Friday, March 18, 2016

Conditions of Carriage

It has been a week of encountering and enjoying some wonderful experimentation in different fields. On Friday evening it was my turn to be bowled over at the performance of 'conditions of carriage' at Alliane Francais Madras. Firstly, it was Afm's experimentation with the performance space by hosting the performance at their wonderfully done up backyard. The gamble also paid off well as it beautifully complemented the performance.

The performance itself was a choreography of stringing together what looked like a series of mundane movements from daily life. there was no pretension of any technical or esoteric movement. the stress was more on coordination and sequencing and playing with these every day movements and make them flower into some thing aesthetic and beautiful. 

For instance, a movement which starts off looking like two people in an angry confrontation with each other, gradually blooms into a swirl, reminding the viewer of a ballet movement. in another, the flexing of one person's body is shown to magically orchestrate a thud- thuding of jump movements. 

The dancers are shown experimenting with various movements like, say a simple brisk walk, negotiating a jump, changing places and sitting down, every piece on their own terms. every movement is endowed an aesthetic sense by the virtue of its grace, poise and coordination.

Each performer stands and leaves an imprint on the viewer. there is one performer who is very nimble footed and reminds one of a rabbit's energy, while there is another performer who impresses upon you his presence and reminds you of the grace of an elephant. one performer gives the impression of being cool and indifferent, whereas another looks like doing even the simplest step, like playing hitting another's foot,  with all his heart.

The dance starts off as an exploration of different degrees of freedom of individual movement, then explores paired and group movemenets and towards the end it suddenly becomes constrained when two people get stuck to each other and slowly dies off into a crawl of dancers profusely tired and trying let the earth caress every bit of their tired body.

The end might be an anticlimax to the freedom and zeal which the performance starts with, probably signifying what 'conditions of carriage' can do to you.

 The music was an innovative one, mostly sounding like ruffle of cloth or the beat of a tuft of air spewed by a rickety fan. it also seems to have been picked from our every day experiences, matching the mood of the dance movements to a perfect T. the raw and rhythmic nature of the music suited and added to the wholesome experience of the performance. 

The movements in the dance were very demanding on the knee joints of the dancers. Thanks to the wooden flooring put up by AFM, the strain and the hurt might have been a little lesser. it was disturbing to see the dancers sweat profusely and gasp for breathe at times. It would be a good idea to have them wear masks to save the viewer's experience from being distracted. 

welcome to a dance experience like nothing you have seen, with movements not inspired by epics or shastras, but a dance of movements drawn from daily life. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

CPB series- In dreams,- Madhavan Palnisamy

The Chennai Phot Biennale is featured across the city at various venues. It is not easy for some one to visit all the venues, and it isn't easy either to give these wonderful shows a miss, so one thing or the other keeps nudging you to keep going to this biennale.

Of All the venues of the Biennale, Focus gallery was one of those that i had never been to earlier. Moreover the artist exhibited there sounded very tamil and further info revealed that he was a tamil writer's son, driving my curiosity to find out more.

As i entered the gallery and as i was walking through the exhibits wishing it would be nice to have the artist around, i come to this picture where a write up says the artist's father is featured, i take a moment to see if i can figure out this writer, with a little effort i recognise it to be the famous marxist writer Kovai Gnani ( Palanisamy). Then as i was slowly coming to terms with my discovery and the artist's second name, i was only wishing more that i could meet the artist. Just then Madhavan Palanisamy walks in. I was very thrilled and happy that my visit had now become a spectacular event.

Madhavan's Photo world is populated mostly by doll figures, not random ones but ones that are chosen to convey a meaning or evoke a feeling, set against a carefully chosen frame to set the context. His works are thus abstract frames that are set in a particular manner to essay a meaning. The absence of live objects and choice of doll figures adds to and enriches the abstract nature of the pics. 

The Baby doll set against an infinite cosmos is no doubt the best representative of Madhavan's repertoire.

Even the couple of pics that have a life form in them, are set so as to even abstractify the life form. For instance, one is bound to easily miss the woman fig all wraped in a silver foil set standing besides a book shelf, just as i did. But when you recognise the figure and catch the play of light as a result of the glow off her silver wrappa, the pic starts speaking a different essay altogether.

It was in a way disturbing for me to see that the Pic featuring writer Planisamy was also set to an abstract concept. when one walks to this pic with no idea of who this person is, one is bound to be overwhelmed and disturbed by the pathos that the sad, lost and  helpless expression on the persons face. a viewer struck by such a feeling, is bound to make no sense of the rooster featured beside the figure.

But when the viewer learns that, its the artist's father that is featured and that his name is Palanisamy, meaning Lord Muruga and that the rooster is a symbol associated with Lord Muruga, the panel throws a new meaning and comes to life. This is a brave attempt by the artist to bring together the personal and his artistic ambitions together. 

Another panel featuring the images of gutted rockyscape, cactus, a teary eye and a snake all together are set to convey a meaning. It would be interesting to find out what would be reaction and understanding of different people to the meaning conveyed by these panels.

Similarly, The pic of a tiger prowling on news paper, starts speaking volumes when you learn that it is a 'white tiger', but how does one know a white from an yellow one in a b/w pic.

Talking of colour, most of the pictures are set in black and white. And of the occasional colour, Pink seems to enjoy a special favour with the artist, and appears quite often.

 The little yellow featured is further embattlled by the choise of the flower, which is thin and delicate,  unlike a marigold or sunflower that can hurt your eyes with their rich yellow.

The artist has exemplifed his ablity to observe keenly and record in many instances.He seems to have a fancy for gutted rockyscapes, featured in more than one pic. The natural play of bright light and shadow on scuh a surface seems to bear a special appeal on this artist.

The show is a feast for the eyes with its sparse sprinkled bright colours amidst a rich tapestry of light and shade and as well as food for thoughts for one's mind to exercise and dwell on the abstract expressions offered by each frame.

CPB series-@ LKA

This has been an exciting fortnight at Chennai, with the Photo biennale taking me to places, meeting and bonding with people, seeing and talking art. It has been a sweet short affair with art, seizing time and opportunity to visit this beautiful maiden with her visitations at various venues across the city.

The exhibitons at various venues have been an overwhelming experience for me for different reasons. At Lalit Kala Akademi, the exquisiteness of the layout, the magic of the presentation- the organisers have gone to the extent of even repainting the walls to match their exhibits, the rawness of the wooden stands holding the melancholic pics of ww2 imitating photos, the walk through the photos of the high rise buildings leaves me an impression that the exhibit was on a pool side, the shadow area under a tree gets transformed into the sets space of a Bangla movie world, was a special experience.

At Lalit Kala, the discovery of Parekh Kishore and his historic and heroic personality revealed through his daring photo essay on The Bangladesh war, the stark images, the immense nature of the moments captured, are things that are going to affect me for ever. These images are not just documentations of someone with a camera who happenned to be there when something happened, but these are the journal records of some one who had lived through the pain with people who populate these stories. I was only thanking God for gifting this man the courage to live through such tough times and also for giving him the steely resolve to put these disturbing images in a book, in spite of the deep anguish these images should have evoked in him.

images from fb page of CPB, accessed on 10/3/16 

Monday, March 7, 2016

A curated walk Through the works of Dashrath Patel with Sadanad Menon

It was the occassion of Chennai Photo Biennale and one of the talks was by Sdanand on the works of the famed Dashrath Patel, the man famously behind the NID. Sadanand is a treasure trove of information on arts and artists for our times, for he has lived through the times of artists and seen them work at close quarters. He has seen the rise of Indian Modernism and has followed its development closely from its very early stages. He is home to so much wonderful archival artistic material and very safely so, for no one else can care for them better.

Sadanand has been closely associated with Dashrath, who was also involved with the  conception and creation of the Spaces. It showed in the number of stories Sadanand had to say about each and every photo of Dashrath, that he walked us thru in the course of his presentation. The presentation had some 100 pics painstakingly gleaned from a collection of 10,000 that has been digitised from a total volume of an whopping  1,20,000 pictures.

Dashrath studied in the Chennai fine arts college under the tutelage of Devi Prasad Roy Chaudri, who had  headed the institute for almost 30 years. It is gladdening to note chennai has had a rooted connection to this artist, some thing to be proud of . ' He was the first assistant to his teacher Devi Prasad Roy Choudhury in the execution of the two iconic sculptures along the Marina Beach – “Triumph of Labour” and the Gandhi statue. For these, Dashrath created the plaster-of-Paris maquettes in various shapes and sizes before the famous bronzes were eventually cast. Fifty years later, he was thrilled to be invited to create a sculpture at the junction along the IT corridor near Tidel Park, on the theme of fire. The 35-feet tall coloured plumes in reinforced concrete will remain his visible signature on the city.(

'Fire' sculpture in RCC at Tidel Park Jn

he did his masters at Bhulabai desai inst, Mumbai , where he was contemporaries with the likes of MF Hussain, Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta. Bhulabai was an attorney and had famously defended the INA soldiers and  had assisted in the defence of Bhagat Singh.

While talking of the Bombay artists Sadanand just can't pass without mentioning the anecdote of the travails of the Bomabay artists to sell their works and how Bhulabai would invite a monied business man and show him around the works of these artists in a bid to sell and the camaraderie among the artists.

And then talking of Dashrath's journey comes an anecdote i have heard quite a few times from Sadanand himself, the story of Dashrath Patel's first encounter with, Henri Cartier-Bresson:

"He was really interested in seeking," Patel points out, "Taking photographs was secondary. His main interest was in seeing. He was interested in everything around him and in knowing what people were doing... When I exhibited at the Galerie Barbizon, Cartier-Bresson had come to see. Afterwards he put his camera in my hand and said, 'Can you shoot a frame for me?' At that time I hated the camera. All I wanted was to draw at the time. I said, 'I don't do photography. Why should I?' He said, 'You are clear in your drawing, but I also want to know what you see with another tool.' So I clicked a shot and forgot about it. Couple of weeks later he invited me home for a meal and to meet his wife. He showed me many prints. He held up one and said, 'You like it?' By then I had already forgotten that I had shot a picture with his camera - I had done it with so much resistance and prejudice. I said, 'Yes, it's very well seen!' He said 'It's you and it's important you buy a camera and work with it!' That's how I got my first camera."

Dashrath comes back and takes up to photography just as a fish to water. He always had an artisan's keenness to learn every details of an art. so he learned the intricacies of making prints as well.

Dashrath went to learn ceramics in Czechoslavakia and when he came back he was offered the postion of leading NID, which had just then been created based on a report by Charles Eames and the support of Sarabhai foundation. ( In their report the Eames interestingly glorify the design of the 'lota'). During his tenure heading the NID, Dashrath is also assigned the responsiblity of showcasing India in art fairs abroad and at home.

In a bid to capture the 'idea of India' Dashrath undertakes three all India tours in an Ambassador. It is through these photos that the world would look to India as a colourful and Vibrant country for a long time.

Many of Dahsrath's photos are in the nature of capturing the folk in action. the folk carrying burden effortlessly, their gait and pose find a prominent documentation.  His frames often have vibrant colours on one side and light shades on the other. He captured the designs that captivates him, be it the simple knots of a rope carrying a burden , or the designs on fabrics, jewelry or stone sculptures, he never misses them.

While looking at these photos one feels helpless in the rampant way we are loosing the richness and vibrancy of this culture and diversity to the all consuming giant of modernity, the ruthless vanquishing of our rich heritage and diversity rich land being turned into tabloid models of diversity in the middle of a concrete jungle. We are now being taught to take salvage and pride in belonging to this modern concrete culture.

A bunch of photos capturing  banners of Tamil movie advertisements and wall writings carrying sarcastic political remarks and caricatures is great material for a hearty laughter and some thoughts on where have such fine political commentators vanished.

Through the Talk Dashrath comes across as the fine crafts man who never stopped or Shied away from learning, be it clay pottery or working with design software on a Mac. His strength was his artisanal mind that made him innovate with whatever little resource at his disposal.

The design of a wooden collar with many cameras to give a 360" view, well recounted in Sadanand's words,

‘In 1967, Dashrath… creat[ed] a 9-screen 360° projection of "A Journey in India" for the India pavilion at the Montreal Fair, with no access to high-tech equipment. Faced with the task of having to create a "circarama" effect, he devised a plywood housing for nine cameras which he would wear around his neck. Linked to a single remote shutter release apparatus, the cameras facing different directions would go off simultaneously to create the effect of "shooting in the round".’(
Dashrath Patel surrounded by his 9-screen projection, India Pavilion, Montreal World Fair, 1967. Image courtesy The Dashrath Patel Museum.

This innovation  gets even more fascinating when you learn of the spirit that this was Dashrath's answer to ...Eameses’ spectacular IBM pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1964/1965), an ovoid theatre (the ‘Information Machine’) was equipped with multiple screens, live performances and a seated audience that was raised fifty feet high by a hydraulic lift.

Dashrath's passion for tweaking with the elements, made him an expert  problem solver. When Sadanand recounted how Dashrath had relieved M. Krishnan on a sticky evening when he could not get a photo print right by swaying his magic wand, you could feel what a resourceful person he was. 

In retrospect, Dashrath will be remembred as someone who started off inspired and bearing the flag of Nehruvian romanticism and modernism and in later life resigned to Gandhian activism leaving behind the romance of the megalomania and helping with grass root activities aimed at rejuvenating the village economy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

பினாலே வருக- Chennai Photo Biennale.

பினாலே வருக 

உலகம் எங்கிலும் கலை ஆர்வலர்களின் பெரும் மதிப்பையும் போற்றுதலையும் பெற்றுள்ள ஒரு வார்த்தை 'பினாலே' என்னும் சொல் ,  'இரண்டு வருடங்களுக்கு ஒரு முறை' என்ற பொருள் கொண்ட, ஒரு நிகழ்வை குறிக்கும் இந்த  இத்தாலிய  சொல், 1895 ல் தொடங்கிய, வெனிஸ் பினாலே என்னும் கலை உலகின் நட்சத்திர காட்சி நிகழ்வின் பெரும் பாதிப்பால் புகழ்பெற்றது. அதை தொடர்ந்து, இன்று உலகெங்கிலும் கலை காட்சி நிகழ்வுகள் பல ஊர்களிலும் பரவி வேர் ஊன்றியுள்ளன .

 நேற்று வரை நமக்கு அண்டையில் நடைபெற்ற 'கொச்சி பினாலே'வே இதன் சாராம்சமாக நமக்கு காட்சி தந்தது. ஆனால் இன்றோ நம் வாசலுக்கே பினாலே வந்து விட்டது. 

ஆம்!, சென்னையில் உள்ள  ஜெர்மன் கலாச்சார மையத்தின் புண்ணியத்தில்  ' சென்னை போட்டோ பினாலே' நம் பூங்கா மற்றும் ரயில் நிலையம் போன்ற பொது இடங்களையும் வந்து சேர்ந்துவிட்டது. இந்த பெரும் நிகழ்வை தழுவ நாம் எந்த அளவுக்கு தயாராய் உள்ளோம் என்பது நமது கலாச்சார அறிதல்  புரிதலுக்கு ஒரு சவால்.

சென்னையில்  சாமானியனின் புகலிடமாக விளங்குவது பூங்காக்கள். ஒரு பின் மதிய வேளையில் ஒரு பூங்காவிற்குள் சென்றால் நம் ஊர்  'மன்னார் எண்டு கம்பெனியில்' இத்தனை 'தங்க வேலுகளா'  என்று வியப்புத் தோன்றும். இப்படியுள்ள நம் பூங்காகளில் சிறப்பிடம் பெற்றது மயிலை நாகேஸ்வர ராவ் பூங்கா. இங்கே தனது 'சென்னை போட்டோ பினாலே'வின் ஒரு விரிவான தூரிகையை அமைத்து, கலை கூடங்களுக்குள் கலை பொருட்களை  பூட்டி வைக்காமல்,  முதல் பந்திலே சிக்ஸர் அடித்துள்ளனர்  சென்னை ஜெர்மன் கலாச்சார மையத்தின் தலைவர் ஹெல்முட் ஷிப்பெர்ட் மற்றும் இந்த விழா குழுவினர்.

ஆம்! சென்னை போட்டோ பினாலே வின் ஒரு அங்கமாக கலை நயம்மிக்க பல புகைப்படங்கள், அப்பாராவ், ஆர்ட் ஹௌஸ், முதலிய கூடங்களில் மட்டும் அல்லாது நாகேஸ்வர ராவ் பூங்கா, திருவான்மியூர் MRTS ஸ்டேஷன் போன்ற பொது இடங்களிலும் காட்சிப்படுத்தப்பட்டுள்ளன. ஒரு கலை படைப்பை சாமானியனுக்கு இத்தனை அருகாமையில் வைக்க துணிந்தது பாராட்டி  வரவேற்க்கப் படவேண்டிய முயற்சி. 

ஒரு உன்னத கலை படைப்பை, நிகழ்வை ஒரு சாமானியனின் மடியில் கொண்டு வந்து அமர்த்திவிட்டனர், வருண் க்ரோவர் முதலிய  இந்த விழா அமைப்பாளர்கள் . 

மொபைல் போன்கள் மற்றும் டிஜிட்டல் காமெராக்களின் உபாயங்களால் இன்று நம் ஒவ்வொருவர்  கை இருப்பிலும்  பலனூறு காட்சிப் படங்கள் குவிந்து இருக்கின்றன . இப்படி புகைப்படங்கள் பல்கி பரவி விட்ட காலத்தில், புகை படங்களுக்கு ஒரு நுண்ணிய கலை உணர்வை புகட்ட சரியான நேரத்தில் வந்துள்ளது இந்த ' சென்னை போட்டோ பினாலே'.

புகைப்படங்கள் எப்படி கலை பொருள் ஆகின்றன. இதை நாம் இந்த விழாவை கண்டு தெளிந்து கொள்ளலாம். ஆம், ஒரு ஒளி ஓவியமாக, அல்லது ஒரு கதை அல்லது கருத்து கூறும் விதமாக, பார்வையாளனின் கவனத்தை பறித்து, அவனை நிறுத்தி  சிந்தனையை தூண்டி, அவன் மனதில் சென்று அமரும் போது, ஒரு புகைப்படம் கலைப்பொருளாக உரு கொள்கிறது. இந்த அம்சத்தின் பரிணாமங்களை, விதவிதமான கதைகளாகவும் அனுபவங்களாகவும்  இந்த விழா நமக்கு காட்சிப் படுத்தி தருகின்றது.

மேலும், பினாலே கே உரிய பாணியில் பல நட்சத்திர கலைஞர்களை நம்மிடையே கொண்டு வந்து நிறுத்தியுள்ளது இந்த விழா. பல தேசிய விருதுகளை வென்றுள்ள நவரோஸ் கொன்றக்டோர், உலகளவில் புகழ் பெற்றுள்ள ரகு ராய் , பாப்லோ பர்தலமியோ போன்ற இந்தியர்கள் மற்றும் வளரும் நாடுகளின் பெண்களுக்கு 'கேமரா' எனும் சக்தியை கொண்டு சேர்ப்பதையே  தன் லட்சியமாக கொண்டுள்ள இருப்பத்தி மூன்று வயதே நிரம்பிய போணி சியு முதலிய வெளிநாட்டு கலைஞர்கள் மற்றும் காஞ்சி கைலாசநாதர் கோயிலை வலம், இடம் , உயர, தாழ என்று பல கோணங்களில் நம் மனம் கரைய  காட்சி படுத்தியுள்ள நம்மூர் பையன் அமர் ரமேஷ் வரை ஒரு நட்சத்திர பட்டாளம் இங்கே குழுமியுள்ளது. 

இவர்களது படைப்புகள் மட்டுமல்லாது இவர்களது கலை பயணங்கள் மற்றும் கற்றவைகளை பற்றி பகிர்ந்து கொள்ளும் விதமாகவும் நிகழ்வுகள் அமைக்கப் பட்டுள்ளன. நாம் இந்த அரிய விழாவினை விழித்திருந்து களி கொள்கிறோமா இல்லை  உறங்கி கழிக்கப்போகிறோமா என்பது நம் கையில் உள்ளது.