A silver celebration

A silver celebration

Once considered an aberrant child, Installation Art (IA) has become the boldest, most flamboyant arm of the Family of the Arts. Through this medium, artists have consistently pushed boundaries in an attempt to encourage societal soul-searching, and continue to be the strident, persistent voice of humanity's collective conscience. In that respect, IA is a chronicler of our times and of the rapidly changing face of our cities. Eminent Artist Shantamani Muddaiah puts it into perspective when she says that "Art articulates the democratic process and culture."

"IA emerged in India in the early 1990s, and "within the first decade, the most contribution was from Bengaluru", says distinguished artist C F John. "A band of artists, schooled as they were in one particular form, were ready to look at art with an open mind, experiment and explore," explains renowned artist Raghavendra Rao.

A definitive step forward was Cultural Spiral (1993), the artists community's answer to the carnage of the Babri Masjid riots. This was probably the first time that a group of artists collaborated to create a single work of IA. But the one that had the most impact was Silence of Furies and Sorrows - Pages of a Burning City (1995), done in the aftermath of the debilitating communal violence in Bengaluru in 1994. Muddaiah reminisces on "the emotional necessity to address something immediate... using materials from the location of violence and the language of the violent space, to communicate." This, despite the fact that "there was no light, camera and media as seen today, as well as very little comfort of money either as support or as corruption. The spirit of togetherness and collaboration was our strength then," says John.

Earth Work “A Time and Site Specific Art  (1996)  by Umesh Maddanahalli, Sthalapuranagalu (1999)  curated by  Pushpamala N, Sakshi Gudda Sakshi Gode (2001)  by artist  Sheela Gowda, and Walls of Memories “An Art Event of Unresolved Edges (2003)  initiated by C F John were some of the prominent works of the first decade.

Importance for a city

Apart from being a reflection of our times, art also serves to educate and inspire. John best describes it when he says, "A new kind of creative alertness ferments within both the artist as well as the viewer... It is to creatively engage with our life situations and to open up a realm of perception both for the artist and the viewer..." By moving out of galleries and museums, artists are making art more accessible to the public. IA in particular is constantly in conversation with viewers, goading them to rethink, challenging their perception, and by virtue of its three-dimensionality and use of quotidian objects, making them an integral part of the artwork.

Having said which, one might question the purpose or validity of a temporary art installation. "It is wrong to think that the prolonged physical existence guarantees its influence and presence in our minds/ hearts. On the contrary, it is often a fleeting sight or experience that stays within us for the whole of life, defining what we are," clarifies John Rao, cautions about "visual pollution" through Photoshop and DTP, which he says is "an example of the misuse of technology."

"There is a misconception of what our culture is about and because of this art suffers badly," says Muddaiah. While technology and other fields have aspired to keep up with their contemporary counterparts, our concept of art, and in particular visual art, she says, is still rooted in 3,000 years ago. She excoriates our Culture Department for its concentrated focus on tourism, and berates the powers that be who consider visual art a "commodity" at 12% GST and art materials a "luxury" at 28% GST.

Umesh Maddanahalli echoes her thoughts when he says that our Culture Department is more comfortable with tangible elements like dance and painting, and is "not open to the culture of imagination." He rues the fact that in our country, Culture and Science & Technology departments are independent entities, which makes it difficult for artists who wish to integrate both media.

Having worked extensively abroad and in India, the lack of accessibility to good workspace and technology, to facilitate the creative process is a serious deficiency for Rao. Lack of a dedicated arts fund and transparency in public art funding by the government are other big hurdles. The fate of art and artists depends on the current incumbent of the ministerial chair at any given time, says Rao.

Sense vs sensibility

"The most common misconception of IA is its understanding for the common man, especially in our country," says young multidisciplinary artist Aishwaryan K. Visual art saved this youngster when his school teachers deemed him a "living failure." "As an artist I cannot force my thoughts/opinions on my audience. I can only sensitise them to pause for a moment," he says.

Maddanahalli admits that while he does keep the audience in mind, it is most definitely not at the cost of seeking new vocabulary or sacrificing his vision.

Muddaiah once again puts things into perspective when she says, "We may not understand Science, yet we accept it. Why then do we question art?"

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