Aeneas Wilder: Writings WeAreTheArtists No1. Update: Bangalore
Greetings from the departure lounge at Mumbai Airport. Our flight has been delayed due to fog and we will not be departing from these shores for another six hours or so. Plenty of time therefore to let you know about the latest project I have been involved in.
As you know I have been in India for a month now. However since I last wrote, from the sun kissed beaches of Kovalum, it has been quite a challenge developing a project under such a disorientating atmosphere. Everything happens one hour after the appointed time, some times two. Still, The KHOJ International Artists organisation have done well under the circumstances. It was no mean feat organising an arts project on such a scale in the chaotic environment that was Bangalore.
We were twenty-three artists in all, eleven of us from outside India. Eating and sleeping at the Indian Institute of Science guest accommodation was a palace compared to the roadside slums we drove past each day as we were bused into town to work on site at the Venkatappa Art Gallery. The gallery was an odd venue and the majority of artists chose to work within the grounds of the gallery rather than inside the building itself, which in the end was more suited to the time based media works presented.
Many of the artists were new to me and, as always, it is a pleasure to discover the breadth of creativity outside the glitterati world of glossy art magazines and their collector/curator/dealer/director/ patrons. They constitute such a shimmering but small tip of the iceberg. It is a shame you did not get to meet any of these KHOJ artists when I used to drag you round the openings back in Edinburgh using that stalwart carrot on a stick - free alcohol. We had many good nights listening to traditional songs sung by some of the Indian artist. There was also free curry available each day of the workshop, which for an old chef like yourself, may have held your interest longer than the art I fear. From day one the German couple Dagmer Keller & Martin Wittwer were off producing an architectural cinematic panorama with a single minded devotion that reflected their Dusseldorf Academy background. A single minded devotion was also evident in the illustrative painting work of Nan Khushiya Shyam, a tribal artist (some call it folk art) from Bhopal, who has carried on the work of her husband, he himself having committed suicide, after being fleeced at the hands of an international art dealer, three years ago.
Jehangir Jani from Mumbai and Karl Antao from Ahmedabad both created works dealing with the religious riots in Gujerat and their ongoing reverberations within the fabric of Indian Society. Jehangir created minimalist alters which were symbolically cleansed with fire in a private performance ceremony witnessed only by those few people canny enough to observe his actions. Karl preferred a more literal approach installing an inflatable mattress held aloft by the points of household kitchen knives, the favoured weapon of the rioters.
You would have liked the over all feel of the exhibition even if you would have not fathomed all the art works presented. The Sri Lankan artist Manjula Priyadarshana created a visually impressive sight specific work, connecting the adjacent art museums reflection with the grounds of the art gallery by way of a cascade of red cloth flowing down the wall and into the moat surrounding our venue.
As I mentioned in my earlier letter, the auto-Rickshaw is an ever-present part of life in India. Three artists chose to work with these icons of Indian transportation. Both Melina Berkenwald from Argentina and Betsabee Romero from Mexico chose to focus on the physical reality of the auto-Rickshaw, exploring its impact as a vehicle of self-expression. Melina developed an intimate space surrounded by the painted works adorning the rear view windows of most auto rickshaws, while Betsabee furthered her explorations into the way in which she can impact on the culture of the auto(mobile) through her infinite imagination. The Indonesian artist Pius Sigit Kuncoro chose to use the auto Rickshaw as the vehicle by which you were taken on a mystery tour to the places of Bangalore dear to our very own rickshaw driver, Uma who had been assigned to us for the duration of the event. It was rare indeed to be charged the correct fair for a rickshaw ride otherwise.
What impressed me the most about this whole event was the opportunity to attend presentation evenings where each artists showed examples of and talked about their work. These were very informal affairs and offered us all a deeper insight into the workings of each artist. Some of the artists were elder statesmen, some were still green, others having participated in the biennials of this world or had their works snapped up by the bastions of high art. Only one artist chose to inflate his ego beyond the physical confines of our group, showing us all his buttocks and waxing lyrical about Aristotle and what true art really is. I had to walk out of this slide talk after half an hour as I realised that not only was the artist talking shite, but also that he was not even half way through his general introduction to the topic. Maybe the irony was lost on me when this artist, Inder Salim from New Delhi chose to exhibit his own shit during the exhibition, as a "memento mori" from a performance to which we were (thankfully) not privy. That may sound entertaining from the comfort of your sofa back in bonnie Scotland but it was excruciating at the time.
Thankfully there were other artworks that made a big impression. K.T. Shiva Prasad from Hassan created a large double doored installation where by you, as the participant, could symbolically lock away unwanted memories by fixing an available padlock to this door, and then afterward throwing away the key. This shamanistic performance meditation really worked and by the end of the exhibition the door heaved under the weight of the padlocks and, I suspect, the memories of an artists buttocks. Who would have thought that there were so many memories waiting to be banished from the mind!
My project was realised with the help of a local graphic designer Nandesh. We commissioned a 3 metre by 6 metre billboard to be painted. This was installed on the perimeter of the gallery grounds, facing out onto the street. The billboard company did a fantastic job rendering the Bollywood stars Jyotika and Govinda in acid pinks and yellows so that they were barely recognisable as great film stars. The eyes were cut away, so that you could look out from behind the facade onto the street in front. Above their heads in beautiful Kannada script (the state language of Karnataka), was a translation from the Robert Burns poem "To a Louse". You will remember the line no doubt -"to see ourselves as others see us". The work was of course interactive, with steps allowing the audience to ascend behind the billboard to the level of the eyes.
When I have time I will send you some pictures. You would have liked this project, as the main audience for my work this time was not that of the gallery going public but the tens of thousands of commuters passing by the billboard every hour. I should mention that the traffic congestion in Bangalore is both beautiful and horrific at the same time!
If you did not catch us on New Delhi Television while vegetating in front of your satellite dish (why not I wonder? The programme was repeated 10 times), then you can always brows through
www.khojworkshop.org to see some of the works created.
Well time is flying and I hope to be too, soon enough. I trust all is well in Auld Reekie and look forward to seeing you there at some point. I am off to Japan again to do several more solo shows this year, so
I won`t be back in bonnie Scotland in the near future. However I am always keeping an ear out for the call from my homeland.
With best wishes for now, aeneas.
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