Sunday, May 30, 2010

Factory v/s lab

In a recent interview on CNN channel,Anish Kapoor, one of the top living British artist insistently argued that he does not like his studio to be called as factory. He in fact called it as his Lab and went on to explains why he feels so. Another artist who has used a similar term for his studio is Olafur Eliasson, a Danish Icelandic artist who has his studio in Berlin and calls it as laboratory.
So why artists feel the need to define their studio practice in terms of a lab or factory?

Traditionally an artist's work-place has been known as studio and whatever he/she did within that space was considered it as his studio practice. With coming of Andy Warhol this definitions changed. Warhol who was was a product of Industrial design named his studio as 'factory'. By doing so Warhol wanted to challenge the notion of artistic production and bring it within the bounds of industrial product. Warhol's strategies definitely paved way for many later date artists and the concept of factory- made became an accepted norm of artistic production ;in the sense artist need no longer be accountable for the 'uniqueness' of their art work.

As far as work of art is concerned ,it hardly matters, whether it is made in factory or a lab or a studio. Because the merit of the work cannot be judged through the production process. And yet there seemed to be some resistance among some artist like Kapoor and Eliasson who prefer to call their artistic process as a lab work than a factory made product

Factory and Lab are two definitive 'collective' processes of creating ideas, and objects. when an artist chooses to use the specific term it implies certain hidden values within these processes.

The term factory made implies a systematic generation of a product for the specific target of 'consumers'. Once the product goes through a processes of R&D to arrive at a formula than it can be replicated in mass production. Aim of a factory is to generates a generic mass product thus cutting the cost of production and enhancing the profitability of such a venture. The aim of the factory is to build a popular 'brand' which can marketed masses to generate maximum profit. In a factory product human intervention is minimum so that 'standard' quality can be monitored and maintained. Finally to make the factory made product accessible to masses marketing and sales are an essential aspect of its production strategy. Advertising and publicity of the product is part and parcel of the process without which a product cannot be sustained in the market.

The term Lab implies experimentation of ideas to arrive at a creative idea. Many of the experiments can not be successfully implemented into a creative products. Thus a lab is more of an 'intellectual' proposition rather than 'product' oriented processes. A lab does not intent to replicate ideas in a mass product although it is the successful R&D in a lab that leads to formulaic factory product. In way a lab is a process that precedes a factory production. Lab is the site of innovation and experimentation that can pave ways to future ideas.

Whether to call one's studio practice as lab or factory is entirely an artist's prerogative. What defines such terms is the space within which artists operate. For instance both Kapoor and Eliasson are mostly engaged in public art projects that gives them the space to innovate a product that is not bound by commercial concern. Whereas Warhol and others were solely rooted in the commercial aspect of the art production. Factory, lab or studio it finally boils down to each artist's personality to define his/ her own studio practice.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Crossing the boundaries of Affection

There are times you never know when memory, imagination and dream colludes.

This is one of the examples where I can't decipher if this is real event that happened in my life or just 'myth' that i would like to beleive as real.Or just a dream that I dreamed three days in row..

As I stare at the logs in the water memories of my life as a 3/4 year child came back from nowhere......

When my mom sent me away to my grandpas home...I had a young girl as my nanny.... every evening she used to carry me to a railway bridge which was little outside the town.....where she used to meet her 'brother' i think/know he must be her lover....

It was a strange lonely place and quite eerie too. Somehow I used to get shit scared of this place.. ...wind used to blow very hard wheezing in your ears. and as the train used to whistle past the bridge its shrill sounds used leave a strange taste in my mouth...every time a train crossed the bridge, it used to shake so violently that i used to feel my heart beating faster and my mouth going dry. I Hated that place and yet my nanny would bring me very often to this place against all my wishes... we used to sit on the cement bench at the end of the bridge, and my little mind would hope... no train should pass that day as long as we would spend our time there. one could see the river waters flowing calmly underneath.... . down below there used be logs floating in the river waters.. probably railway sleepers which were dumped in the waters...I used to see these logs coming together ..and then breaking away... as they came closer they would stack up in close huddle splashing water on each other...bumping into each other... giggling.. may be singing...they were just happy meeting each other,, enjoying each others company

little by little, I began to build my imaginary stories around the logs... there was a mama log( a big log) which was tied to rope and baby logs ( smaller logs) which were free floating
as i used see them coming together I would imagine them hugging each other... then they used to go to school as they moved apart..when again when they used to come together they would come home for lunch... they used go to play as they moved further away.. so on and so forth..Every day I used to make a new story... that was the only solace I could feel in place... otherwise I used to hate to come there...
And one day.....

mama log disappeared.....but few baby logs were still hanging around .. floating aimlessly in the waters bobbing up and down .... but now they had begun to drift away... aimlessly... and were being dragged away by the river currents towards horizon.. there was no destination..only a child I knew drifting apart was their destiny..and it was inevitable... as they moved towards horizon i just waved them goodbye and they said goodbye to me.......It was the saddest moment of my life..probably moment of silent truth that taught me something about life....

I just couldn't contain my sadness in my heart so I cried and I cried for 6 to 7 hours non-stop..... my nanny never understood what was wrong with me and got scarred and rushed me home to my granny. When my granny got to know that she had been taking me this desolate place she was furious... and sacked her from the job.....

My granny believed that I must have seen some 'spirits' (there was a belief among the villagers that water spirits live around the river specially near railway bridge as many people used to commit suicide) and got scarred...fact was I was not crying because i saw any spirit or mama log had gone missing but what I realized that day was drifting away of the baby logs was their inevitable destiny... the only way they could continue their life after mama log was gone was to move on... they had a very happy time together but as things changed... they went their ways.... as if they were telling me something....teaching me not to cling they drifted silently in the horizon.....I understood perfectly what they said as we said goodbye ...BUT I never wanted to learn this truth and just wanted to cling on.. and keep going back to shore to mama log... even when she was long gone...trying to live in delusions.. trying to cling on to good times....

All I know that I crossed the boundaries of my affection..

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Body in Pain

As I lie in pain, recuperating from leg surgery, I am watching new channels breaking tragic story of plane crash in Manglore. 160 feared dead ,8 survivors. Channels are busy gathering bits and pieces of the tragedy that is the latest news story on air.

Tragedies strike on every day basis. Whether it is cyclone Laila killing people, Maoist massacring security personnel or bus falling in the gorge in Kashmir killing civilians who had survived the bullets of militants and army machine guns. There seem to be simply no dearth for tragedies. People are dying everyday in horrific ways.

Tragedies are stories of pain and suffering. Greek civilization accorded highest form of entertainment to the tragic tales. Greeks were to first acknowledge that tragedy is a form of pleasure when enacted before public in an aesthetic way. Today media plays the role of enacting those tragedies for public.

By repeatedly telling and showing you the tragic sites and sounds of pain, media tries to keep you informed and entertained at the same time. You go numb in pain as you watch mangled, charred, mutilated human remains. Pain is enhanced further as each dead person tells you a story. Some one had just called his loved one as he/she was about to dismount the plane. Some body was meeting his loved one after many years. They were all trying to reach a destination and they did reach their destinations... unfortunately some could not disembark.

Your mind goes in loop as you try to understand pain.

Human civilization has been trying to decode pain in many ways. Through literature, religion, visual arts, medicine, war, you name it and you realize most of the artistic endeavors revolve around pain. We like to feel pain. Pain makes us feel real.

Last year when I was grounded to my bed ( again in pain) with a leg fracture I read some excepts of the book called, Body in Pain by Ellain Scarry. She analyzes pain into two part 'unmaking' and 'making' (of pain).In the chapter, unmaking Scarry tries to elaborate on structure of Torture and structure of war and its relation to human body . In the section under 'making' she explains Pain and imagining, and Interior structure of the artifact. I tried hunting for this book in libraries in Mumbai but it was not available and the publishers Oxford University press were equally helpless in acquiring a copy for me as it was out of print. I am still looking out for this book as I beleive the book has lot to enlighten me about the pain.

Right now, I really don't know what is hurting me more. Piercing pain in my left foot or the tragic story of plane crash.

Either ways body is in Pain.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Honour killing and other stories

Killing/humiliating a woman is easy in India.
Call it female infanticide, bride burning , sati, or honour killings you can kill a woman under different names, at different stages of her life. If she does not suite your family profile, of caste, religion and gotra just kill her. It is easiest crime that has been sanctified by tradition.

Subjugation of women in society is not just restricted to Indian society.However, in spite of modernization /urbanization of the Indian society, very little has changed for the women in India. I do not want to generalize this by saying all women in India are subjugated and suffer the same plight. But many of the women still do. And that includes even the urban/educated women. Take the recent case of Nirupama Pathak , a 23 year old journalist who was( allegedly) killed by her own mother, all because she was in love with a boy that belonged to different caste. Hailing from an 'upper caste' educated family of two brothers and parents who were holding a respectable jobs in governments institutes, Nirupama was a bright girl trying to live her life by making independent decisions. Falling in love with a man of her choice was one such decision. But that cost her life. Message is very clear, don't take your own decisions you will have to pay a price.

I have watched such patriarchal attitudes right from my childhood. And right in my home, where women were educated but were not empowered to exercise their decision. My blood still boils when I recollect how my mother who lost her husband at very young age, was systematically subjugated by the system making her helplessly dependent on her male relatives, in spite of holding a masters degree in Home science in SNDT university. It still pains me when I recall her struggle to be independent person capable of fending for her family but was not allowed by her own family members only to guard the false prestige of her family. So they killed her slowly little by little. For me this too entails to honour killing. There are millions of women out there who are killed in this manner, humiliated, rendered powerless by not giving them the space to exercise the power of decision making. The resistance to pass the woman's bill in the parliament is only reflective of such a mind set.

Last year, when I was invited for a women's show by a woman/curator I decided to pose this question to people/viewers to see their reaction. Why do we humiliate our women in public/personal spaces. The work was based on the famous event from Mahabharata when Draupadi, the wife of five Pandavas was lost in the game of dice. Kauravas who had 'won' Draupadi dragged into the court and humiliated by trying to undress her in view of full court. Furious and seething in rage Darupadi asked her husbands who had given them the right to put her on stake? because they never owned her in first place.In protest she than opened her hair as sign of a her widowhood. And challenged her husbands to wash her hair in blood of enemy. Rest of the tale is history

Point is, is Draupadi's story a kind of honour killing? well she may not have been 'killed' physically but she definitely died emotionally when she realized she was 'sold' by her husbands. Culturally when we preserve such a tale it becomes a sanction to commit such crimes socially. We can count plenty of incidences even in Modern India where women are paraded naked for the crimes committed by their husband or children. Unfortunately our epics endorse and glorify the stories of women that have been victimized by social injustice. Committing crime against women has thus been culturally/socially sanctified. We carry these tales unconsciously for centuries only to re iterate these tales in case of Nirupama or Babli

We will not be able to stop killing women in India by changing the laws, we need to change attitudes towards women. And that's a huge challenge! But not an impossible one!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Kasab, that I don't know

Who is Ajamal Kasab?
Let me introduce you Kasab, the man I don't know. Ajamal Kasab, is a 22 year, supposedly Pakistani national.Kasab along with other nine Pakistani nationals, entered Mumbai on 26/11/2009 and killed 166 people of Indian and foreign orgin. He was the lone surviving terrorists that was captured by Indian forces. Today after 13 long months( and surprising by a speedy court trial) the lower courts in India declared him guilty on 66 various counts. in couple of days times sentence for his crime will be declared which is either life term in jail or death sentence.

What every Indian and probably every Mumbaiker will never forget about Kasab, was the day when the news paper flashed the photo of this young man in Ak 47, dressed in smart casuals, with carry backpack of a college kid hung on his shoulder, had killed 56 innocent people at CST railway station. What was shocking for millions of people like me was for the first time, they were actually watching the face of the terrorist who had ruthlessly killed people and brought the whole nations in the grips of fear. And that face did not match our idea of a terrorist.

My own understanding of this boy/terrorists is through very few images (4/5 pictures) that are released through the print /electronic media. And few news reports filed about him through the course of trial. yet every time I saw his image I have always wondered who is real Kasab? what is his mind like?

I have gone through various emotions after seeing his images over a period of time, from sheer terror,fear, anger ,rage, helplessness, to apathy and kindness. At 22, Kasab has experienced life which few human beings can imagine. He is now knocking on the door of death to complete the final experience his life. The wait which will kill him more than the death itself.

Today, as the news broke of the verdict, a TV News desk reporter asked his correspondent how was Kasab reacting to this verdict, this is how he etched the picture of Kasab. "I have been watching Kasab in the court for more than year. Kasab when first brought to court, after his capture was young defiant smart, confident, young man. He would look at the judge, or the reporters straight into their eyes, sometimes would smile, talk to his lawyers and sit upright in his white pajamas. He even followed the court hearings. In the early days he would even wish the judge with a Good morning.. and when judge asked him how did he learn this he would try and talk to judge how he is learning Hindi and Marathi words from the prison guards who were overseeing him. But as the proceeding began to drag he began to lose patience, and even confessed of his crime and begged for death sentence, thinking the trial would wind soon. And that did not happen he began to loose hope, his body began to collapse( he had developed medial conditions) which was very evident from his body language. He would no longer look at the reporters, or the judge or even converse to his own lawyer. he would slouch on the chair, and stare at the ground with no emotions. Even today kasab who was unshaven and in white pajamas, did not react to the verdict given by the court."

There are lot of stories floating in media, about Kasab's background in Pakistan . One never knows what is the truth. What I gather from the reports is he was the youngest member of the 10 men squad that attacked Mumbai on 26/11, and one of the best shooters in squad which made him qualify for this mission at such an young age. Kasab may not have been as innocent as he looked, but one thing about kasab is he was certainly not a dumb foot soldier. He is an intelligent man , who just did not get opportunities to channelize his intelligence( learning Marathi or english words shows he was a quick learner). He was looking for avenues that would allow him to express his intelligence and the only opportunities which came his way were not utilized for his best interest. He could have be an excellent Olympic grade sports person,or a language translator if he had talent to learn languages from many other options he could have had. But he became a terrorist. Simply because those opportunities did not come his way.

I don't sympathies with Kasab for the crimes that he committed cannot be condoned. But every time I see his image in the press, will make me wonder will I ever know real Kasab? or will he remain another Unabomber.