Astonishment of Being began with a reading of an excerpt from Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude (1985);
…children and adults can transcend their solitude and forget themselves in games or work. The adolescent, however, vacillates between infancy and youth, halting for a moment before the infinite richness of the world. He is astonished at the fact of his being, and this astonishment leads to a reflection: as he leans over the river of his consciousness, he asks himself if the face that appears there, disfigured by the water, is his own. The singularity of his being, which is pure sensation in children, becomes a problem and a question.
Much the same thing happens to nations and peoples at certain critical moment in their development. They ask themselves: What are we, and how can we fulfil our obligation to ourselves as we are? The answers we give to these questions are often belied by history, perhaps because what is called the ‘genius of a people’ is only a set of reactions to a given stimulus. The answers differ in different situations, and the national character, which was thought to be immutable, changes with them. Despite the often illusionary nature of essays on the psychology of a nation, it seems to me there is something revealing in the insistence with which a people will question itself during certain periods of its growth. To become aware of our history is to become aware of our singularity. It is a moment of reflective repose before we devote ourselves to action again. ‘When we dream that we are dreaming,’ Novalis wrote, ‘the moment of awakening is at hand.’
It began by asking the question, how do we locate ourselves in the world today? The question presupposes the collective, a collective you and I constitute through our national, regional, linguistic, ideological, professional, gender, generational and vocational affiliates. The exhibition is an exercise in regarding ourselves – nation, polity, community; our context – political, social, economic; our actions – speech, militant, counter-militant, legal, resistant methodology peaceful and otherwise, discursive moments and/ or their absence.
The 17 artists from across India in the exhibition are :
Raqs Media Collective
They examine the contemporary national space. Their examinations reveal a preoccupation, by and large, with a variety of social-political violations and challenges in the context of the urban space, with the chasm between idealism and reality and at the core of the exercise is the searching spirit.
The visual keys provided in the paintings, sculptures, photographs, graphic novella, video and aural installations will perhaps draw us out of a selfish reverie and open up the public space to attention. They will channel our thoughts and our words towards dialogue (as opposed to mutters and murmurs, snorts and speeches).
Curated by New Delhi based Deeksha Nath the exhibition is on view at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Kolkata from 31st Oct. to 29th Nov. 2009 (Closed on Mondays).
An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.