Many established and upcoming artists from India are looking to break into new vistas of expression so as to share their socio-political concerns in a new idiom, which is their very own. For this, they are engaging with a spectrum of new media, encompassing video and performance. By manipulating text, sound and image in novel experimental ways, they shift viewers’ stance from being passive spectators to that of active participants. Their aim is to stimulate a new kind of aware viewership that opens up to new windows to the outside world or preset transcendental truths, overturning set notions of how the moving image communicates.
At times, the presentation is distinguished by its matter-of-fact trait, reflecting embodiment of truth as it’s evident in the image’s very materiality and structure. Shilpa Gupta, Ayisha Abraham, Ravi Agarwal, Amar Kanwar, Raqs Media Collective, Abhishek Hazra, Tushar Joag, Sonia Khurana, Reena Saini Kallat, Kiran Subbaiah, Tejal Shah, Ashok Sukumaran, Baptist Coelho, Nikhil Chopra, Sunil Gupta, Vivan Sundaram, Subodh Gupta, and Nalini Malani are among those who deal with specific social and human issues. Aditi Chitre, Iram Ghurfan, Gigi Scaria, Kavita Singh Kale, K.M.Madhusudhanan, Neha Thakar, Pooja Iranna, Riyas Komu, Samia Singh, Srinivas Bhakta, Navjot Altaf, Mithu Sen, Sonia Mehra Chawla, Jitish Kallat, Vidya Kamat and Bose Krishnamachari are some of the other noteworthy names.
The video art was first made in the West in the early 1960s. Indian artists started to experiment with the medium in the 1990s. It can be best denoted by what it’s not – in a nutshell, it’s different from cinema. The key difference doesn’t lie in technique or technology but in structure and implicit sensibility. The aesthetics depends to an extent on fiddling with, and also upending the rules of the art of film-making. Its uniqueness is blurring the boundaries between short films, documentary, film, home video, mobile cameras etc.
Internationally videos have been an integral part of the mainstream visual culture for a long time now. However, animation films as a genre of video making has gained ground recently. Several young emerging artists especially with training in art/design/technology are experimenting and coming up with new genre of works. Mumbai based Guild Gallery presented VAF@The Guild, 2011 curated by JohnyML, revolving around the new concepts of video and animation filmmaking. Explaining the background of this unique project, the curator stated: “With the collapsing boundaries between different art genres more and more interdisciplinary practices get space and appreciation in the field of visual arts as a part of the general cultural production.” According to him, it’s a democratic medium since you don’t need a gallery and you can disseminate your work with YouTube and blog.” The curator of ‘Still Moving Image’, Deeksha Nath, emphasizes that video art tries to undermine the characteristics of cinema and photography, destabilizing the defining moment and also narrative story telling.
New-Delhi based Gallery Espace recently unveiled the 2nd edition of Video Wednesdays II, collaboration between Gayatri Sinha/ Critical Collective and Shanghai’s Minsheng Art Museum artist/curator Zhou Tiehai. The two brought together new media art from India and China. Incidentally, Video Wednesdays @ Espace was the first ever year long video art shows in 2008-09. On the other hand, the third edition of International Documentary & Short Film Festival (IDSFFK) in Kerala provided a chance to view video art put in the space and context of a film festival.
A unique event at Berlin based Deutsche Guggenheim, entitled ‘Being Singular Plural: Moving Images from India’ collated film and video works by some of the innovative media practitioners like Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia, Sonal Jain & Mriganka Madhukaillya of Desire Machine Collective, Amar Kanwar, and Kabir Mohanty. ‘Once Upon a Time: Fantastic Narratives in Contemporary Video’ focused on how fantastic stories and modern fairytales are represented in modern video art. It investigated how contemporary artists adapt motives and narrative techniques from myths, fables, and fairy tales to mirror current social phenomena and events in recent history. On the other hand, ‘Indian Highway’ at the Reykjavík Art Museum traced the impact of early technology stretching to the information superhighway, a major contributor to India’s economic progress and to the artistic development. Berlin based Arndt & Partner (ARNDT) hosted Jitish Kallat solo ‘Likewise’, incorporating grotesque-surreal and ironic imagery composed of video, sculpture, photography etc.
But then there are practical issues that hamper the viewing and collecting. Video art is not easy hard to show in conventional art spaces. It can take up a lot of space, its sound effect can easily spill over into other arenas, and its logistics can get complex because of cumbersome equipment. And that's something not considering challenging or bizarre subject matter that a practitioners like to tackle. The idea of a collective simultaneous video exhibit with sound spill and light spill can get problematic. And with so much quantum of video now being produced, the real challenge is to do something more expansive and collaborative. Again the challenge of their marketability and salability is very much there. There are gallerists like Christopher Grimes in Santa Monica, who consciously try and make the format as such, if not the content itself, more accessible by working around the gallery's space constraints as tried out in an extensive video art programming, a few months ago.
It is heartening to note though, buyers of video art in India are steadily growing in number. The trend received a big boost when Anupam Poddar launched the Devi Art Foundation dedicated to new media art. He has been quoted as saying, “I think the individual collector can buy it. The immateriality, easy storage and portability are some of the aspects that work in its favor.” Another leading collector Swapan Seth feels it’s important to embrace and encourage newer technologies not only for artists but also for collectors. Young practitioners, who have made the new media art their calling, should be encouraged, he avers. So there’s every reason to be optimistic about future prospects and viability of the video art because of the growing patronage and support.