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Indian galleries and artists are whetting the audience’s appetite for video art

Written by Vandana Kalra |
October 4, 2009 2:29:03 pm

Indian galleries and artists are whetting the audience’s appetite for video art
Its origin is disputed. If some believe that Korean-born American artist Nam June Paik introduced video art when he used the Sony Portapak to record the procession of Pope Paul VI through New York City in 1965,others claim that Andy Warhol had been projecting underground video art weeks before.

In India,though artists such as Nalini Malini,Vivan Sundaram,Ranbir Kaleka and Sonia Khurana have been producing video art for over a decade,galleries have only now begun to find space (and the equipment) for it. The India Art Summit held in Delhi this September had a separate video lounge with 99 video works on loop. Gallery Espace in Delhi screened a different set of videos each month for a year from July 2008. “Awareness about new media often comes in late in India. Even though artists have been making videos,curiosity about the medium has just begun to rise,” says Renu Modi,director of Gallery Espace. Modi says a sizeable audience trooped to her gallery to view video art all through last year. That’s a big change from the time viewers would walk into rare video art exhibitions and stand baffled in front of video screens. “Initially,people did not know how to react to a video work. Some were clueless if they had to stand and watch or move on and come back,” says Pooja Sood,consultant with Apeejay Media Gallery in Delhi. The Apeejay gallery screened video art for more than five years,from 2000 to 2008,before it shut for renovation.

“It is important to understand the medium. Unlike cinema,a video could just capture a moment. At times,a moment might even be exaggerated,” says Modi. She points to Bangalore-based artist Surekha’s work Cooking Concepts that has the artist record the simple act of mixing and kneading the dough. “It’s an everyday practice in several homes but Surekha has addressed a gambit of concerns through it. She focuses on the space,there is a certain visual consumption (appeal) and it is a comment on women’s labour as well,” says Modi.

Surekha features prominently on the list of Indian artists—along with Shilpa Gupta,Kiran Subbaiah,Umesh Madanahalli,Subba Ghosh,Valay Shende and Gigi Scaria—experimenting with video art.
There are no rules that define this new medium. In some cases,video is part of a larger artwork,say a collage of photographs or an installation. The video itself could be single-channel (like a television),or multi-channel,where several screens are used at a time. “The duration is usually shorter than films. The medium does have the audio-visual edge,” says Surekha.

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The art world might be partial to canvas but Ajay Rajgarhia,artist and director of Wonderwall,an organisation dedicated to fine art photography,feels that video is more appropriate for certain subjects. “It’s more than a single image and an artist can narrate an entire story through a video,” says Rajgarhia. In December 2008,he organised an exclusive exhibition of video art in Delhi. On display was the work of five artists,each of whom opted for a different technique. Adrian Fisk followed the documentary format in

I Speak China,where he put together portraits of people from across China to explore the changes in the country. Sukanya Ghosh used animation and filmed collages and photographs to give viewers a feel of being an immigrant in Mapping Movement. Ravi Agarwal presented a slideshow of images in Polluted Waters,where he captured the swirling patterns created by ink diffused in water. “There is a lot of experimentation. For a new generation of artists,video is the first medium they are working with. Video is different from film just like fashion photography compares with photojournalism,” says Rajgarhia.

The exposure to global cutting-edge video art has also helped. Celebrated exhibitions at Apeejay included international group shows comprising work by artists from France,China,Iran and Germany. “Looking at art from world over helps create a benchmark,” says Sood. Video from India has also begun to travel out of the country. Among others,India Xianzai,an exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art,Shanghai (held in July-August 2009),had Mithu Sen’s False Friends,a collage of photographs with an animated video film. Gayatri Sinha showcased videos of Subodh Gupta,Sonia Khurana and Zenib Sedira in an exhibition called India: Public Places,Private Spaces at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

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The market for video art is limited. “It is not as simple as putting a painting on the wall,one needs to dedicate a screen to the video,” says Modi. So Sotheby’s managed to bring Sonia Khurana’s video Bird: Retake in a Southeast Asian art auction in 2007. But in the domestic auction circuit,Surekha’s video Between Fire and Sky failed to excite bidders at the Emami Chisel Art auction in Kolkata last year. “It was an experiment. Two or three years later,the market might mature enough for videos to make a mark in auctions,” says Surekha.

Gigi Scaria,one of the few artists whose video art has sold,says the work being produced in India is meagre. “Not many artists are regular with video art. It is being experimented with alongside other mediums,” says Scaria who concentrated on video art from 2002 to 2007. He sold all five copies of his video Panic City,which comments on the construction drive and clean-up in Delhi ahead of the Commonwealth Games. An animation constructed from photographic stills,it takes a view of the Walled City from a minaret of Jama Masjid. The buildings rise and settle to represent the changing cityscape. “With video cameras becoming common,each person can now film their own video. What will help promote video art is if it is made part of the curriculum in colleges,” says Scaria.

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First published on: 04-10-2009 at 02:29:03 pm

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