Can_This_Too_Be_Art

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  september 21, 2013 vol xlviII no 38 EPW   Economic & Political Weekly 76 POSTSCRIPT CINEMA | CONTEMPORARY ART Can This Too Be Art? The experimental nature of contemporary artoften leads to incomprehension. by C K Meena T o the average Indian, contemporary art remains asealed package. While books and writers get consid-erable play in the media, the only time we hear of art is when a work fetches a fabulous price or attractscontroversy. But art is more than chisel on stone, or brushon canvas. Its dimensions have grown elastic, its meaningstretched almost to the point of incomprehension. Contem-porary art spans a far wider range of genres than most of usare aware of.Time was when categories of visual and performing arts were simply and clearly defined. If you used paint, you werean artist; if you carved material, a sculptor; and nobody had doubts about what dance, music and theatre were. Innewspapers and magazines, the “artist” was a painter orsculptor and the “artiste” a performer. Today everybody whopractises the arts is an artist. They often work in multiplemediums: words, images, sound and movement overlap ormerge. For instance, Jayachandran Palazhy, director of the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, extensively uses dig-ital art in his choreography, and when Navjyot Altaf presentsa video art installation based on a Bastar tribal myth, shedraws the audience in through light and sound as much asthrough the physical material. Installations, performanceart, video art, digital art, graffiti art, sound art – these areonly a few of the genres that Indian artists have embraced with enthusiasm.Physical or manual skill is no longer a necessity forcreating art; concepts will do. In fact, ideas are the drivingforce of contemporary art, so much so one wonders whetherthe head has replaced the heart both in the creation andappreciation of art. The success of such a work of art liesin whether its core idea gets conveyed to the audience,and whether they respond to it in any manner (other than with bewilderment, presumably). Response becomes crucial,since the audience has to “experience” the work of art for thecircle of creation to be completed. Installations – whether ina gallery or al fresco, whether temporary or permanent – areoften accompanied by explanatory notes for the viewer’s edi-fication, which implies that meaning is not self-evident butmay have to be uncovered with assistance from the artist.Contemporary art can be political without being preachy or sloganeering. Performance art, a category born in the1960s, in which the often nude body is used to make politicalstatements, has its proponents in 21st century India as well. The primary “material” used by these artists is theirown bodies. The performances of Marina Abramovic, oneof the pioneers of the genre, included whipping herself,slicing a star on her belly with a blade, and other actionsthat tested the physical and mental limits of her body. Inthis century, Delhi-based perform-ance artist Inder Salim choppedoff his finger and offered it to thepolluted Yamuna river. A less ex-treme form can be seen in the works of photo-performance artistN Pushpamala, when, for instance,she dresses up as a Toda tribal and adopts various poses,subverting colonial stereotypes. A deliberate lack of finesse characterises some forms of contemporary art. Bricolage, using materials found in theenvironment that happen to be available, without polishingthem, is highly popular among installation artists. Auralbricolage is another possibility: when Abhijeet Tambe usesdiscord, digital noise and “found sound” to create a sound-scape of a neighbourhood, the result is termed “sound art”.Similarly, the fuzzy, grainy, black-and-white photographs you see in a gallery space are not an amateur’s folly but“art photography”.Then there are those whose art is a protest against thecommodification of art. Tino Sehgal’s experiment is “conver-sation as art”, where he organises discussions in a room witha few chosen people. Although the discussions are free- wheeling, some rules restrict them and movements arechoreographed. Since Sehgal doesn’t believe in the use of material to create art, he allows no photographs, videos orother records of these conversations, so that the “art” that isexperienced is confined to the memories of the performersand the visitors who listen to them.The experimental, experiential nature of contemporary art lays it open to scepticism, particularly among those of  Physical ormanual skillis no longer anecessity forcreating art;concepts will do  Economic & Political Weekly   EPW september 21, 2013 vol xlviII no 38 77 POSTSCRIPT us who are unschooled in the field. It is hard to decide whether a work is self-indulgent, pretentious or genuinely cutting-edge. Does it affect you, entertain you, engross you, or stimulate you to think? If it does, perhaps it hasachieved its objective. But when one reads about Dutchconceptual artist Florentjin Hofman’s latest creation – a54-ft-high inflatable yellow rubber duck that apparently symbolises happiness – one tends to raise an eyebrow andask, “Can this too be art?” C K Meena (ckmeena@gmail.com) is a freelance journalist and author who currentlyedits  ArtConnect  . URBAN GEOGRAPHY  | CYBERCURRENCY 
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