For Fabien Charuau, more lovers can be found on the streets of Mumbai today than during the last two decades he has spent living in the city. “They have always been there, but the demographics have changed now,” says the visual artist, who moved to Mumbai from France in the late ’90s, to study engineering. With an uninhibited desire to express their affection and an innate skill for social media, the millennial generation, as Charuau says, is reclaiming intimacy in India through the help of the internet, and a “movement from the heart”.
Charuau’s exhibition at Colaba’s Chatterjee and Lal gallery, “A Thousand Kisses Deep”, features a series of nine digital prints, each created by placing an image of two people kissing one another through a Java-based coding system. Collected from public archives such as Facebook and Instagram by the artist, these images have been processed by his self-created algorithm — named Liplock — into digitised compositions of vibrant contours and pixels, which eventually reveal no traces of the figurative imagery they originate from.
Although conceptualised almost six months ago, the exhibition arrives at a time that coincides with the recent surge in moral policing and its consequential bans. The artist’s work, however, does not stem from the restraint that has been imposed upon couples by authorities, but rather the soft revolution that is beginning to take shape in response to it. “Moral policing has always existed. Right now, it is more noticeable and in the news because of the wave of rebellion against it. It’s a reaction from a generation that doesn’t want to live the same way as those before. They have different standards and aspirations for their life,” says Charuau.
Representing Charuau’s gradual observation of a positive shift in the liberation of sexuality and sensuality in Indian society, the digital prints have been created in response to his 2012 exhibition, “Send Some Candids”, which was symbolic of the voyeurism and aggression towards women. By collecting over 10,000 images from internet forums for voyeurs, Charuau had explored the role of technology within Indian society and its engagement with sexual interaction. “I realised that when certain men take and post photos of women on the web, it’s largely because they have no understanding of the other sex,” says the 41-year-old artist and photographer.
Taken discreetly with mobile phones and later shared with an online audience, these photographs were compiled into a slideshow by Charuau. “I then played the slideshow on a cheap mobile phone, and recorded it with a different one, in repeated cycles, to create a process of iteration of degradation,” he says. The remnants of this process — stills from the short film, which leave the original images unrecognizable after reducing them to their most “organic” form — are placed in conversation with Charuau’s current exhibition at the gallery.
The most interesting aspect of Charuau’s art practice however, remains his exploration of the issue of intimacy not only in society, but also vis-à-vis technology. “To a certain extent, we still look at technology as machines. But I think we are reaching a point where it won’t be understood the way we understand it right now; where emotion and beauty can have a space within it,” he says. Charuau’s relationship with technology guides his work, where he uses “the tools of the field” that he is documenting as the primary medium of his art making. In “Send Some Candids”, it is the mobile phone — with which the voyeurs stalk and harass women — that Charuau uses himself to record his film.
Similarly, “A Thousand Kisses Deep” relies entirely on the internet to fuel the digitising of its images, which in the first place are shared and found on social media using the same network.
“I may be working with a computer but I believe that my state of mind and feelings influence — mentally and spiritually — the output of my creations,” says the artist. Charuau is quick to surrender control of his art, admitting that what comes out of it cannot be aesthetically predetermined by him. But he is equally careful in separating his creations from “computer art”, which lacks the emotion that characterises his practice. “I have no clue why some colours are chosen over others, or why certain lines appear in given places. Perhaps some photos have a life of their own,” he says, referring to one of his works, with faith in the existence of energy and life beneath the surface of pixels.