Masters of new media

Beyond the envelope
Last Updated 17 July 2010, 10:21 IST

“Oh, even I could make that,” is my impromptu response as I come face-to face with Baroda based Ajay Kanwal’s vertical glass box filled with water and floating pebbles. My disappointment at the sheer simplicity of the “Yellow Master Stone” must have been visible even to the artist standing close, who immediately fetches a glass of water and asks me to put a stone inside it. I follow the instructions and much to my chagrin, the stone calmly sinks to the bottom.

“It’s not so effortless as it looks,” says the artist, explaining that the floating ceramic stones in his work, inspired by the mythological Ramayana, are made in a way that their lesser density allows them to float on water. “It’s all about creating an illusion for the viewer,” he says, also referring to another installation made like a tall canvas box fitted with bronze ghungroos that reverberate musically when you step closer, currently on view at Gallery Espace in the capital.

Like Kanwal, other Indian artists are also using an array of materials – infrared sensors, stainless steel, stone, cloth, buttons, plastic – to show the success story of what is today being hailed by galleries as “new media art.” 

Simple and interactive – this seems to be hallmark of the current art wave and the appeal lies in its power of engaging with the viewer. For instance, Delhi-born, London-based artist Vinita Khanna, tackles the issue of consumerism using plastic bottles, wires and glass shards, that are used as props, in both digitally created photographs and live installations.

“Once I was in a supermarket and the neatly stacked rows of boxes, bottles and cartons made me wonder how these objects would resurface if there were to be an explosion inside the store. The first image that occurred to me was of nature, - flowers especially.”

Hence, a flower shaped installation made of battered plastic bottles hangs from the gallery ceiling, while similar shapes have been created inside her London studio and then placed inside parks, river and streets of London for her photographic works. 

She says: “The breadth of the consumer landscape has expanded to such a degree that it provides endless materials which can be adapted to reveal entirely different meanings and functions than what they were originally designed to do.”

While Vinita is elated at the acceptance her new media works are now getting even in India, she also warns that too much experimentation without connecting the art to people can be hazardous, a viewpoint echoed by gallerist Renu Modi who has also chosen to show Indore-born, London-based artist Shubha Taparia’s video images of Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel - the target of 26/11 attacks - to capture the face of the city before and after the bomb blasts.

Shubha explains that she uses the technique of automatic imaging for her photographs - a technique which clicks a subject in rapid motion. Currently working on a video art project as homage to the legendary art collector Charles Saatchi, she plans to use mediums like twitter, facebook and YouTube with viral footages. “The work is known as ‘To Saatchi With Love’,” she smiles, adding, “after the art market crashed, it has once again become a collector’s market, hence the renewed interest in new media art like videos.”

Bhubaneshwar based artist Kanta Kishor Moharana has been making life-like newspaper models out of marble and stone, embellished with a bronze sculpture that is connected to his hand-etched headlines, since 2005. Tackling issues like child labour, environment and crime in his newspaper-installations, Moharana says, “It was much tougher for me to show this work when I started out but now this is my best-selling series.”

He is confident that the medium has chosen him and not vice versa. In the same show, Mumbai’s Smriti Dixit exhibits abstract ‘floral balls and bouquets’ with strips of dresses, threads, wires and lingerie, clothes’ tags, sponge, brass, rivet and junk.  Just a few kilometers from Espace in New Delhi, four Baroda artists are ready to ride on the winds of change at Latitude 28, a gallery committed to showing new media art.

Especially notable is Siddhartha Kararwal’s intriguing Kalki series of photographs where he dresses up in an astronaut’s suit, made out of parachute cloth, in a satirical reference to the Kalki avatar slated to land amidst garbage on earth.

Making a statement about environmental neglect, Kararwal explains that his creative practice has always revolved around the usage of ordinary everyday material like plastic bags, foam sheets, firecrackers, cardboard, bronze, iron, copper, fibre, clay and plaster of paris. In another work titled Skinned, for instance, he uses a blanket, rawly burnt with petrol and then dyed, to create a story about a teenager who lost his life due to the bitter cold in Delhi.Kararwal’s colleague Nityananda Ojha uses junk jewellery, M-Seal and acrylic to create a human hand for his work titled Masturbation in a bold reference to the mercenary lifestyle we lead.

Living environment and our cultural identity also forms the focus of the 23-year-old Kartik Sood’s wall-mounted installation titled ‘Plucking at the heart-strings’ which is made up of ten lit photo frames collected by the artist over the last few years. The photo frames, arranged in the shape of a circuit, light up only for three seconds at a time. He says: “These images have been close to my heart but their memory lasts only for a few seconds.”

In his seven-piece installation, titled Closer, he uses a similar concept of identity and intimacy through found photographs enclosed by used cloth. Says Sood: “New media helps artists to show how our traditional past still holds relevance in today’s global context.”

This thought process also holds true for Bangalore’s Siri Khandavilli, who moved to the US to study new media and found that it opened up a new world of creative freedom.
She says: “It fostered a desire in me to be an artist without the boundaries of any medium; each medium allures with its own beauty, language and capabilities.”

For example, in the video work Eat that deals with unending consumption, and will be showcased in her upcoming show in Delhi in August, Khandavilli has used a special effect called the Droste effect which produces the illusion of never ending spiral imagery, “Since the work is a video, a time based media, it allowed me to play it in a loop also pointing at eternal consumption,” she says.

In yet another conceptual work titled Lucky Lakshmi Dollar Bill, Khandavilli has used the US dollar bills to carry home the multiple connotations of money. “In this project, the medium contributed a great deal to bring meaning to my work,” she says.

Ubiquitous material can lend itself to great art, is what Vanshika Sharma of Chandigarh also believes in. In a recently concluded show at Gallery Art Positive in Delhi, the artist used cloth hangers woven and decorated with multiple coloured woollen threads to create a hanging installation, while her contemporary Kumar Ranjan used jute cloth to make two-dimensional soldier figures that painstakingly climb up a steel ladder to finally reach their goal – victory.

Some artists have given the word new media a new spin. Chennai based artist Ganesh Selvaraj recalls using human blood for an installation dedicated to the cause of the environment.

“The work was made of more than 100 medical blood slides containing human blood smears that I arranged into a large square frame to convey that my existence was not my own but was linked to hundreds of people like me,” he says.

For those who frown upon non-traditional media for art, it would perhaps be best to recall that oil paint, which now is considered a mainstream traditional media for visual works, was considered “new” when it came in tubes for the first time. At that time, some artists stopped grinding pigments and experimented with what was new then.

As technology and materials change in all aspects of life, what is “New Media” is bound to change - creating new avenues to explore artistically. The brush may change but the message remains!

(Published 17 July 2010, 10:21 IST)

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