy of East vs. West but the contemporary wise point out to the sociopolitical divide  between the global north and the global south. A divide that is almost identical to the first world and second world. Where is the Third World then? Third world used to be the Cold War era classification of neutral and non-aligned countries. Does the demise of the term mean, in an increasingly intertwined world, it’s no longer possible to be neutral and non-aligned?

 

  1. There are several things common between memory, Radars and Mona Hatoum’s installation ‘+ and -’ and everything else. Everything is what it seems to be and its opposite.

     

  2. “ Before lying down, dogs often circle their beds or wherever they've chosen to settle in for a nap. This curious canine behavior dates back to prehistoric times , when dogs literally had to make their own beds.

Although domesticated dogs have adapted to living with humans ..., they've still retained some of their wild ancestors ' survival instincts.

"This behavior was hard-wired into the dog's ancestors as a way to build a safe 'nest,'" Leslie Irvine, author of "If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connection With Animals," told. … Wild dogs had to pat down tall grass and underbrush to make a comfortable bed for themselves and their pups. The easiest way to prepare that night's sleeping area was by walking around in a circle.

The rounding ritual may also have served as a safety precaution. "In the wild, the circling would flatten grasses or snow and would drive out any snakes or large insects," said Irvine, a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who specializes in the role of animals in society.

"I have also heard that circling the area and thus flattening it leaves a visible sign to other dogs that this territory has been claimed," Irvine said. Remy Melina. Live Science.

 

  1. “ the aspiration for a homeland in an increasingly populated world is intrinsically defined by dispute.” 3 (Anthony Haughey in conversation with Latika Gupta)

     

  2. "This fear is, at its most basic, the fear of the Neighbor. There are two topics which determine today’s liberal tolerant attitude towards Others: the respect of Otherness, openness towards it, and the obsessive fear of harassment – in short, the Other is OK insofar as its presence is not intrusive, insofar as the Other is not really Other… In the strict homology with the paradoxical structure of chocolate laxative, tolerance this coincides with its opposite: my duty to be tolerant towards the other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, not to intrude into his/her space – in short, that I should respect his/her intolerance towards my over-proximity. This is what is more and more emerging as the central “human right” in late-capitalist society: the right not to be “harassed,” i.e., to be kept at a safe distance from the others." Slavoj Žižek. Masturbation, or Sexuality in the Atonal World. 2008.

 

  1. Who deserves to live in a homeland more than the others? Who is a more ‘ authentic’ homelander? And in a world where there is enough data available to distort, how difficult could it be to manufacture authenticity?

  2. But the fear of the neighbours is not the only fear that threatens home. There are meteorites, radioactive dinosaurs, aliens and of course now, faceless (but bearded) terrorists.

 

  1. “In psychological language we can hypothesize that deep down the Americans feel some sort of guilt - about being on the top, and enjoying life so much. .... Unlike other peoples who have long-standing traditions and with whom there is a suspicion that if you scratch below the surface, you will discover the old traditions, [people] who face the problem of having to deal with these traditions. The American vision is completely different - this is a vision in which order is not something with deep roots. It is instead superficial and fragile. Something is liable to happen at any moment; a small disaster might dismantle the social order.” Slavoj Žižek, on America’s fascination with disaster movies.

     

  2. This paranoia about the disorder, the disorder of the immigrant past left behind,  was one of the foundations of American dream, an essential ingredient of which was a neat, orderly suburban rowhouse a.k.a. little boxes. Did this dream eventually invade the rest of the world? My childhood in ‘80s India in my father’s employer-provided living quarters (designed incidentally, by a colonial architecture farm) resembled strongly the 80’s American TV Series ‘The Wonder Years’. Both of them were wonderfully consistent. Early inconsistency, it is said, makes for unstable children. Surrounded by neighbours who were as alike as us as possible, it was the perfect bubble of a childhood.

     

  3. Psychoanalysts say that the shortest way to summarise the Nazi ideology is the manifestation of a pathological fear of disorder, even inconsistency.

     

  4. "The ultimate American paranoiac fantasy is that of an individual living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consumerist paradise, who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he lives in is a fake." Slavoj Žižek  on The Truman Show (1998) and the 9/11 incident

     

  5. But we would never know exactly how much of the ideal home fantasy is a social construct and how much of it is personal. Neither does Gillian Wearing.

     

  6. Today, since spirituality has gone on a long vacation, some of us take resort in intellectual theories and some of us take resort in travel, when we look for the ‘really real’ and want to escape from the fake.

     

  7. “...abbreviated translation of the noun theōriā is ‘sacred journey’... the basic meaning of theōriā can be reconstructed as a ritualized journey undertaken for the purpose of achieving a sacralized vision. ...In the case of the modern word theory, ...the lengthy history of its eventual meaning is mediated by philosophical reinterpretations of the words theōriā...already in ancient times. The most familiar interpretation is Aristotle’s concept of theōriā as a ‘contemplation’ of the divine, especially by the divine. From the standpoint of Plato’s philosophical agenda, to go back to a broader understanding, theōriā is the inner vision of the mind, and that is how it can come to mean ‘theory’ or ‘theorizing’” Gregory Nagy, Ancient Greek Hero

     

  8. This car ride taken by Rachel Lowe seems like one that began as one of those journeys, now desecrated. The tyranny of living in the present, that Sisyphean task of capturing the now, leaves no room for the past and the future. The sketches on the car window turn into runes which we have forgotten how to read.

 

  1. “...shows...what happens when any trace of the eternal is erased from daily life. What happens is that all words and their entire language are rendered meaningless.” 3 (John Berger, Ten Dispatches about Place)

     

  2. The ghosts in ancient Greek texts are gibbering, whining beings. Their mutterings are incomprehensible to us humans, until they accept a drink of fresh sacrificial blood. But what if they are speaking in a dead language which we no longer understand? What if the blood gurgling in their throats is like a Babel Fish wiggling in Arthur Dent’s ears?

     

  3. “Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could evolve purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:

    "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

    "But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."

    "Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

    "Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white, and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.

    Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys. ... Meanwhile the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

  4. The closest thing to Babel Fish we have now is the internet. And those who can afford to access a speedy and uninterrupted version of it, would rather be there than anywhere else. Nothing else makes us feel more at home than being omnipresent, God-like, on the internet.  

     

  5. I once had a colleague, who, in the early days of Google Earth, used to log on religiously every weeknight after dinner to visit a country, and made sure he had visited all the major landmarks there. After a few months, he was very proud to announce that he was done travelling the entire world.

     

  6. Internet is not entirely competent in its omniscient Babel Fish duties, either. While ‘effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races’, it suppresses, reducts, embellishes and replaces. We should be thankful for that, Perhaps that is why it has not yet caused ‘more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.’

     

  7. The history of internet is often compared with the history of colonialism. While the first phases of both were chaotic, exploratory and conquestory  the second phases are regulated, sedate and mercantile.

     

  8. This comparison can be smack of nostalgia and false memories to some. Whenever I fondly look back on myself, the memories are bathed in the golden light of late summer afternoons, irrespective of what time of the day they really took place. Just like the rulers of the past and present, We golddust and airbrush histories too.

  9. Every home is a living archive where objects that have accumulated over time generate personal histories.” 3 (Anthony Haughey in conversation with Latika Gupta)

 

  1. In one of the Anthony Haughey’s photographs, the three pairs of eyes never meet. They look at their respective lives parallely and indicate that a home is the smallest political unit, where the members don’t always see eye to eye regarding policies of living.

  2. In  an essay, Virginia Woolf compares everydayness to the cotton wool of existence. Cotton wool comforts, cotton wool protects but it also gags and preserves. And to preserve something, you have to kill it first, so that it stops changing.

  3. Exhibitions preserve. Books preserve. Writing preserves. Our faulty memories of homelands preserve the multiple ways we feel at home.

  4. We barely notice that the golden tint in our memories is the tint left by the formaldehyde.

 

Connections:

 

1.Calcutta: Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri, Hamish Hamilton by Penguin Books, 2013 (1 book)

 

2. Homelands: A 21st Century Story of Home, Away, and All the Places In Between, Contemporary Art from the British Council Collection curated by Latika Gupta, Delhi - Kolkata - Mumbai - Bengaluru, January - July 2013, (106 works of art)

 

3. Exhibition Catalogue of Homelands: A 21st Century Story of Home, Away, and All the Places In Between, Contemporary Art from the British Council Collection curated by Latika Gupta, Delhi - Kolkata - Mumbai - Bengaluru, January - July 2013

Posted by Sourav Roy on 1/12




Documentary 'Art of Jamini Roy' directed by Debabrata Roy

The director has found parts of my paper on Jamini Roy (see previous blog entries) relevant enough to be used in the voiceover.
As a result of this, I have got my first (and perhaps only) film credit.

You can read about the film here: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/a-life-in-colours/article5049770.ece

see the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGhJKveubng

and purchase a DVD here: http://bihaanmusic.com/dvd.php?id=500

 

 

Posted by Sourav Roy on 1/9




“In France, I remembered food smells from my childhood in Tripura.” In conversation with Jayashree Chakravarty
Published in Art India Magazine, Volume XVIII Issue I Quarter I 2013, Cover Story: Colloquies

 

Over the years, Jayashree Chakravarty (b.1956) has created paintings that look like beguiling dream-maps – calligraphic notations, whirling squiggles, layered wave-patterns fill her picture-spaces and produce a charged chromatic environment on large canvases and soaring paper installations. Her last solo show was at Aicon Art Gallery, London, in 2009. Sourav Roy meets her as she prepares for her solo next year.



Sourav Roy: ‘Palimpsest’is the first word that comes to my mind when I see your work . This was also the title of the last group show you participated in – at Aicon Gallery, New York, in 2011. How apt a metaphor is it for you?

Jayasheree Chakravarty: Yes, that word keeps coming up. Michael Anderson (a fellow artist and writer) and others also have used that word to describe my work. I have always worked with many layers, slowly. Some layers are visible and some layers are not. As they keep drying one by one, I keep coming back to them. That's a natural break.

But last year I had to take almost a nine month break for personal reasons. So not just the thinking but also the layering process got interrupted. So it becaome very difficult. As difficult as starting a new work.



S. R.: Authors often keep a paragraph incomplete, so that it's easier for them the next day to restart. Like threads kept hanging from a weave.



J. C.: Exactly.So what I do is, I keep an easy part, a 'solved area' incomplete. And later I ‘enter’ through that. I can get on to the next part.



S. R.: What about erasure? An artist once said, "Painting is an elaborate erasure of drawing."

J. C.: I was just having this exact discussion the other day. The moment I start putting colour, it happens. Painting and erasing. Over and over. It's such a peculiar, challenging process. It's evolving. But you have to stop somewhere. For some paintings you get that sense of freedom and ease. Then you are done. Sometimes you hit a wall.



S. R.: People keep talking about 'abstraction' and 'figuration' as mutually exclusive practices.



J. C.: I find this pointless. The moment you start drawing on a two-dimensional surface, it becomes an abstraction of what you see. Whatever you draw. Figures or just marks. It's an approximation. A version. I think abstraction is the precision with which you express what is in your head. Like, see here, (shows two new paintings). These two canvases have city scenes and are covered almost fully with paint. One looks like as if floodwater has rushed in and the other looks dark, as if everything is over. Now, I have hints of fish, faces, buildings in both. What do I call it? Abstraction or figuration? I am not comfortable with either.



S. R.: In a 2007 interview you said, "I am tremendously uncomfortable with both comfort and discomfort." What did you mean? Is this resolved now?



J. C.: Did I say that? No, nothing gets resolved. My father died in 2006. I was quite restless. And then my mother got bed-ridden with a neurological disorder. I am still caring for her. I was angry initially. I wanted to concentrate on painting. Patience came later. I stopped looking for a comfort zone and kept working whenever I could. I don't have a schedule, I am not that kind of an artist. All the problems in the work step out and look at me the moment I start. If I can solve them, I feel happy.



S. R.: What about the days you spend away from home? What are they made of?



J. C.: I began travelling from Kolkata only from 1982. Of course, new things, uncommon things, things not experienced before, catch my attention first. Then when that's done, I notice things. Familiar, common things. Like when I was in France (I was an Artist-in-residence at Ecole d' Art, Aix-en-Provence, from 1992 to 1995), computer art was really new for me. I used to be fascinated. An image of a face would be divided into eighty strips and then each strip would be blown up and printed and then put together and mounted on a wall – these things are of no consequence now, but used to be so exciting then. Your memory just comes alive in strange places. In France, I remembered the different smells and colours from my childhood in Tripura. When you are away, there's just so much to learn. But, I am a slow learner. I keep going back to the same things.



S. R.: You've experimented with rice paper, Nepali paper and tissue paper. Tell us about your materials and your experiences with them.



J. C.: I have a limited palette as far as colours are concerned. But I am now using a lot of gold and silver details which you can see only when the lighting is proper. I have tried making paper from pulp but it hasn’t quite worked out. For my installations I have used layers of paper with jute or cotton in between. Each layer is stained with tea or coffee and sometimes with mud. The paper acquires a translucent quality and becomes tough like leather, so you can fight with it (laughs). I often use aluminium strips as spines. Often, material in the gallery surprises you. Like when I was hanging Cocoon (2010-2011) – it was done with steel threads. Suddenly it looked like insect saliva when the light reflected on it.



S. R.: Tell us more about your three-dimensional installations. How did they begin?

J. C.: They started in France around 1993, when I made a stiff paper sculpture which looked like a sail. It had layers of paper glued on top of another. Which led later to Space Within (1998) done for Drawing Centre, New York. It was a road that stood up instead of lying down with footprints and all. In Route Maps of Experience (2003) I wanted my painting to wrap me completely. I moved on from road to built structures. I have always looked at houses made by ants, white ants, beetles and photographed them. They have such interesting shapes – like a dome, or an upturned inkpot. Alien Sphere (2008-2009) came from this exploration. The inner space had painted-over insect-like forms and you could enter it. Cocoon (2010) came from this (points to a mud nest of a beetle) and I used aluminium strips to keep the shape intact. They kept looking more and more like ribs to me. So I spread them out. All my installations almost always touch the ground somewhere.



S. R.: Your immediate environment has been a major concern for the last thirty years.



J. C.:Yes, I have been here in Salt Lake for 30 years. It was all marsh and saltwater before. There were open grounds full of tall, wild flowers and grass. Some three houses within your limit of vision. There were so many snails and snakes around. Slowly, houses started coming up one by one. We were first happy to have neighbours. But then all the plots started getting filled, like teeth growing one by one till the jaw got shut. You had to walk to the main crossing to catch the breeze. Things started disappearing. The snails were the first to vanish. And they appeared in my work. That's why the fish, the ducks, the birds, the dark underwaters keep coming back in my work. But I don't have the courage to paint snakes. Thought I love the wavy lines they make. Where have they gone? I think they have just gone under and are waiting. One day there will be a tornado (I have shown it in a series of paintings in 2009) and water will come back and it will be like before. It's a violent thought, I know. I think we should all think about this claustrophobia and ecological disbalance.



S. R.: Text also appears on your canvases.

J. C.: I generally keep the text unreadable, almost like another texture. but I have kept a Rilke quote very clear in a new painting I have done. It reads, “If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things will unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”


S. R.: Contemporary women artists from India are often seen as part of a sisterhood. How real is that? Is there any pressure to make feminist statements through your work?

J. C.: When I was in Baroda and Delhi, there was a kind of sisterhood. But I have been dislocated often. I have been close to the works of Nilima (Sheikh), Nasreen (Mohamedi), Arpita (Singh) and Nalini (Malani). Some of them I also know closely in person.

About statements in my work, I really don't have time to make room for other people's expectations. I do what I know. If you ask me what I have learnt over the years, I would be happy to say, I learnt to ‘see’. I used to take a shy stray bitch for morning walks. I used to see a cabbage leaf on the side of the road every day for eight days, turning from green to brown, the white lines changing, withering, getting crooked. These things are important to me. But I have been looking at and working with nature for so long. Doesn't that count as a feminist topic?



S. R.: Being completely isolated from the 'happening' parts of the Indian art world, how has it been?

J. C.: If I had stayed over in Baroda and Delhi, I could have probably done very different things and become a different kind of artist. Friends scold me giving examples of how hard other artists are working. The art market boom and bust passed me by, can't say without any personal damage, though. I doubt it would have been any better if I were up close to ‘happening’ places. I can't plan ahead. I can't paint with a reason. I am happy that I have continued painting and solving my own problems. I am lucky to have friends who are not all from the art world who soothe, advise and inspire me. What more can I want?

Posted by Sourav Roy on 12/21/13 | tags: mixed-media figurative abstract




Representation of the third dimension in Jamini Roy's Art

Dissertation for Post Graduate Diploma Course in Modern & Contemporary Indian Art History (1850-2012) Semester 1

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B1dyILjPMuyCWkRYUURDNlNDOXc/edit?usp=sharing

Posted by Sourav Roy on 3/3/13








High Tide for a Blue Moon

Review of Ranjini Shettar's first Indian Solo 'High Tide for a Blue Moon' at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum Mumbai

From Sat Dec 1, 2012  -  to Sun Feb 17 , 2013Tunes for a Winter Morning, 2012, Steel Wires, Muslin, Tamarind Kernel Paste

The first time we watched time freeze on celluloid, our hearts stopped - water arrested mid-spill, pieces of crockery frozen mid-shatter and explosions suspended mid-air.

This fortnight, prepare to revisit that zen moment with High Tide for a Blue Moon, Ranjani Shettar's first Indian solo show at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

Working with craftsmen from her studio at Malnad, Karnataka, Ranjani is the mistress of material metamorphoses. Her creations look like they will disappear any time into the elements, leaving behind light trails and whiffs of forest smell.

But make no mistake, they are made of not just imagination, but solid structure and strange matter. Matter that only give themselves away in the name labels.
For example, Tunes for a Winter Morning (2012) above is made of steel wires, wrapped in muslin cloth and tamarind kernel paste.

The title piece above, that not only deceives your sense of touch but also of vision, is made of coffee plant stems painted with blue automobile paint.

Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, director of the museum and curator of the show adds that Shettar’s creations “recall the interface of art and science which was one of the founding ideas of the museum.” Having a training in sculpture and an engineer father seem to have made her equally ambitious about unlocking the poetry, physics and chemistry of matters. Lagoon, below, made of lacquered wooden beads by Channapatna toy makers, will make any structural engineer proud.

Just like her materials, her art practice seems to evolve from unlikely origins. Frustrated by the limitation of her sculpture training which kept her tied to plinths, pedestals and the usual suspects like bronze and marble, she found her release via Dada poetry. Even though the titles of her works like ‘Remanence from last night’s dream’, ‘Flame of the forest’ or ‘Scent of a sound’ seem like purple prose to the poetically discerning, they are, in fact, the Dada spawns of her creations. Then like an ecosystem they grow into a sketch, attract tools, people and matters around them and turn into beings that make museum directors all over the world go weak in their knees.

On my way out, I noticed how Lagoon has transformed even the cold halogen light into an work of art and had to stop and capture the moment.

 Like nature, it just made its point, not with a bang, but with a whisper.

Posted by Sourav Roy on 3/2/13 | tags: Mumbai Bhau Daji Lad Ranjini Shettar mixed-media installation abstract




The Shape of Sound

Shannon Novak

Sourav Roy from Spike Magazine interviews New Zealand artist Shannon Novak about the history of synesthesia and how his practice focuses on the relationship between sound, colour, form, time, and social context

 

 

Just what shade of orange is a hemidemisemiquaver? If you could hear a Mondrian, what would it sound like? The works of Shannon Novak, an emerging artist from Auckland, New Zealand will not answer these questions but will raise plenty more, one more fascinating than the next. His work explores the multiple strands that link sound, colour, form, time, and social context. A pianist since a very young age and an instructional designer for a significant number of years, his abstract paintings of simple shapes and colours, sometimes accompanied by his own musical compositions are anything but simplistic. His exploration of these connections have taken him places: musical and silent installations, piano albums and even a global sound/art project which resonated across ever-expanding ring of participating galleries in locations including, Belgium, Iceland, Nigeria, Italy, the UK and the USA.

How do you compare your work that has an audible sound component to work without?

The inclusion of audible sound in a work is determined by whether or not it supports the investigation at hand. In The Four Dimensions of a Note, I explored the relationship between four integrated dimensions of sound. Given the focus of each work was on an individual note in isolation I opted not to add an audio component, as it would have taken away from the simplicity of the work. In contrast, Semitone Shift considered multiple notes moving from one state to another therefore added an audio component to compliment and energised this complexity.

How has your work as an instructional designer influenced your work?

The influence is heavy if we consider instructional design as designing the optimum learning experience for a given audience. In The Four Dimensions of a Note works were displayed in three major groupings or phases: introduction to the dimensions, the conceptual framework, and the four dimensions realised. This design follows an instructional design principle where an idea is revealed stage by stage to help learners construct knowledge. It was envisaged that if a viewer walked around the works in order through the three phases, they would arrive at a deeper understanding of the underlying concept than if they chose to view works in random order. Another aspect of instructional design that influences my work is the layout of information in a way that best focuses the learner on what is most important. In Semitone Shift, the works were designed to focus the viewer on particular forms and colours.

How has your childhood influenced your work?

I grew up in a small coastal village called Oakura on the west coast of the North Island, New Zealand. My mother is an artist so I grew up in an environment full of creative energy that never wavered and was always challenging. We lived a short distance from the main city New Plymouth where public art thrived in multiple forms and I distinctly recall feeling a pull to the works of two well-known New Zealand artists, Michael Smither (who is now a mentor of mine) and Len Lye. Michael Smither had created murals using colour and form to represent sound related investigations whilst Len Lye had created alarmingly loud kinetic sculptures. I was encouraged to explore ideas through both art and music from a young age, many of which have helped form investigations present day.

What is your take on synesthesia?

There are many forms of synesthesia and I seem to have a blend of a few. One form I haven’t seen thoroughly documented is a ‘form-to-beat’ synesthesia. I look at everyday objects like buildings, and can hear a percussive beat. Different objects will have different beats. I recently connected with a leading researcher in synesthesia about this and was told this was rare and that there wasn’t enough data on this form to draw any solid conclusions at this point in time. The other form I have is the more common and well-documented sound to colour (and vice versa) synesthesia.

One of the most obvious visual representations of music is a musical note. Do the abstract forms in your works somehow refer to the forms of musical notes?

The forms I have been using lately are largely rectangular and circular. I have attempted to deconstruct these forms into motifs that allude to sound events and in the process have avoided using literal representations of musical notes. Circular forms were used in the works from Semitone Shift to represent the activation of sound, whilst rectangular forms were used to represent sound qualities such as pitch, volume, and timing.

What about the use of colour? Does a specific colour represent a specific note?

There have been many studies throughout history that link a specific colour with a specific sound from Isaac Newton’s colour wheel, to George Field’s Chromatics, to Alexander Scriabin’s ‘colour hearing’. Present day and new studies are emerging that extend this view such as the colour to sound correlations made by harmonic scientist Richard Merrick in his text Interference. Merrick maps colour relative to a key based on harmonic function as opposed to mapping colour absolute to a sound frequency or pitch. In my own work I do not select a particular colour or colours to represent a given note, rather colour is used to represent my synesthetic response to sound. It creates a tension in the work between the measurable aspect of sound (pitch, volume, and timing) and the more immeasurable (the synesthetic response).

Have you thought about the visual representation of music genres such as country, rap, and pop?

One concept I developed last year that never reached fruition was called “Music Shop”. I wanted to create an experience where viewers would walk into the gallery and experience a range of synesthetic responses to different musical genres as works augmented with audio components. The consideration of music genres is something Michael Smither has explored and an example of this was present in his exhibition Shared Harmonics. One work titled DAG was based on a common rock guitar chord progression.

Do ideas come to you first as music or visuals?

When developing a work I begin with a sound, and let the sound guide the composition. This can be a wrestling match at times as I often experience a strong desire to create geometric forms first, then compose sound around the forms. From experience this is usually an unsuccessful strategy so always return to the sound and let it lead the way.

Which artists past and/or present have inspired your practice?

When I think about those who have inspired me, I think not only of artists in the field of geometric abstraction but those in other fields, as I am inspired by both visual and behavioural practices. For example, Victor Vasarely’s use of colour is visually inspiring, whereas Claude Debussy’s act of challenging the traditional methods of composition inspires my behaviour. Key New Zealand artists that have had a major influence on my work to date include Michael Smither, Gordon Walters, Roy Good, and Michael Parekowhai. Key artists outside New Zealand include Jasper Johns, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, and Piet Mondrian. Key influences in other fields include Richard Merrick (harmonic science), John Stuart Reid (cymatics), Neil Ieremia (dance), and Michael Nyman (music).

What role do installations play in your practice?

Installations are integral to my practice as they are one of many ways to extend the reach of my ideas. I was recently commissioned to create an installation called Sonic Meal that commented on how the digitisation of sound has diluted the experience of spirit in sound. The replacement of live sound with electronic substitutes is like the processing of food from its raw form into the seemingly more palatable. I set up a dinner table in front of a well-known New Zealand cathedral and placed chopped up musical instruments on plates with a single figure sitting at the head of the table. The instruments were painted a block colour that alluded to a type of food. The figure wore headphones connected to one of the plates and a piece of music I had composed was playing in the background (chopped up and reassembled). If I were not engaged in creating installations, this idea may not have been the multi-sensory, three-dimensional experience I had envisioned.

Sonic Meal image gallery

Last year you led a global installation called Sound Fragments. What was this about and what were some of the challenges and highlights?

Sound Fragments was inspired by research I was undertaking at the time in the field of harmonic science, in particular, the analysis of sound waves. It started out as a few circles on a piece of paper then slowly evolved into a global event. The installation represented sound waves that spread outwardly from a New Zealand gallery, to other galleries around New Zealand, then to galleries around the world. Fragments of sound (works) were left in each gallery as the sound wave passed by, so over time, works appeared locally, nationally, then internationally. One key challenge was the project management of multiple stakeholders in different countries with different time zones, different etiquettes, and different languages. Another key challenge involved getting potential stakeholders to see geometric abstraction as a valid form of communicating an idea. Key highlights included a successfully executed installation despite the risks, contribution to the field of geometric abstraction, and promotion of New Zealand art. It was also interesting to see how the work was treated differently in different contexts around the world.

What are you reading and listening to now?

I am about to read a book called Movement and Balance that delves into the art of Sophie Taeuber-Arp and I have been listening to the works of New Zealand composer Jack Body.

Further Resources:

Posted by Sourav Roy on 3/2/13 | tags: Shannon Novak New Zealand Spike Magazine interview mixed-media digital modern





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