Rendering Consciousness Comprehensible

Truth is the promise of art and therefore, the artist. But of course, just because the artist chose to reflect the world with perceptual truth doesn’t mean it is proof of what spontaneously transpires. But gradations of truth are measured in the circumstances that led up to the moment the art is conceived. Alfred Leslie said, "To most people, reality is a confirmation of their expectation. Art can present an alternative to what people think they see or to what they expect to see", and if art can reflect oppressive cultural and moral rules and convictions then the purpose is to negotiate them intellectually, to dismantle them devastatingly and to present them seriously.

Art and artist are a single entity. It is impossible to understand art without peering into the artist. I met Upendranath a few years back, when I was still oblivious to the promise of art. As an artist, Upendranath T R came up the hard way. Working from his small room and between odd jobs, his visceral exploration and the need for visual representation of those ideas made him an “unwilling” artist. His choice of materials is as much a part of practicality as that of a simple philosophical stance. Self-taught, free of conventional teachings and guided interpretations, his work reflects a tormented response to humanity’s plight in the tightening grip of modernity while refusing to conform to the culture of reduced aspirations. And yet, the embodiment of modernity is never absent, in his medium or in his concepts.

And so it is with Upendranath T R’s recent exhibition aptly titled “90 – 09”, the collective effect of which is a feverish blend of hope and despair. At first glance it may appear ironical to see shapes made from pieces of glossy magazines, the very materials of modern indulgence, capture the disparity and earnestness of human consciousness at or with-regard to a fussy moment of recognition. What was immaterial as fragments of nothing became material as an idea. A more complex interpretation engaged them as self-consciously appropriated ideas representing a world saturated beyond measure. It is, as if, a result of invasive cultural pretenses and mundane existential justifications.

Upendranath’s portrayal of the human form is interesting for the realization of the failure of human utopia; and that failure in retrospect was inevitable given the human affinity to err. The forms look bleak without much individual personality, anger or humor, maybe suggesting an inherence of nihilism. He envisages deceptively familiar forms intertwined in sequential, spatial and experiential peculiarities as he relies on seductive lines, persuasive curves and an almost insincere perversion of truth to distinguish images and ideas with moral complexity and personal indulgence. The shapes live in the world imagined and play out along the senses. Texts are treated as being more or less straight origins of the social perspective that bind them. Virtue is biased, sheltered and imperfect with irregular pieces of paper animating the fragmentation of the underlying shapes as often; obsessively repeated words belie any sense of clear-cut abstraction. The intense depiction of divergent forces and attempts to offer a sense of belonging and healing in the midst of surrounding hostility and confusion reveals a multi-layered thought process and offers genuine revelation and imaginative engagement some even bordering on moral callousness.

Like with Upendranath’s work, we make sense of the world by isolating it into thoughtful and controlled zones of comfort and understanding to make it more in-tune with our perceptions. While the art itself implies the heights to which an acutely informal kind of imagination can rise, the ideas and implementation betray spiritual anxiety masked by representational imagery. The entire viewing process is presented as a form of perpetual seeking by plunging into meaningful chaos and social muddles, not by alienating them or leaving them behind. And these works challenge my emotional reflexes and my capacities of response. It reminds me of the sheer propagation of metaphors that makes it impossible to not care for the present and past anew and maybe, that the pretense of realism depends on it being perpetually in the past as much as it draws enduring presence from desires still unfulfilled. Or maybe, these are images simply put together to render consciousness comprehensible.

(Few selected works of Upendranath T R from his exhibition "90-09")
(Click on the image for a larger preview)

In Search of Redemption

The first post is usually the hardest. But here goes;

It would be an understatement to say that “I love movies!”
Somewhere at home, buried deep beside the past is a photograph taken when I was a child. A somber, round-faced little boy gazes up at the camera wondering at the magic of a moment captured. Probably the first moment a strange dream settled on me. And now, as I look at him and as I think more deeply about the mystery of the passage of time, I feel a sense of awe. I don’t even remember the first movie that I ever saw, but I do remember that my father used to take me to the movies or the theater at least once every week. For me, those times were more than just escapism and more than just having fun. For me each film or play told me finite stories with infinite promise.

I am by no means someone who likes to thump the present for the past. But when I say that films made today pale against those of the yesteryear's, it’s only because I refuse to be tied down to the absolute banal and formulaic popcorn culture that spits out movie after movie based on the whim of a few men who rather have a nice balance sheet than preserve any artistic authenticity or class. Turns out, those major league studios are completely subjugated by the belief that money can buy them out of their own crap and justify anything. Bear with me here, I do enjoy a few “mindless” flicks here and there and am in no way against the mass studios productions but I absolutely hate it when they take my intelligence and understanding for granted. I am a firm believer in intent and sadly that’s one of the many things lacking from today’s misplaced silver screen debuts. But, at the same time, it would also be monumentally unfair to the very few who do believe in their work and spend years to see the realization of their dream hit the light.

I have argued this before, many times, and there always have been someone with a misplaced sense of hurt accusing me of being an “elitist critic” (I am not) who is “out of touch” (with what! my brain?) or that I am “too old to understand this generation (I love this one as I am barely past 26). But seriously, am I out of touch? Or am I just a little too much in touch with what I want? Forgive me if my likes do not reflect the latest box office taste and for not being uncritical and thoughtlessly accepting everything that’s shoved down my throat. And don’t give me that “it’s just my opinion” crap ‘cos it matters and sometimes you can be wrong.

This is also not to say that the best movies are the ones that try to be too "realistic" or those that confine to the “art” status or the ones that most people can’t understand and consider dull and lifeless. As I see it, movies, regardless of being good or bad, reveals to us some measure the visible and invisible nature of our hopes, our fears, our dreams and everything that falls in between. Even the ones that I consider bad can do this, indulging our unspoken lusts but the best movies go beyond that and meet us where we are - engaging our hearts and minds. They appear so natural and so matter-of-fact that it does not necessarily force contextual change or a change in our perception of reality based on deliberate habituation. It is uniquely fulfilling to witness the skilled manipulation of frames that contain the irrationality of a setting which tenderly unites the real and the imagined converting recognizable scenes to surreal outlines. As the German playwright, Bertolt Brecht, put it “Before familiarity can turn into awareness, the familiar must be stripped of its inconspicuousness; we must give up assuming that the object in question needs no explanation.”

Back when I was working as the editor of a magazine, I was invited to the premiere of a movie and I had the pleasure of talking to the director for an extended period of time. He wasn't too pleased with his work because, as he said, the studio demanded that at least fifty percent of the movie be along the lines of a previously successful movie. The movie went on to be a mild success (meaning they got some money back and pretty much nothing else). More disappointing was his claim that there is vulgar disparity towards the intelligent folks. For some reason being educated was considered some kind of stigma only worthy of concealment. He also mentioned that, today schools weren't about learning but more about piling up achievements that look good and by that what we are getting is a bunch of outcome-oriented people. But thinking on a bigger scale, what we are loosing are the dreamers, the free thinkers and the innovators sidelining us to become someone whose identity is based on mundane text and preconceived ideas. Which, in-effect would describe the decline of an industry that is based on the notion that life is grand even while you are loosing out.

No, I am not succumbing to my own arrogance. We will talk about that as we go ahead and you will probably learn to hate me more.