Showing this month is Blurring Boundaries, a virtual art project that is arguably one of the most critical shows to come out of India this year. The showcase is the result of collaborations between six Indian artists. Individually, and yet together, their works are experimental and incisive, commenting not just on key socio-political events, but also on the very nature of art production.
Amshu Chukki, Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai, Manjot Kaur, Salik Ansari, Sanket Jadia and Tonoy Sarma were brought together in this initiative by cultural philanthropy platforms, Avid Learning and Inlaks India Foundation. Blurring Boundaries is in the form of a microsite, designed by visual artist Gaurav Ogale, who weaves together process videos and final works. Scrolling through the site is much like taking in a digital tapestry, with threads contributed by the six artists.
Blurring Boundaries was originally intended as a relay of sorts, with each artist taking turns to build on a common work. Eventually, the process evolved out of the artists’ working styles, allowing for a “cross-pollination of ideas and interpretations”, as the CEO of Avid Learning, Asad Lalljee, puts it.
Over the course of August and September, the artists paid virtual visits to each other’s studios and regrouped regularly to brainstorm. They were encouraged to borrow from each other – a whole work, if they wished, or just a line from a conversation.
Jadia, 29, originally from Surat and currently based out of Delhi, invited his collaborators to donate a brick each for his work. He didn’t mean literal bricks, he says, unlike how brick donations were sought for the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya last year. Jadia wanted building blocks for “something that is broken, for the process of rebuilding and healing to begin”.
Ahmadzai recalled someone having watched the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, which went on to form the basis of Jadia’s work – a 3D rendered brick, with an Onida television and Urdu verses debossed on it. One only has to recall Onida’s memorable tagline from the 1990s, “Neighbour’s envy. Owner’s pride”.
“I usually enjoy collaborations. As an artist, you are stuck with your own process,” Jadia says. Blurring Boundaries seems to imply that collaborations are not about the end results, but often about symbiotic processes. It blows wide open the trope of the artist as a lone, tortured soul. It’s almost as if artists stand more to gain from togetherness than from exceptionalism.
Much as he borrowed, Jadia loaned as well. One of the photo-manipulations from his ongoing series, Residual Gaze, is of the Babri Masjid demolition, with a moon in the place of a dome. There is no real reason for the lunar substitute, Jadia says. “I didn’t really think why, but it’s meant to be a rupture, a new perspective on something we have got used to seeing,” he says.
The work has sparked off responses from his collaborators. Delhi‐based Ahmadzai, 31, imagines conversations between historical figures, in particular the rebel poetesses, Asma bint Marwan, Rabia Basri and Lalleshwari, and turns them into calligraphic verse-works for Blurring Boundaries. In one, Babar muses on the unchanging ways of humankind.
Similarly, Ansari, 29, draws from his collaborators, all of whom are acknowledged in his work, for an interactive URL with pop panels, titled The Depository of Attention (https://malaydhamelia.github.io/repository_/attention.html). The URL is meant as a counterpoint to Real Time Bidding, digital auctions to purchase people’s attention. A montage of “Breaking News” flashes in one corner. “Everything is ‘breaking news’ these days, but it is not really breaking news,” says Ansari.
Also on view in the showcase is a moodboard, an obvious metaphor for these collaborations. Using online platform Miro, the participating artists pitched together images, concepts and clippings that were of interest to them. “Virtual platforms have innovated with software like Miro, which we have used for this collaboration to take ideation and creativity to another level. Over the last few months, the very concept of shows and art-making has changed with digital platforms and social media handles becoming galleries and museums. More than ever before, we are seeing all sorts of art being showcased virtually, purely because of the flexibility the digital mediums offer,” says Lalljee.
Some audiences will be tempted to ask the question: Is this art? Chukki’s works, for instance, are landscapes that you have to read, rather than see. Sarma deploys emojis with subversive force in his GIFs. Ansari’s URL work blurs the lines between “viewer” and “user”. The neat boundaries of the past have collapsed and the artists invite audiences to experience a world of hyperlinks, where each work refers to many others. Here, originality is a myth, and only synthesis is real.
Blurring Boundaries (https://spark.adobe.com/page/EvMIY4maFtK7Z/) is live all through October.
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