How do we tackle our times through art and curation? I would like to talk about a show which I had curated in January 2017 as part of the Curator’s Ensemble of Krishnakriti Festival. Four curators (Dhritabrata Bhattacharjya Tato, Georgina Maddox, Faizal Khan and Premjish Achari) were invited to address the relation of technology and art in our lives. We called the exhibition H20~ArT using a mathematical equation related to null hypothesis. The curators divided the exhibition into four vectors Experiential, Existential, Exploratory and Evolutionary. Through these vectors we explored the different facets of technology using art. This issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” talks about the Experiential vector and its curatorial concerns.
The Curator #5
Curator : Premjish Achari
Exhibition: H20~ArT, Experiential: Things are Vanishing Before Us
We are living in a curious time where for the first time in history we inhabit both the digital and physical spaces together. This unprecedented convergence of the digital and the physical has made our lives disorienting. Our constant addiction to screens (ATMs, computer, mobile phones, television, etc.) has flattened our perception of space; it has irrevocably altered our visual experience. In our society, screens have become magical tools used by ‘augurers and haruspices’ or those who read omens in the stars, flights of birds and the entrails of animals, uncovering guilt and foreseeing the future. Through screens, we navigate the netherworld of imaginations. They have become our magic mirrors; it appears that we have formed a Faustian pact with the digital world. Instead of our souls, we have surrendered our unrequited attention and devotion to the virtual.
Our fixation to screens has split our consciousness between the physical and the virtual realm. Software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. We increasingly prefer Bitcoins and digitised banking rather than paper currency, digital images to printed photographs, e-books to paper books; we even seem to spend more money on our online personas. As minimal lifestyles and spaces become fashionable, it appears that our consumption and conversely our clutter have shifted online. Digitisation of objects, information, and emotions has irrevocably altered existing ways of knowing, doing and being.
Will digital versions of objects such as artworks, photos, clothes, etc., render them obsolete? Will objects eventually shed corporeal form and become flat and virtual in the digital world? Will we define ourselves increasingly through what we consume and create in the digital space? Will our digital avatars overtake our physical selves? To address these questions, first, we have to examine the significance of objects in our lives and the role they play in shaping our identity. I am particularly interested in this because humans have defined themselves through the objects they possess or yearn to accumulate. We are at a critical moment in our history; the physical and digital realms appear to be converging. It is imperative that instead of lamenting for the objects that are disappearing around us, we need to urgently take stock of their role in shaping our memories and identity. Therefore, the exhibition attempted to analyse and perhaps even salvage the role of objects in our life, by paying particular attention to their ability to evoke the past through nostalgia and memory.
William James in his seminal work ‘The Principles of Psychology’, published in 1890, outlined how we constitute our identity through the objects we accumulate. According to James, “A man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses and yacht and bank account.” James’s text and the subsequent research undertaken by Russel Belk highlight that objects are not merely commodities; we also have to take into account their indexical qualities particularly their ability to evoke nostalgia. It is evident from their work that objects also serve as mementos that mediate our perception of the past. Objects remind us of who we are, we often use them to demonstrate our identity. There is little difference between us and what we define as ours. William James has observed on this conflation of person and possession as: “It is clear that between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine the line is difficult to draw.”
These aspects continue to differentiate the physical from the virtual objects. Several contemporary scholars such as James Baudrillard have similarly observed that we accumulate objects equally as a necessity and as an emotional investment. According to Baudrillard, objects have a functional value as well as emotional value. He equates objects with mirrors because they send us back not real images, but desired ones. Hence, it is interesting to note that in this relationship between possession and our sense of who we are, the objects create an extended self for us, whose functions are related to having, doing, and being. In his novel ‘White Noise’, De Lillo dryly observes, “The dead have faces, automobiles. If you don’t know a name, you know a street name, a dog’s name. ‘He drove an orange Mazda.’ You know a couple of useless things about a person that become major facts of identification and cosmic placement when he dies suddenly, after a short illness, in his own bed, with a comforter and matching pillows, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, feverish, a little congested in the sinuses and chest, thinking about his dry cleaning.” Human lives tend to be identified by their possessions. Even Sartre in ‘Being and Nothingness’ notes that the sole reason to possess something is to enlarge our sense of self; the only way we can know who we are is by observing what we have.
Apart from these scholars, objects studies have also focused on old attics and wardrobes, particularly the way in which they function as spaces to store secret memories. It appears then that objects produce two types of knowledge – documentary knowledge and associative knowledge. Documentary knowledge is proof; it is a trace of a person or event at a particular time and specific place. Associative knowledge, on the other hand is experiential; the object evokes a memory of a time, place, person or even taste. This exhibition, therefore, highlighted these two important functions of objects.
According to Sartre we constitute the object as a part of ourselves in three ways. The first is by appropriating or controlling an object for our own personal use. He writes that we appropriate intangible objects and those we do not own by overcoming, conquering or mastering them. For example, climbing a mountain or living in a city demonstrates how we master these spaces. Similarly, by learning to ride a bicycle or car or using new computer, we make them a part of our lives. The second way is by creating an object. The object created could be material or an abstract thought and bears the marks of the creator. This identification is then legitimised through copyright, patent and authorship. The third way is by knowing the object in a biblical way where the object is a known place, person or thing. The relationship with them is inspired by the carnal or sexual desire to possess. It is through our intimate knowledge that we make it ours and a part of our self. Hence this exhibition delved onto these three aspects through how we come to regard an object as part of our self. It invites artists to respond to these three propositions.
The proliferation of software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. With more time spend actively gazing at electronic screens, from smartphones to computers and televisions, a chronically split consciousness, the human attention is increasingly divided between the physical and virtual spaces that they simultaneously inhabit. Therefore in this passage of rites towards the virtual objects when things are vanishing before us I invited artists to contemplate on the function of objects, do they see this as a revolutionary paradigm shift, or do they prefer the old ways of possessing physical objects and its production more relevant in the preservation of memory and evocation of nostalgia. It is hoped that this will help us understand the role of personal collection and in shaping our identity and why we continue to seek and comprehend the past through objects?
Aman Khanna | Arti Vijay Kadam | Atul Bhalla | Chandan Gomes | Chinmoyi Patel | Dayanita Singh | Mansoor Ali| Muktinath Mondal| Nikita Maheshwary| Prajeesh A.D.| Riya Chatterjee| Roshan Chhabria| Sharmila Samant| Sumedh Rajendran| Umesh P K| Varunika Saraf| Waswo X Waswo
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The details about this exhibition can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KmN9G5km1g
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st