Life | Art in Motion

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Art in Motion
Text by Mamta Badkar
Published: Volume 17, Issue 5, May, 2009

From the palette, artists have jumped straight into video. It seems to be the medium du jour for contemporary artists. Mamta Badkar watches the show

It’s hard to believe that video art is only about four decades old. In retrospect, it seems like it should have been exploited by artists since Muybridge made The Horse in Motion in 1878. Instead, Nam Jun Paik is usually, but not irrefutably, credited with setting in motion video art as we know it today. He recorded the traffic caused by Pope Paul VI’s motorcade in New York, in 1965, on a portable recorder that had just hit the market and played it for his friends at a local café. The medium, gaining popularity, eventually earned a snug embrace from galleries and buyers abroad but is still wriggling its way into India’s art nexus.

Renu Modi, director of Gallery Espace in New Delhi believes that despite increasing interest in the medium, its marketability in the subcontinent is low. “Artists abroad have the support of museums with video art archives and galleries with appropriate equipment; those facilities are still developing here,” she says. While the works at Gallery Espace’s Video Wednesdays have garnered much attention, Modi holds firm that there have been only a handful of takers here. But Gigi Scaria who showcased at Video Wednesday’s opening night in July was at ARCOmadrid this year; and prolific video artists like Sutapa Biswas and Shilpa Gupta are established now as well, confirming its upward trend.

In the hope of bridging the gap however, Modi’s gallery has been playing host to video artists the last Wednesday of every month since July 2008. Curated by Johnny M.L., the year-long-programme aims at dedicating a day every month to the medium. Hemali Bhuta, Sharmila Samnath, K. M. Madhusudhanan and Pushpamala LN are names that roll off the Video Wednesday catalogue.

Bhuta’s The Movement is a five-minute video, which uses a rubber band to reflect on reproduction. Pushpamala’s 11-minute short is a satirical take on the modern day Indian family. Drawing evident parallels with cinema is Madhusudhanan’s 17-minute work, History is a Silent Film. With the feel of a bioscope, it is as much about the disappearance of an old way of life as it is the relationship between early film machines and the India-Pakistan partition. The film appropriates techniques of early cinema like the cranking of early projectors and the use of the iris shot. “Video art offers possibilities that traditional media cannot afford to artists. The presence of time and space is very significant in video art and it encompasses other mediums,” stresses Madhusudhanan.

Amsterdam-based artist Mayura Subhedar, who uses performance, interaction and her own body as a premise in a lot of her works, engages with beauty and aesthetics. “Videos allow me to employ the language of beauty, and use lyrical, poetic images to convey meanings without being biographical, in a way that I’ve never achieved in other mediums…. I am interested in video as it can allow moments to unfold in real time. We realise that a moment is agonisingly long, agonisingly slow. There is discomfort in my works and no getting away from it,” she says.

Hand-caress & Variation’s 1 is a 13-minute video that depicts a white rose being (hand) painted red. As the video progresses, the viewer is aroused and repelled by caresses which are initially artistic and sensual and become increasingly emphatic and violent. The lacing of paint on the petals gives way to smearing and the sinister mood is heightened by an eerie score. The bloody stains stir up political associations but the violent, phallic thumbing of the rose is a rather visible deflowering and recalls violence against women.

The artist concerned with mundane customs believes, “Rituals mark changes and the passage of time; daily rituals give rhythm and sense to our mundane existence. Personal rituals allow us alternate ways of being in an overtly regularised world. The inherent quality of rituals allows me to create repeating moments in time that offer a view of timelessness…. I draw on traditional rituals of cooking, home keeping, making crafts associated with women. I use the language of fashion and make-up. I have used the vocabulary of craft or cooking programmes on TV aimed at women.”

Further from home, Doug Aitken and Bill Viola flagrantly exhibit the medium’s popularity. In fact the only thing that does this medium in is probably its temporality. Video display and preservation are the biggest hurdles collectors face. With technology changing by the nanosecond, artists and galleries need to keep updating their methods and inventory. Subhedar who is working on another video argues, “The 90s were the golden age of video art in the west. Now the digital virtual, interactive mediums are changing the medium of video, as we know it. Is this death of video art? No. There are just more possibilities for artists to work with.” In allowing for mixed media it offers artists more liberty to express themselves. “I think the mediums complement each other. Take Manjunath Kamath’s sculptural video installations. I don’t think one is more cutting-edge than the other but it’s definitely more experimental,” says Modi articulating the verbal thumbs up that video art is getting around the world.

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