This beautiful single-seat 350cc Bullet belongs to Anil Sharma, agency producer at W+K Delhi.
His father, a Professor of International Politics, bought this motorcycle from a Gol Market dealership in 1979. Anil has lovingly rebuilt it for his 5-year old son who lives in London with his mother. We’re lucky to have it in our car park for the time being.
Today we have our night in a forest. We are all excited about it. By four in the evening, we all set out for the forest. A few kilometers from Mountain Trail Resort where we stay, there is a deep forest that connects to the Kumaon hills. Leopards, wild boars, barking deer and many other animals are abundant there.
We need to trek down for almost fifteen minutes to reach a clearing where our tents are erected. The clearing is surrounded by tall pine trees covered with centuries old lichens and moss.
Strange sounds of birds and creatures accompany us during the downhill journey and the stories of leopard attacks are already doing the rounds amongst us. We are filled with a strange thrill and fear. We all expect the unknown and surely we don’t know what that unknown looks like. Could it be a dark monster with fangs? Or a jungle beauty with sparkling eyes and spotted yellow skin? Or perhaps even an ethereal beauty that comes to spirit us away?
When we reach there, the resort staff has already propped up a make-shift kitchen. And a bar too is set up on the ground. Some of us go for a trek and some of us hang around with drinks in our hands. We contemplate the beauty of the forest.
Eons of loneliness surround these trees and shrubs. The sounds that fill our ears are from another age. Sumedh remarks that the trees are organic beings waiting to be heard. They have something to tell us. But we don’t know how they are going to tell us their stories. They may embrace us with their soothing leaves or they may even strangulate us with their menacing hands. It all depends on how they feel about us.
Be reverent. Be considerate. Be soft and silent.
The night covers the forest and us in its soft embrace. The acoustic takes a different turn and tune. Moths fly around and some of them whisper unknown secrets into our ears.
Lanterns, high power search lights and mantle lights are lit. A bonfire is made. And we all come around it.
Drinks flow. So do our spirits. The spirits residing in the forest watch us from their remote hideouts. We know we are being watched. But we can do nothing but do whatever under these invisible watchful eyes.
Sitting around the bonfire, our faces take on a look of some secret cult followers who are here to perform some ancient rituals.
Murali Cheeroth transforms into another personality in a moment. He changes his facial expression just as a shaman changes his expression. Here, he is going to do a performance.
Murali moves around the fire and acts out a sad story; of a mother and her seven children. We hold our breath and watch him going through the pangs of emotions.
Then Vibha sings a Punjabi song. After that I sing a few Malayalam and Hindi songs.
Meanwhile, a discussion on art and society props up. The force of the arguments heats up the atmosphere. Someone asserts. Someone disputes. Someone apologizes and someone gets too emotional about Kanu Sanyal and the Maoists. And someone becomes too romantic and hums a few ghazals.
The tents become our refuge by midnight. Now the tents have become giggling chambers as the artists share their secrets and take pleasure on innocent jokes.
A few minutes later a symphony of snoring is played out from the tents. The music of slumber spreads across the clearing, wades through the pine trees and reaches to the invisible forces that guard us from their vantage points of existence.
A shadow of fear walks down from the hills and smiles at the tents.
Meta narratives, trans-lingual affirmations and transcending experiences
An audio-visual presentation, a slide show, an illustrated lecture, a debate on individual art practice- you call it any name, the first one in the series of discussions facilitated by the What Happens in Mukteshwar camp proves to be invigorating, interrogative and polemical. It has raised a lot of heat and helped in clearing a lot of dust that always gets accumulated around the individual practices of the artists.
I introduce the program. Perhaps, it is the first formal speech that I make before my friends during this camp. I prefer to call this camp as an effort to bring together the experiential, the nostalgic and the entertaining elements of a journey together. It provides a new, fresh and un-sentimental backdrop against which one could re-examine the aforementioned elements vis-à-vis that of the others.
Friendship is a great leveler. It pardons many a follies committed by a friend. But when it comes to debating the creative process and output of a friend, artists are very straight and their words often carry the precision and sharpness of a surgical device.
We have three artists today to kick start the presentation series; Parvathi Nayar, Anoop Panicker and Aji VN. By method or madness or even by methodical madness, the selection of the artists seems to be apt as three of them indulge in drawing as their predominant medium.
Parvathi Nayar, picks up from where I leave and she tries to connect the experiential and the nostalgic into a chain of frame of references. Her latest works, graphite on paper arranged as an installation, have images from a popular movie (Awara), the image of an old time film projector and a clinical depiction of a sperm entering an ovum.
Parvathi speaks of the juxtaposition of multiple layers of meta-narratives and fragmenting them at certain stages in order to evoke nostalgia and experientiality of history and events. It has political connotation as it consciously engages with the censorial clutches of the social psyche on the matters of love and sex, which often supply the theme for meta narratives in different mediums including films.
The artist continues to say how she, even while engages her works with the interpretational nuances of theory and history, remains faithful to a conventional method of making the drawings by hand, that too by making graphite strokes inch by inch. Parvathi had started it long back, looking at the particle movements in a cloud chamber. In her earlier drawings she had tried to capture the path of the particle movements, which later on gave way to clinical drawings and deliberate production of three dimensional commodities, strategically planned and aesthetically presented within the gallery space, pepped up with textual codes providing a parallel direction to the interpretation of the works.
Does the practice collapse into the realm of mediatic realism as Parvathi employs uses already existing images? I ask. But according to Atul Bhalla, it is not about mediatic realism though the readymade images are referred, it is more about the practice of drawing, with its capacity to renew itself in a new context without losing its conventional attachments with the individualistic pursuit. While Vivek finds her works contain an uncanny sense of humor, Martin would like to see her works shot in detail using micro lens so that the strokes could tell a different story about its making.
Anoop Panicker, in his recent works deals with the theme of ‘End of Fear’. Surprisingly, the medium that he uses to bring forth this issue is drawing; charcoal on paper. Anoop speaks of the ‘trans-lingual affirmation’ of fear and the process of ending it. As a visual explanation of his theory, he presents three works with monumental images of pencils, standing vertically like skyscrapers, with the poster like inscription on them in English, Spanish and French.
This trans-lingual affirmation must be stemming out of the fear of trans-national affirmation of power by the imperialistic forces. The end of fear, as far as Anoop is concerned, has got a counter-colonial tendency as the human images in him are carefully selected from certain nationalities that had a history of liberating people from the clutches of imperialism and sadly falling back into the rut of authoritarianism.
To a question, Anoop says that he uses these different languages in order to suggest the colonial expansionism undertaken by these linguistic groups. It is almost like Empire striking back. At this point Vivek speaks of moving across the vast deposit of images in the global scene and behaving like a colonial plunderer who takes away images without the permission of the natives. Anoop agrees with it up to certain extent saying that there is a pleasure in the ending of this fear facilitated by the plundering, physically or virtually.
Anoop uses images that have strong political connotations. Some of his works are replete with a loaded symbolism. Decoding these dense images needs the primary cracking of the authorial intention. Madhusudhanan asks how the artist could separate the politically charged images from their contextual meanings and bring them into purely personalized realm. Anoop says that it is a question always to be debated along with counter-colonial practice. According to Gigi, the loaded nature of the images is not a problem as easy communication is not the primary intention of the artist always. I suggest that perhaps the proliferation of these images amongst the art audience would help to de-mystify its symbolism and the discourse could start on a ground of familiarity. Vivek says a magician sees a fellow magician as someone doing tricks and only to the audience it looks like magic.
Aji VN has three drawings to show and many more to skim through. Aji, settled in Rotterdam, works from memory. He uses colored papers as his surface and draws with conde. He does not use any photograph as his reference though there is a lot of photographic precision to his work. The first work that he shows before us has three nude yogis. He explains that nudity goes well with a set of people who are beyond time and space. His images have a ‘beyond time’ feel about them. But I tend to ask him whether he chooses nude yogis because that image is non-controversial in their own context. He says that he does not have such apprehensions and he loves to create images that transcend temporal affinities.
In Aji’s drawings, at times temporal issues come in. In the picture of a dead soldier, we do not see any soldier. In the horizontal frame what we see is set of vultures devouring something. The image of a machine gun shows that the invisible carcass must be of a dead soldier. Aji creates such a magic that the viewer feels that now the vultures are looking through the view finder of the machine gun. Violence begets violence and it is perpetuated endlessly. Aji wants his audience to stand before his work at least for five minutes. He believes that he can take the viewer to a different plane. Anoop would like to know whether it is a spiritual plane or not. Atul says that this plane could be different need not necessarily be spiritual, which Aji agrees hundred per cent.
Aji works like a Shaman. The texture of the paper goads him to create suggestion and over a period of time, he says, that he has understood the power of suggestion. The landscapes in Netherlands and India come again and again in his works. He paints sea and landscape with the same passion. He says that they are like growth. Earth sprouts as plants, sea sprouts as waves, abandoned shores sprout as shells and broken skulls, happiness sprouts as people. Everything grows. It is fantastic and joyous.
Aji can go on show his works. He is like a charmer, he can charm the audience with his innocent speech and the humor generated out of it. But he is precise in his logic and execution of works. He belongs to a different league, which is always ‘high’.
The discussion ends there. Perhaps, it begins there as there are many more to come in the coming days.
Sumedh Rajendran, G.R.Iranna and Pooja Iranna arrive Mountain Trail at 10.30 pm.
While talking about the illustrated lecture someone says that it is going to be really grilling.
Iranna says he does not want to be grilled.
‘You need not be present there. Leave your name and date of birth. That’s enough,’ Sumedh Rajendran consoles Iranna.
Murali Cheeroth astonishes friends with his histrionic skills. He never says that he is a performance artist. Whenever he makes his videos, he doesn’t have any problem to be behind and in front of the camera.
There is a history behind Murali’s interest in theatre and performance art. When he was in Thrissur, his native place, he used to have a group of friends affiliated to theatre reforms. Murali was drawn into the movement soon. He too used to act in plays and street performances. Most of the acts had political content in them. The themes were global and temporal at the same time. He used to travel long distances to perform. It was like a mission.
Several years later, when Murali shifted from Santiniketan to Ahmedabd, he formed a theatre group, and gave performances at various occasions.
Political activism had inspired him once to theatre. Today Murali uses his acting skills to do solo performances for friends.
In Mukteshwar forest, Murali comes up with the theme of a Belgian mother seeking the help of Amnesty International in 1986 to get her seven children back from the state protection. Her children were born in 1970s. Her husband was a wayward. Every year she became pregnant and when the child was born, the state took away the child citing that the couple did not have enough financial security to bring up the kids.
Murali performs the plight of this mother.
He turns the clearing into a field where she works. He transforms into the mother. She plants the seeds. And when the harvest is done, the state comes and takes away the produce. She wails and weeps. She goes to each and every corner of the place to find her children but in vain. She asks the audience whether they have seen her children. Through lamentations she tells her own story. Even in the midst of tears, she is hopeful about her kids. She believes that they would come back to her.
Murali moves and turns. His face changes expressions. He weeps and wails. He moves around the place with a lantern in his hand. He rolls over the ground in pain. He approaches the fire and tries to burn himself. He howls and the forest wakes up to his calls.
The performance ends on a note of hope. Murali’s face changes and he regains his formal stature.
He looks relieved. He has relived the life of that mother.
Murali Cheeroth….the man who performs to transform and transforms to perform.
W+K Exp have sent sixteen of India’s best artists, one reputed critic and five W+K personnel way up into the Himalayas to discuss aesthetics, life, love, plants, culture and everything in between. No one knows what will come of it – but whatever it is, it will be great, and on show for all to see in January 2011. In the meantime, follow their adventures via Johny ML’s high-altitude updates at http://sixteenartists.wkexp.com