Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Digital Idealism and Feminism

         To understand the directions digital feminism one needs to first understand the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism.  Capitalism, in order to go to the next level of neo-liberal colonization of the world at a globalised scale, began to spreads culture of doing what we want whenever we want without thinking about the network of influences those actions have. With the globalization of consumption, it was important to create an alienated relationship between the consumer and the source. It was important to create an atmosphere where you can consume endless amounts of electricity without caring about the human, ecological damage this hyper consumption causes. When this “I have the right to do what I want" commonsense afflicted feminism, it lost its ability to provide an alterna(ra)tive to patriarchy. 
What we see in contemporary feminism is a divorce from the traditional partnership with leftist and other critiques of capitalism. Thus we see generations of liberated women numbed or unaffected by struggles of class and cast. Feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms. To the extent that they fail to recognize the different way some women experience sexism and racism, sexism and casteism or sexism and economic exploitation, or sexism and homophobia, and post colonial concerns. 
The cosmopolitan liberal utopia can only be kept alive through our participation in this game of “I can do what I want”. Feminism needs to re-contest the notion of ethics if we want to have build alternative societies, not mirror and further existing power structures.

 Thus as levels of gender based violence remain the same (maybe more mass destructive), as comparative wages across all sectors continue to be low, as key decision making choices still stay in the control of men,and the patriarchal family system largely remains unchanged. Somehow there is a celebration of women's liberation. The right to labour, and the right to consume have managed to give an illusion of choice-a culture that says you can buy what you want, 'do' what you want but it will take extreme rebellion or good fortune to not be the handmaidens of patriarchy.   

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

concept for for 'The Impossibility of Being'

Floor plan of Exhibit 320 at the time me sharing my initial concept note with artists

The exhibition concept note that we find for The Possibility of Being (, is something that has come up after studio visits, seeing work...discussing with artists getting feedback from everyone and thinking...trying to simplify yet keep the core values intact....feel the need to share the first note i share with my the artists......that time the show was conceived as the Impossibility of Being 

Concept note :
>  The Impossibility of Being
 The Impossibility of Being is dedicated to (re) exploring linkages between the narrative, the social and Painting as we come to the end of an era which was (is being) called Contemporary. As i try to imagine  post neoliberal, post contemporary worlds, curatorially i feel the need to revisit the linkages between  the narrative, the social and Painting, in collaboration with a group of artists who have given narrative figurative story telling the feel of myth making through inventions and reworkings of the iconic. As the neo liberal was defined and celebrated as the era of new media and the ‘futuristic’ , this exhibition  also becomes a project in cultural archaeology or ritual nostalgia. Slowly there is a growing recognition that painting practices continue to hold important contributing agency in shaping new cultural directions. These new directions in taste and cultural archaeological position disturbs the ‘meaning’ of ‘new media’ by placing old media as an vanguard act. That is why the impossibility of being.

 The Impossibility of Being is (also) proposed as a post digital re visiting of Geeta Kapur's 'Place for People' exhibition and looks at paintings of personal and social histories.  However, the idea of the narrative itself has changed over this period of time.  The age of digital aesthetics (one can trace a Global mainstream dominance of it from 1995-2005 and in India till about 2011), resulted in the idea of the narrative itself being cleaned and cosmopotianised. This shift from the 'bazar to the mall' shifted our understandings of the local, personal and the political. Capturing these shifts imply trading not only on the medium specificity of a post-conceptual re-visitation of Modernism (the ‘language of the mark, gesture and surface’), but that it should be equally receptive  to (and in dialogue with ) motifs taken  from contemporary culture and older narrative traditions of image-making.The narrative today is post iconic and post digital (when Geeta Kapur did Place for People the narrative was post abstract and post gestural). Thus, The Impossibility of Being also becomes a collaboration with artists whose studio practice has shown both a resistance to the dominance of the digital and the iconic.

What separates myths from legends is that myths are more layered and complex. That is why this show is not pitched at the level of ‘urban or contemporary legends’. To be a myth maker, the love for layering has to go beyond the content and have to enter the domain of the the ‘form’. As we look for a post digital aesthetics in this digital world, the analogue’s celebration of labour, gives us an ability to develop a critique of the ‘clean’, cosmopolitan golabism. Post digital aesthetics can only work when dichotomies between concept and craft are not forgotten, but transgressed. This understanding of art making where concept, medium , craftsmanship,and time inform the artistic process.

The zones between the possible and the impossible are also called upon because there is also personal engagement with the subaltern, and deep contributions in opening our thoughts to new sub alterities. The ‘icon’ and myth making become instruments of this position. Art has an ability to deeply personalize history and future, taking them into the domains of memory and fantasy.  Both memory and fantasy have been important tools of subaltern history. The Impossibility of Being  is informed by this engagement with subalternity, memory, fantasy; along with the iconic, narrative.

 This is not a new trend we are looking at. Through the heights of the dominance of digital aesthetics in global taste, there have been artists who have worked within zones that transgress labour, concept and skill.  Especially right now it becomes important to bring together a show of work that has taken place in the studio over the last one-two years.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

thinking through the digital -early notes

  • Why does the digital have such deep relationships with globalization and neo liberal cosmopolitanism terms?- we know that the digital technological revolution layered the technological back bone of globalization; but the linkages i am dwelling on are beyond 'technological' or economic. For example, globalization flattens the world (at least promises to), making it a level field of information exchange (and potentially knowledge production) - the digital camera does not capture 'depth of field', creating a trend of 'flat photography'-what fissures does this metaphoric coincidences open up?
  • Steel and glass, have become the markers of globalization and neo liberal architecture. they characteristically create architecture which has an 'anywhere in the world feeling'...Helsinki, Gurgaon ..anywhere. Optically steel and glass mimic the flatness of the digital other words...steel and glass architecture is most often uni planer in its design conceptualization. 
  • if digital is not just technology and if it also has aesthetic implications...then what can be digital ethics?
  • is the notion of digital ethics encoded within digital idealism?
  • the change from a metropolitan city to a cosmopolitan city,  is often a change in which labour is made invisible and marginalized. does it have metaphorical parallels in the invisibility of the brush stroke, the glitch.  (and is it strange that the core of digital aesthetic discourse can be found in Idealism, a  studio album by German electronic music duo Digitalism
  • At the height of the contemporary boom, paintings began to mimic digital prints

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

untitled 1

As a practitioner it has been more than obvious to me that the judgments passed on painting are too hasty and probably more a result of the rush in the market to follow what appeared for the moment to be trendier. Some confusion is created trying to navigate the post modern because people appear to associate post modernism with new media rather than the related and i feel, quite significant concepts.

As an abstract artist and an anthropologist the post modern attitude could not have come at a better time for me. i have been constructing mixed media abstracts for many years. instead of paint, i use materials like cement, fabric, nails, rope, urdu text and i find a political statement in the very choice of my material. I try to complicate and layer this further through well thought out processes like burning, writing , cutting or binding which act like signs. Though my ideas are politically infused, i try to make careful attempts to develop the abstract language i am using, even as i seem to favour the informal. My work glides across media like relief paintings, installations, drawing, poetry, sound works and then i find myself visualizing video poems.

Obviously, for us artists, technology has merely opened new pathways to express ourselves but its of little relevance how trendy or new the medium might be. our preferences are based more on who we are, the subject, access, the idea, the emotion or a combination of all these. my point is that there never should have been any doubt about the possibility of being, it is not the medium but the logic behind the underlying artistic choices and how path breaking they are and of course the nature of our convictions that will ultimately shift boundaries in both art and thought. 
That is the way of the untitled.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Troubles Getting Past the Post

Rahul’s rejoinder “what is the 'post' in postcontemporary” raises interesting questions about language, how we use it, and the importance of defining terms.  I am the first to admit I am a stickler for terminology as I think words have the ability to shape consciousness and thus we should exercise caution in all instances of application.  In keeping with Rahul’s mention of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s 1991 article I would like to throw Anne McClintock’s 1992 article “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term "Post-Colonialism" into the mix.[1] These articles resonate with our current discussion because the both deal with issues of language at the moment in which post-colonial theory was being domesticated in the academy by the larger more general designation of post colonialism.  At this critical juncture, McClintock makes an interesting observation about the omnipresence of the prefix ‘post.’  She opines,
I am doubly interested in the term, since the almost ritualistic ubiquity of "post-" words in current culture (post-colonialism, post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-cold war, post-marxism, post-apartheid, post-Soviet, post-Ford, post-feminism, post-national, post-historic, even post-contemporary) signals, I believe, a widespread, epochal crisis in the idea of linear, historical “progress.”[2]
To be sure my use of McClintock here is strategic as it enables me to put a finer, more historical point on my postmodern caveat in “I Feel So Far From Where I am.”  Her veritable laundry list of ‘post’ words suggest that even as early as 1992 the term ‘post’ was slippery.  While post-colonial, post-cold war, post-marxism(lower case m), post-apartheid, post-soviet, and post-Ford, without a doubt, mark historic shifts in time and a break with the past -- post-modernism, post feminism, post national, post historical and arguably post-contemporary mark a reconfiguration of the present.  It is my contention that these latter words do not signal a paradigm shift so much as a critical re-evaluation and, as such, the word ‘post’ is a misnomer.  Rahul observes in his exhibition note, “[A]mong the many developments that mark the term contemporary has been the dominating focus on content that prioritize socially and politically charged subject matters over stylistic experimentation and investigations over Form and Language” and if I understand correctly, the ‘post’ in post- contemporary (or perhaps more specifically post-contemporary art) signals a return to stylistic experimentation and seeks to reclaim the social and political possibilities of form and language.  So then, does artistic form and practice become more deliberately and self-consciously analogical?  But what of language?  Should our language not parallel the practice?  Do we have to remain strapped to the post?  Can we come up with a new term, or is such a suggestion completely untenable?

[1]  “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?”  Critical Inquiry, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Winter, 1991), 336-357.
[2] “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term "Post-Colonialism" Social Text, No. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues (1992), 84.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Art of Not Making

As it may be relevant to this discussion, I am re-posting this review of the book The Art of Not Making, which first appeared in Art & Deal magazine.

In 1917 an unknown artist named "R. Mutt" exhibited a perfectly ordinary porcelain urinal at the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York City. The actual person who lay behind this act of aesthetic sabotage was of course Marcel Duchamp. Through his radically clever mind he managed to transform an object as vulgar as a urinal into not only a memorable sculpture, but probably the most analysed and written about object in contemporary art history. Duchamp had simply placed a store-bought urinal upon a pedestal and titled it Fountain. In doing so he demonstrated that art became art simply by the artist declaring it to be. Duchamp also argued that it was the placement of an object within a relevant context that caused it to be raised from mundane existence to that intellectual pinnacle reserved for art. For Duchamp, the primacy of art lay in the realm of ideas, and whether or not art was the result of laborious work or instantaneous inspiration was immaterial. The social, aesthetic, and cultural ramifications of Duchamp's "creation" of Fountain are still very much with us today. There are few things more sacrosanct in the world of contemporary art than the premise that idea is superior to craft.

Of course ideas (concepts) have always been at the heart of art. The written histories of both Western and Eastern art revolve around how particular works of art represent the spiritual, cultural, scientific, or social concerns of their times. Idea has been paramount, though it is interesting to note that much of the art we admire in history books was actually the manifestation of ideas formed not by the artist, but by the artist's patron(s). Thus, Michelangelo worked within the confines of The House of Medici and the Catholic Church of Rome, and the humanistic values that many find in his art cannot be divorced from the overriding need of the artist to illustrate his patrons' ideas. Michelangelo, after all, created such things as the Sistine Chapel on commission, and his concepts were in large part bound to accepted versions of Biblical themes that he was paid to illustrate. His famous sculpture of David was a received commission from the Florentine Guild of Wool which made a clear directive that the sculpture was to be of the Biblical David and represent Florentine freedom. Nearly all of Michelangelo's work was contracted and given initial conceptualization by his patrons. Similarly, in the East, the miniaturists of the Persian and Moghul courts were bound to various dictates of Islam, inherited cultural norms, and the whims, commissions and decrees of princes and caliphs.

It is sobering to remember that throughout much of the world's history the artist was not thought of as an independent thinker, much less a visionary. Artists were judged "good" or "bad" largely upon their use of finely-tooled craftsmanship to bring into being the concepts of their patrons. As such, even the most respected artists were seldom given a status above that of master craftsman. True, many such artist-craftsmen managed to brilliantly improvise within the parameters of their patronage. But it was not until much later, with the demise of feudalism, the evolution of freer markets, and a growing emphasis on individualism, that artists came to be seen as independent thinkers, visionaries, messengers of truth, and innovators that question established orders within a liberated social-aesthetic space.

It is good to remember these things when delving into the new Thames and Hudson book, The Art of Not Making: the New Artist/Artisan Relationship (written by Michael Petry and released just last January.) Though this book has seen little attention to date, it is perhaps the most potentially subversive book dealing with contemporary art this year. The Art of Not Making is in fact a sort of "coming out" by artists of all stripes. On one level the book works as a mass-confessional, boldly addressing an issue that the art world has muttered about for years but seldom addressed in public: the fact that scores upon scores of contemporary artists do not make their own work. Author Michel Petry, himself an artist, is to be given credit for pursuing a very touchy subject with sincerity, candour, and a great deal of fairness and grace. The artists featured in the book also deserve credit for their honest admissions and cooperative interviews.

Petry, of course, begins his discourse with the mandatory reference to Duchamp. It is then pointed out that artists throughout the ages have employed other artists as assistants. There is a particularly memorable anecdote of a patron rejecting a painting he had commissioned from the Venetian artist Bellini as it was thought to have been painted primarily, if not totally, by the artist's assistants. But The Art of Not Making quickly catapults into the present. Michael Petry does as most of us involved in today's art world do...rather all-too-quickly accepting what has become a somewhat unquestionable premise: that the artist is primarily a conceptualizer whose true work is first and foremost in his or her head. The actualization of conceptualized artworks thus becomes a rather mundane, even routine encounter with craft. Contemporary acceptance of this premise stems straight from the provocation of Duchamp's famous urinal and the eventual integration of Duchamp's philosophy into the mindset of the cultural elite.

The Art of Not Making is filled with quotes that perfectly illustrate the prevailing acceptance of Duchamp's declarations. The Canadian artist Micah Lexier, speaking about his wall installation of 20,000 custom minted coins for the Bank of Montreal, sums up his use of craftsmen by saying, "I always have gotten other people to make things. I have an active mind, but haven't always been so good at making things, so I'd get something made, or printed, by someone else. It was a response to the skills, or lack of skills that I have." Similarly, the Egyptian-born artist Ghada Amer states,"I get involved in the craft aspect of the work but, rather than getting bogged down in making things, I prefer to look for new ideas and resolve new problems. So although I'm not a conceptualist, I like to teach other people to do the work for me; even my paintings are done with assistants". It is interesting to note in this quote that Amer claims "I'm not a conceptualist" while at the same time confessing that she does not like "getting bogged down in making things". One is left wondering just what it is that she does.

To be fair, most all of the artists interviewed in The Art of Not Making seem diligent and committed to their work. Some express a deep love for working with the various artisans they employ. The African-American artist Fred Wilson, talking about collaborations with glass artisans from the Berengo Studio in Murano, Italy, states that, "When someone else makes your work, who they are goes into it as well. If they are connected to it, the fabricator can develop a wonderful relationship with the artist....Each person brings a different talent and aspect to it. It can take you in another direction." Another American artist, Fred Tomaselli, while talking about working with hired Chinese tapestry weavers, states: "I have never differentiated between the realms of art and craft. As an artist I am very hands on; everything done by me, by hand, with only one assistant, so jobbing out to another person whom I never met and working in another country gave me some pause. But it's interesting to have the forms articulated by such great craftspeople."

But there are also voices within the book that sound disconnected and even downright arrogant. One example is the Italian Maurizio Cattelan, who, while speaking about his conceptual installation of a replica of the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign on the hills above Palermo declares: "The idea that the artist manipulates materials is not something that I agree with. I don't design. I don't paint. I don't sculpt. I absolutely never touch my works." It bears repeating: "I absolutely never touch my works." One wonders why this is spoken with such a degree of pride. One can accept an artist's desire to exist within the realm of pure ideation...but why the seemingly disdainful allusion to the process of craft?

And then, in other artists, there are the unavoidable implications of exploitation. Jochem Hendricks, a German artist with a reputation for probing complex moral and ethical issues, is represented in the book by "6,128,374 Grains of Sand", an artwork which is just that: 6,128,374 grains of sand enclosed in a glass egg. Petry states: "The only way to verify the count is to crack the egg and destroy the work of art,"...certainly an interesting enough concept. But Petry goes on to explain that the artist "paid assistants (often illegal immigrants in Germany) to count the grains of sand". Moral questions indeed.

Subodh Gupta is, I think, the only Indian represented in the book. It is a pleasure to find him discussed as just one more among a host of international art stars (rather than being segregated and categorized as an "Indian Artist"). Gupta joins the conceptual choir in stating, "I transform. My job as an artist is to think, to conceive the ideas." And then rather surprisingly (at least to me) he adds: "My art is made up for me by expert artisans all over the world: the thali works were made in America." Of course my surprise stems from having thought his thali works were made by Indian artisans, not American.

Perhaps the most disturbing moments in the book are not the many quotes and interviews with the artists, but rather, the voices of the craftspeople. It is discomforting to read how seemingly content they have become in their roles as "makers" for the "conceptualizers". One such "maker", London-based Anthony Harris, when asked about the question of authorship replies, "When does an architect build the building? When does a composer play an orchestra? ....It doesn't matter who made it. Do you like it, will you buy it, how much do you want to pay for it? That's it. The creative process is complete: idea, object, sale!"

As a whole, The Art of Not Making becomes a fascinating book that conjures more questions than it answers. But we are left to return to the realization that once upon a time it was craft that was valued more than idea. Ideas were left primarily to the powerful patrons who commissioned the work. In that sense, have the new generation of "office artists" (as I like to call them) who "absolutely never touch" their work, become the new patrons of talented and unsung artist-craftsmen who have entered into a newly subservient social position? Have the office artists who spend their days conceptualizing, networking, and marketing, in fact become non-artist businesspeople who work as defacto agent-advisors to craftsmen? Is it the "craftspeople"... who have spent too much time learning the technique of their art to be able to effectively conceptualize and promote it...who are, in the old-fashioned sense of the term, artists? Who is advisor, who is agent, and who is artist? I do not ask these questions with any mean-spiritedness, as I myself have become, at least partially, an office artist who works with studio artists and craftsmen to fabricate my ideas. But to avoid these questions is perilous...not only for artists and craftsmen as individuals, but to the integrity of the art community as a whole.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

what is the 'post' in post contemporary

 "Contemporary art is no unworldly discipline nestled away in some remote ivory tower. On the contrary, it is squarely placed in the neoliberal thick of things. We cannot dissociate the hype around contemporary art from the shock policies used to defibrillate slowing economies. Such hype embodies the affective dimension of global economies tied to ponzi schemes, credit addiction, and bygone bull markets. Contemporary art is a brand name without a brand, ready to be slapped onto almost anything, a quick face-lift touting the new creative imperative for places in need of an extreme makeover, the suspense of gambling combined with the stern pleasures of upper-class boarding school education, a licensed playground for a world confused and collapsed by dizzying deregulation. If contemporary art is the answer, the question is: How can capitalism be made more beautiful?"
                                                                                                    Hito Steyerl, Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy

 Kathleen Yma's post 'It is worth noting here' that I use the designation of  “postmodern” with skepticism and suspicion as I remain personally and academically unconvinced that we are presently residing in an era in which the issues of the modern have been successfully resolved." That left me wondering that when i have used 'post contemporary' in the exhibition concept note, did i use it in the context of a complete break? Of course i did not, especially since i completly agree with  KIs the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial'.) 

So what is the 'post in 'post contemporary'? For me the contemporary period in art was the time of from when the neo liberal was emergent to the point in which the neo liberal was dominant. (The concepts of dominant, residual, and emergent are drawn from Raymond Williams. These concepts can give us a framework for understanding the complex and dynamic ways in which a culture operates as it continuously attempts to maintain stability and balance in the face of ever-changing views...). With the neo liberal being challenged the dominance of of the cosmopolitian, globalized world view that informed the flat, sleekness of 'contemporary' world view, together with the great faith in the internet is being questioned, together with the questioning of consumerism and the economic growth model; has opened doors for a questioning of the 'contemporary'.