July 27, 2012

Installation Lives

Reading this article made me recall my first encounter with installation art in the Delhi-based artists' centre that I visited several years ago - and how my fascination has endured since then...

Fallen leaves...
I arrived there at 7am on a warm April morning; the scorching Delhi summer heat was yet to make itself felt although majority of the trees in the garden-museum complex were in various stages of leaf-fall, their branches sorely depleted of leaves. I was experiencing a curious confluence of autumn and winter in what was otherwise spring!

Perhaps, notes about the trees that I jotted down in a journal that I kept during my time there will more accurately capture the atmosphere then:

"[Here] the various types of trees baking their leaves and then, dropping them on the porcelain-like cracked earth, making the place appear like one giant kind of installation art. I have never been to a place before where even falling leaves from a tree can be a work of art. I can even see leaves falling! If I try hard enough, I can even hear them fall. 

Trees shorn of leaves look so severe, classical, streamlined in nature (pun intended!); new leaves really do soften them, like a person whose make-up has just recently been washed and cleansed away."

Wish Tree - Installation Art

In midst of the sea of denuded trees, I did not notice that particular tree until much later in the day though; during the evening of my first day, after I had had unpacked and made myself home in my quaint little studio, I took a walk around the place, exploring my surroundings. One of the first trees - or rather, works of art - that I stumbled across was this wish tree although I did not pay it more attention then. I entirely assumed that it was present in the garden-museum complex in the same capacity as that of a little shrine on the premises and that it held similar ritualistic significance; the presence of the gold and silver-leaf covered stone with a goddess' piercing eyes painted upon it [as commonly found in goddess' temples and shrines] further contributed to the effect. It was only much later that a fellow artist told me that a resident British artist had created this tree as a piece of installation art and gifted it to the centre (if my memory serves correct). But I did not know then that it was a work of art; as it happened, I briefly folded my hands and inspected it for a short while before finding myself drawn towards the other art works dotting the place.

However, after having learnt that it was in fact 'art', rather than an actual 'wish tree', I was nevertheless surprised to find flower offerings placed in close proximity to the tree; someone had chosen to accord the tree a reverential status and the boundaries had blurred to such an extent that I myself could not help but treat that space as a sacred one. The tree was no longer performing as a wish tree; it had in fact become a wish, or sacred, tree.

There is a strong sense of theatricality to such installation art pieces; they are telling stories while simultaneously and dramatically transforming the environment in which they are placed. In other words, the space which installation art pieces inhabit become theatres and the art pieces performers; if you, the spectator, were to step inside that space, you too would be a performer, participating in the narrative, becoming a part of that art-work. The art-work and the spectator/participant share an inter-dependent relationship as in the contours of their relationship ultimately motivate how the narrative moves ahead - and the art work is perceived. For me, it is almost  excitingly akin to being part of a film - and yet, you are the one motivating your performance because you are deciding which part to play and what narrative you choose to fit yourself into.

I was in such awe when I discovered this review of multi-media installation artist, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's show, The House of Books Has No Windows; these were intricately, meticulously, and fabulously constructed examples of installation art, deriving inspiration from varied sources such as cinema, music, and even Kafka. For me, this art was not necessarily something that I would want to engage with on a daily basis; rather, the experience would be all about witnessing bold, extravagant story-telling through exaggerated performance art, momentarily suspending me in an alternate reality. I would take away a chapter of that story with me, having left the exhibition; I would leave behind a piece of me embedded inside that story. We would both shape each other over the time...


Over the years, I realised that I too have been narrating stories albeit through different media: poetry, short stories, and image-text pieces. I have articulated stories through articles; I have presented stories in form of blog-posts and photo-essays. I would shortly like to embark upon a novel.

Yet, what compels me now is the possibility of merging the written word with such examples of installation art; I would find it thoroughly exciting to embark upon a project in which the text merges with multi-media to create a stunningly narrated story.

And now, I turn to you, dear readers: if you are so inclined and have been working in similar projects, would you be interested in a collaboration art-work? If you do...drop me a line and I would love to hear from you. It would be wonderful to give birth to innovative new art forms through the medium of this blog!

July 20, 2012

Stone Poetry: Jiyuseki's Stone Sculptures

I am a collector of sorts: I pick up newly fallen leaves and make them book-marks, I collect feathers (peacock, Indian roller-wing, sea-gull, and pigeon), finding them homes in clay bowls or once again, books. Sometimes, I collect anything that catches my fancy. For many years, I kept in my possession a tender green pine-cone I found nestled at the foot of a pine-tree in a Rhine-side German town when I was eleven years old. It constantly shuttled from one surface to another in my room and I reluctantly threw it away only when I was going to university and had to prune my life of all those extraneous possessions that I had accumulated so far.

When I was little, though, I collected shells...and rocks. Oman's incredibly rich geological heritage meant that I only had to walk some distance from my home and find a huge array of different kind of rocks awaiting me. I possessed such a mania for rock collecting that I would return home with my loot of the day and write up detailed reports with accompanying meticulously water-colored sketches and drawings (yeah, I was a geek:) If blogging had existed then, I would have surely begun a blog to document my rock discoveries! Having exhausted text-books and library books about rocks in those pre-internet days and wishing to move beyond the igneous/sedimentary/metamorphic paradigm, I even sought out geological experts to show my reports and learn more; bless their souls, instead of dismissing me, they provided me books which were infinitely more sophisticated and technical in their breadth and scope of geological knowledge. I probably understood and absorbed little but I was fascinated to the point that I was even seriously contemplating becoming a geologist when I grew up.

And so I grew up...yet, that carefully maintained pile of rocks in my backyard eventually diminished before entirely disappearing altogether. While I still do occasionally collect shells, I cannot think of the last time I embarked upon a rock-hunting expedition or brought a rock home.


Yet, when I stumbled upon these incredible stone sculptures wrought by Japanese artist, Jiyuseki, I could not help hearkening back to those childhood days in which I found myself interpreting my surroundings through the language of stone. Jiyuseki's works reminded me of the reasons as to why I gravitated towards rocks: they were undeniably solid and impenetrable, and therefore, seemingly forbidding...yet, they were also simultaneously so beautiful through their colors, patterns, and textures. Furthermore, akin to a tropical fruit which may look non-descript on the outside, an otherwise dull-appearing rock would reveal gorgeous interiors within upon slicing through it. 


Mining the language of stone to the fullest, these works are examples of stone poetry indeed. I love the fact that these sculptures celebrate the sheer solidity of the stone form...and yet, also transform it into something friendly, fluid and open to interpretation; it is reminscent of the manner in which wind, sunlight, water, and other chemical processes collectively combine to carve rock surroundings into natural sculptures, reminding us that rocks are not so indomitable, after all. 

Bread Roll
It has been a delight to discover these stone sculptures, jogging my memory cells of a childhood mania that I had almost forgotten about. These sculptures are also something that I can  imagine adorning my work-desk, keeping me company while I write or muse or contemplate; they would be objects of beauty, inviting admiration, function, paper-weighting my clutter, and curiosity, eliciting attention.

All images courtesy Jiyuseki

July 15, 2012

Of Memories and Star-Rain

If I had my way, I would photograph all the memorable - extraordinary and ordinary - moments in my life; when my memories would inevitably dim one day, I would still have the photographs to refer to and subsequently refresh the memories. But a camera cannot become an appendage or an extra limb, no matter how much you think it could be - and photographs cannot substitute for memories. Life ultimately is a series of moments - and you can choose to preserve and embalm them in photographs...or let them let loose in the the wonderland of your memories, allowing them to change shape and texture as the years go by. 

These are the thoughts that lazily swim through my mind during these unusually mild Omani July nights when I walk through lamp-lit streets, crunching upon fallen, brown-green neem-fruit (wasn't it only sometime ago that the branches were heavily laden with sprigs of white blossom - and the night air was palpably drenched in their fragrance?) and walking past balding bougainvillea bushes. When I look up, I can see the star-scape in crystal-clear clarity, twinkling away, utterly the same, as it has presumably been for so many centuries. Perhaps, a star extinguished itself centuries ago; perhaps, another one is taking birth - right this moment - as I write. But for my memories of these nights, there are no subtractions or additions to the sky scape; I simply walk and walk, their silver light raining down upon me, warm as a drizzle. 

Image courtesy here

July 13, 2012

Sanjay Nanda: Pinning Down Elusive Somethings...

Several posts ago, I had mused about joining Pinterest; while I have obstinately refused to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, I could not help contemplating for the longest while that Pinterest may prove to be the exactly kind of thing that would appeal to me. I decided to try it out - and was I hooked and how!:) Its combination of online scrapbooking, mood boards, and accumulating piles of visual images, reflecting my varied interests in architecture, style, art, photography, was completely addictive and my day is definitely incomplete if I don't stop by there at least once a day. Amongst other things, I have had such a good time discovering eclectic jewelry pieces, funky style-statements and even gratuitously (and sheepishly) indulged in my affection for cute animal pictures (I have called that particular pin-board 'Adorableness Central'!) Also, judging from the insane amount of gorgeous looking food and interior ideas posted there, I am on my way towards being completely inspired about transforming the way I cook and decorate.

In the meantime, what has definitively inspired me vis a vis my photography is Indian photographer, Sanjay Nanda's work. I can't quite recall whether I discovered Sanjay through Pinterest or not; however, what I did observe is that one of the images that I pinned (below) has been the object of several repins...and with good reason, I feel.

The Marigold Offering

First off, to pare down their description to the most fundamental level, Sanjay's images are viscerally beautiful. This image of a bright, rain-washed leaf green alcove with burnt orange marigolds placed inside them is not just about exoticising the flower or encouraging dialogue about faith: it is also happens to be stunning image to look at, period. I must confess though that at times I experience a strong, almost academic need to extract some sort of narrative from a photograph - it must say something, it is saying something, or perhaps, it is indeed speaking volumes and yet, I am the one unable to hear anything! However, when glimpsing Sanjay's work, it struck me that you can often be content with the sheer aesthetics of the image alone. Perhaps, there is an intriguing story embedded inside this image; however, for me, at least at this particular moment, even if there isn't, I am equally OK with that.

A View Through the Past

This photography is the kind of work that I would aspire to create; there is something about these images that you cannot help but look at again and again. What is that elusive something-to-be-looked-at-ness though? What is it that compels you towards these images? My relationship with photography as a spectator is often dependent on the associations and thoughts that immediately mushroom through my mind while looking at the image. For example, this particular image cannot help but remind me of the textures of the walls found in the courtyard and open terraces of my ancestral haveli...there are similar arch-shaped alcoves studding the walls too. Through this image, I am transported back to my haveli while simultaneously and independently appreciating the visuals of the image itself: the graffiti heart, the layers of exposed brick, peeling plaster, and graffti, and the white and blue serenity of the domes and walls glimpsed in the distance. I love how this image is both personal and impersonal, leading me to create a completely unique relationship with it if I were to, say, hang it in my most immediate space and see it every day.

Barred Gods
Sanjay's images also deal with subjects and approaches which are akin to what I have been seeking to explore in my photography, such as eye-ball-catching wall art, and windows and doors; these are works that are inspirational in the truest sense and I look forward to further extending my explorations and fine-tuning the articulation of my particular photographic voice. At times, when you are wont to become jaded of your inclination towards a specific subject matter, someone else's fresh, full-blooded perception of the same things greatly infuses life into your own approach. Yet, the issue then becomes of ensuring that your voice remains startlingly original without falling into the trap of imitative mode...but that's another story - and post!- altogether:)

Handprints on the Wall # 2
Whether you're creating or engaging with art, it is not always necessary that you have to invest your work with multiple meanings or layers of narrative...nor must you feel obliged to to wade through them in order to fully appreciate the work. Sometimes, the act of creation is as much a thunder-bolt as the act of looking at the work itself: it need not be any more complicated than that. When I close my eyes after seeing this image above, what crystallises in my mindspace is the marriage of red and blue and flatness and depth and creates an altogether different and utterly personalised image in my head. That is art for me.

All pictures courtesy Sanjay Nanda, Indipix Gallery; have a look at his brilliant work over here.

July 2, 2012

The Wall Project: Muttrah Scribblings...

Muttrah, 2008

It is usually and often in the most quotidian, mundane, that I encounter an invigorating sense of wonder and story. On first glimpse, true, there is nothing arguably very arresting about this image: a sign-board, glass-window displaying freshly tailored garments, and a chunk of a sloppily painted white wall featuring exposed pipes, wires, and mobile numbers and other sundry numbers written upon its surface. 

I remember taking the picture of this wall four years ago; I am now trying to recollect as to why I took it. I was supposed to do a story about the Muttrah souk for an UAE newspaper; however, I was utterly exhausted of the conventional, trite pieces exoticising the souk and instead, chose to train my attention upon the alternate world which existed behind the souk. I wanted to talk to the people living there, who had made it their home for so many decades and what made them call Muttrah their home. I walked into this tailoring shop and listened to the stories of the Bangladeshi tailors, who had been here for almost two decades; there was a sixteen-inch TV positioned in one of the cornices of the room, which constantly played songs from 90s Bollywood and a noisy air-conditioner, which breathed out gusts of cold, oddly perfumed air, that accompanied our conversation. I emerged from the shop and out into the intensely hot June evening. The air smelt of a soup of odors uniquely peculiar to Gulf cities: shwarma, petrol fumes, dust, spices, and newly rotting fruit from the nearby green-grocer and the heat was like someone breathing down your neck. I momentarily stood there outside the shop, unsure of what to do or where to go next and my gaze must have then fallen upon the mobile numbers - and it must have birthed a dozen absently curious questions: whose numbers were they? why had their owners chosen to inscribe it upon the walls? who was meant to call whom?

Perhaps, if it weren't for the numbers upon the wall, I would never have taken this picture; for me, it's the presence of the numbers which invests this picture with a lively identity, always compelling those very same questions that popped into my mind the moment I glimpsed this wall. 

Yet, there is one more thing: that particular story about Muttrah souk never did get published. The stories of the Bangladeshi tailors and others whom I spoke to that evening are somewhere in one of my many notebooks, their words visibly present on the pages but destined to be unheard. All that remains from that evening walking through Muttrah souk is this picture - and whenever I look at it, I find myself stopping outside the glassed-in tailoring shop and hearing the stories once again.