Micro Worlds of Aesthetic Resistance
Five artists, with various stylistic approaches but having a keen interest in the contemporary human beings’ materialistic and existential issues, come together in a project where they explore the aspects of survival against the backdrop of the socio-economic and cultural anchoring of people and see how their survival is made possible by creating micro narratives out of their own significant and insignificant lives. The artists are Binoy Varghese, Geroge Martin, Gopinath, Murali Cheeroth and Vivek Vilasini. Though the styles differ considerably, as in an aesthetic bouquet, when put together, they establish the areas of convergence of their concerned themes, which could create a macro narrative, in a way justifying
the title of the show, ‘Surviving Sagas’.
Post-modern interventions in the production of aesthetics challenge the manufacturing of macro-narratives, which according to the post- modern theorists like Frederic Jameson, mar the possibility of viewing the micro-worlds as the field of meaningful resistance against the grand power structure established by the modern theoretical as well as materialistic positions in both the palpable and abstract fields of life. Hence, creating a micro-narrative, which asks for interested engagements from the viewer while disputing the so called universal qualities of art/aesthetics, pre- supposes a viewer, who is sympathetic to the cause forwarded by the artist, therefore joins hands with the artist in his/her endeavor to resist the neo-colonial and neo-imperialistic hegemonies in all the walks of life, including the aesthetic one.
Approaching this notion of producing micro-narratives however, had its own pit falls as we analyze the history of post-modernism and its effects in the recent past. Once the post/late capitalist logic of steamrolling the differences amongst the world population through cultural and economic habits, has been established, for the artists and all those creative people who work towards bringing up a new world of resistance through pacifistic means and through aesthetical modes, it has become increasingly difficult to carry out their performances in the public realm meaningfully for the simple reason that their acts are absorbed by the capitalist logic, blunting all its possibilities to raise issues. Hence, I would say that each creative effort of an artist to generate a micro narrative is in itself a challenging mission and keeping and protecting the freshness of the new narrative intact is an extremely difficult task.
Seen against this context, a viewer has a very special responsibility to stand along with the artist and interpret his works in the right light, not letting its strength to taper away by falling prey to the allurement of the capitalistic logic. Here, we have to enter in an agreement with the capitalist logic to challenge it from within because in the production, dissemination and consumption circuit of aesthetics, contesting the predominant logic (of capitalism) can happen only from within and proving the might is completely a prerogative of the artist. We see the artist and also the person/s who presents the artist, negotiate this ambivalent situation, and create niches for critical viewing. It is only from this field of negotiation, a micro-narrative can take birth capable of killing the ‘benevolent demon’ of capitalist logic.
The world of Binoy Varghese is full of such micro-narratives of those people, who have been disposed and dispossessed by a system of knowledge and power. Binoy captures the faces of so many children in various garbs and places them against the most beautiful foliages and flowers. With a lot of happiness and verve these figures look at the viewer as if they were caught in a bubble of eternal innocence. Positing, someone into the state of eternal innocence is an exercise of ideological power that often we see both in the public and domestic realms. Children, women, ill and old people are treated as very innocent beings that are incapable of dealing with a big bad world.
The ideology of power, social hierarchy and knowledge works through imposing ‘innocence’ on to people thereby stripping them off of their own dignity. This is a ploy of the system to treat the people as numbers and figures that don’t have particular emotional status. Binoy’s idea is to ‘re-present’ this innocence and engage the viewer to decode the secrets of their innocence. Binoy has been employing this method of representation for a long time and he uses this special way of juxtaposing the image of an innocent child against a backdrop, which is not so ‘natural’ to him/her. Though this juxtaposition of dissimilar worlds, Binoy at once triggers the idea of another world, a much smaller world, which is very peculiar to these kids of attributed innocence.
This establishment of a micro-world is done deliberately by the artist in order to give the images or the subject who lends his/her image to the artist, a world of their own where they achieve their dignity and status. As a humanitarian artist, Binoy forwards a subtle critique on the system that produces such dispossessed children. These children from nowhere or from somewhere become characters in the micro-worlds created by Binoy Varghese. Of late, the artist has been attending to the issues of religious dispossession that has become a common characteristic of our much acclaimed democratic society. The burqa clad women and children are the people who are chased out of their own realms of existence or are treated like criminals. This is an imposition of a new knowledge system within the society by the forces in power (world wide power) in order exclude certain discourses on human existence; either the
powers exclude these religious symbolisms from within discourse or they discriminate people using the same symbolism. Binoy stands up for their dignity by repeatedly painting their small little worlds.
If the world of imposed innocence is Binoy’s concern, George Martin approaches the same world, which is capable of discriminating people as per religion, caste, creed, fashion, language and so on. However, Martin engagement with the outer world of reality does not happen through the portraiture of people as they are or as they caught in certain symbolic situations. On the contrary, Martin looks the world around him through a filter of unreality, which could split, sever and dismember the palpable reality into pieces where the represented ones become patterns and they demand viewers’ complete devotion for cohesive reading.
Martin, as an artist has always been interested in tracing the political, cultural and existential structures that are operational in our society, secretly and overtly exercising power on people. In Martin’s world, which in all sense is a coagulation of several micro worlds, exists people, animals, architecture, vehicles and urban streets as phantoms that detach themselves from the reality. These phantoms repeatedly remind the viewer of their own physical existence within the society. By not giving a particular identity to the people and by creating several grids between the people represented and the actual people who views the work, Martin deliberately collapses two worlds into one. Any keen observer could see how Martin has been moving from a world which had more figurative representations (in his paintings) to a world which is increasingly becoming abstract.
Colors and the kind of abstract possibilities explored by Martin in his paintings function as a filter as well as grid in order to create a sense of distance. Martin makes an emotional distance from the subjects that he treats though he attaches the personal/ emotional value to the final outcome of the painting. Each grid contains an element or a set of elements that constitute the whole and it is interesting to view these grids as a independent micro worlds in themselves, asking for engaged viewing from the people around. There is a celebratory aspect in Martin’s paintings. But this aspect of celebration comes from his deep interest in post- modern ideas of celebrating multiplicities; he aspires for a world of multiple cultures and cultural attitudes, which are not steamrolled by the hegemonic forces.
In Gopinath we see a beautiful convergence of existential angst of contemporary man as well as his alerted political awareness. His sculptures emulate small little worlds where human beings build up their dream existences. Gopinath has a special way of emulating the classical sculptures in a contemporary medium of fiberglass and giving a meaningful twist by incorporating abstract and surreal figurative values to them. In this show, Gopinath thinks more towards generating a discourse based on the intellectual existence vis-à-vis his responses to the world ridden with violence and strife.
In the sculpture titled ‘Inherent Conversations’, Gopinath creates a scene of meeting. The vacant stools show the expectation of dialogue, which could be fulfilled only by the ones who could occupy those chairs. And the man, who comes out of the block of his own body, tries to concentrate on the central image of a golden egg, a symbol of eternal intelligence and spiritual power. In this presence and absence of people, who are supposed to activate a discourse make the enigma of the scene deeper. In a very subtle way, Gopinath hints at the world forums (this could be one way of reading it) where the human issues are discussed to the advantage of the powerful and the influential.
In another sculpture Gopinath overlaps two realms of human existence; one religious and the other political. By creating the form of Nandi, the bull who is a vehicle of Lord Shiva, who according to Hindu mythology is the God of Destruction/tremendous power, as a big storage of swords, Gopinath interconnects the discourse on religion and the political violence generated out of it. In this powerful symbol of Nandi and swords, Gopinath at once recalls the recent incidents of violence and terror in the religion- political history of India. The moment those incidents are evoked with the same power amongst the minds of the viewers the artistic critique also becomes palpable for them. Gopinath, however does not deliberately create micro worlds of existence, instead he creates the micro worlds of power and terror.
There are two worlds in every man’s life; a world of reality and a world of internal reality. Whether you call it a dream life or spiritual life, it is in this internal world a thinking human being negotiates the realities of an external world. Hence, this internal existence functions as a benchmark to assess the reality. In Murali Cheeroth’s works what you witness is the manifestation of such internal worlds, which the artist very skillfully presents with all the paraphernalia of the outer world of reality. Murali subscribes to the images from daily life, as seen in city squares and construction sites. For him, city is like a language with an ever changing structure. The flux of structure is always tested against the imaginary structures that the artist creates within his inner world. Hence, the architectural images and the images of construction sites that we see in his works are not the images from an actual world. They are constructed realities within the artist’s mind, the seat of his inner world.
Seen against an industrial landscape, Murali introduces an interface between two mechanisms; one the brutal force of an earthmover that helps in clearing the spaces for further constructions and the dead weight of a disused car, almost hung in the middle of the air. The combination of these two images, one right from the reality and the other from the past (a rusting good old Ambassador car), while transmitted through the world of Murali’s imagination helps in creating a new world of relationship; a micro world where the machines speak to each other. In this dialogue between machines, Murali excludes the human presence in order to create an allegory of sorts, which is away from the traditional allegories and is closest to the contemporary visual language of spectacular-ness.
This world of spectacle that Murali deliberately creates moves between the real ‘real’ and the imagined ‘real’. Discounting people from the scenario of a spectacular drama is an artistic ploy that Murali uses to collapse the boundaries of two worlds. Unlike the other artists, Murali makes the micro world similar to the macro ones that flaunt power and arrogance. He likes in confrontation through subtle means of camouflaging. By creating a world that looks almost similar to the hegemonic world, Murali incepts the idea of resistance within the system of powers. The lonely deer that strays into a suburban landscape becomes a powerful imagery as seen contrasted with the image of the radar that captures the frequencies of dreams.
Vivek Vilasini approaches the notion of creating micro-worlds as a form of cultural resistance through the revocation of old scripts on his painterly surface. These surfaces with fluorescent paints literally re-script the divested scripts from the language of Malayalam. Vivek calls it as the ‘Glyphs in Tales’. These letters are the results of certain innovative minds who dared the hegemonic scriptural practices in the realm of publishing both in book form and in web form. The script that the artist uses comes from the font set named Rachana, which literally meaning ‘writing’. By placing the script of a local language, which has lesser possibilities to capture the attention of the world, as a cultural symbol in order to oppose the hegemonic texts and their veracity, Vivek imparts the idea of a micro structure that could challenge the predominant knowledge systems and historiography through the production of alternative knowledge systems and historiography through the implementation of a revised font set for the desk top as well as web publishing.
By investing the scripts with a new power and presence, Vivek makes them the participants in a pageant or carnival where multicultural ideas are propagated in multi-linguistic modes. This is a world that Vivek aspires to establish where parallel histories, subversive histories and the fringe histories get a say against and in relation with the hegemonic acts of making scriptures and cannons for the contemporary life. If you look at Vivek’s digital images, you would find the linkages between his varied visual practices. He creates the tableaux of dominant images from art history by incorporating a new set of actors in completely local garbs. The same attitude is visible in the production of micro worlds using script as bricks and mortar.
Glyphs of Tales, have both the narrative and iconic implications. As they are tales, they tell the story of the same letters that had gone through dark ages of neglect and disinvestment of power. And also as they are tales they tell the story of their reentry into a system of knowledge through subversive and popular acts. They at once function as graffiti and symbols. They invite the viewer to make an entry into the topography of dead languages or dying languages and explore the possibilities that too die along. These micro worlds are magnificent as they are colorful and show the aspect of a pageantry where the rules are overstepped and accepted codes of decency are violated. And Vivek believes that when such
intentional aesthetical violations are done, a new world of possibilities is created.
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