Viewing through a Prism: Audio and Visual Narratives

While living in this era of new subjectivities, we have found ourselves living in a state of permanent war. As described by Negri and Hardt in their book Multitude: War and Democracy in the age of Empire, permanent war is the permanent state of conflict in the world, where there is no imperial control that binds the world together, but capitalist form of control synchronises cultural hegemony with globalization. This new order of conflict highlights the non-geographical and non-temporal limits of the war (1), where a conflict is not contained in a location, but location is a byproduct of conflict. Any conflict cannot be seen in isolation as it is a result or the apex of any crisis. Moving beyond the contours of a nation is a pertinent in the contemporary world where any form of conflict is not a symptom of one location. In recent interdisciplinary investigations of the visual culture, surrounding the social, economic and political contexts, have highlighted war, conflict, trauma, human rights and political activism through different methods and tactics of representation. Feeling an urgent need to address activist art in this country, I plan to bring together Indian and International film and sound works representing the image of conflict uncovering topics like military occupations, economic instability, displacement, cultural alienation, absence or presence of minority communities and sub-culture contribution in national identity.

With new emerging art practices, it is imperative for curators to question the art practice in a context and in a framework that might rupture the given set of relationships to realign and redefine them. With the increasing use of film and video in exhibition space, this practice calls for its enquiry. The moving images and auditory practices present a dialogical encounter where history is not corrected or answered, but informed to create unfamiliar meanings and connections. In the audio-visual experience forms of knowledge and experience are infused with the politics of the image, offering a more nuanced cultural understanding of the global crisis. The proposed exhibition aims to present a selection of film, video and sound works that diverge from sensationalist and propagandist grammar to provoke questions about representations, connections and ancestories of conflict in the global context.

The curatorial concept illustrates different themes under one rubric, making the selection of works to be showcased extremely difficult. The idea of the exhibition is not to be presented as one aural-visual linear narrative, but the films, videos and sound pieces are like short stories that might or might not connect. The selection of moving images and auditory experiences is extremely difficult as it is crucial in presenting a diverse understanding of conflict. The selection of works to be presented is not complete as a few works will have to be commissioned to be site-specific, aiming to push artistic practice beyond conventions.

Elephant, Alan Clarke (1989), Videograms of a Revolution, Anrei Ujica & Harun Farocki (1992), Memories of Underdevelopment, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1968), The Neighbour before the House, CAMP & others (2) (2009), Rape of an Ellipse, Hemant Sreekumar (2011) are a few audio and visual narratives that are in conversation with each other at various points.

Elephant shows violence in a casual way where people (mainly men) shoot each other as if it was as general and natural as part of one’s daily routine. Made for television during the time of Troubles, it provokes questions relating to the social conditions of subject, while it remains distanced from any political statements and emotional subjectivity. Videograms of a Revolution not only show how history has shaped the medium of television but also how television is shaping the cultural history. The making of the subject initiated in Videograms… has evolved as seen in The Neighbour before the House, questioning media propaganda, representation of trauma and status of the subject in the current global era.

The space where the exhibition is presented is equally important to choosing the works to display. Through the proposed curatorial concept, I advocate the idea of film viewing in a gallery and specially a museum space. Screening of various films in a museum like space can become a critical cultural intervention where the unraveling of history happens by watching other histories. The museum’s existing context and site when juxtaposed with the context of the exhibition will overlay an interesting mix of representations. Watching film in darkness is a social experience captivating the audience attention for a far greater duration than many other visual art forms. By being part of a collective shared experience, film viewing presents a different mode of engagement, allowing the audience to act as mere spectators trying to understand the social, political and economic relations of the films. An act of voyeurism in controlled viewing conditions can be translated into multiple layers of meaning by an intelligent exhibition design that allows it to become a discursive space. The exhibition is trying to appropriate space as a medium.

Interestingly, there is a transition of films and videos from a cinema making to exhibition making. As more and more artists are taking the idea of filmmaking for exhibitions, the display methods – the means to audience interaction are also changing. Instead of a black box or simply putting a white screen for film projection, now the emphasis is on installations. With installations, the gallery or a museum should account for the architecture of the space, in order to create an appropriate setting for viewing. Working at the intersection of media, design and art, the exhibition will push the artists and audiences towards new experiences in design and interaction.

The viewing space contributes to the meaning-making as much as the exhibited objects. The museum’s existing context and site when juxtaposed with the context of the exhibition will overlay an interesting mix of representations. Ian White’s project for Oberhausen, 2007, and later released with essays as a book- Kinomuseum talks about the relationship between cinema and the museum. Imagining a cinema rising from the foundation of cinema auditorium, a kinomuseum is a radical thought in the act of viewing. It is time when we look at museums as an active space where not only art is preserved, but is also experienced; museum is the medium (3) where the museum plays a big role in introducing the politics behind what is being shown.

By understanding the politics of seeing, it is interesting to unravel new forms of knowledge and experiences which re-define the existing set of relations. The understanding of conflict in some form, sometimes necessitates going back to history or to lay back and see it in the larger context of contemporary social, political, economic and cultural relations. In the process of forming new communities and reaching out to the alienated ones, this exhibition is a spatial and temporal intervention in viewing and understanding different dimensions of conflict. As Jacques Rancière says ‘Aesthetic experience has a political effect to the extent that the loss of destination that it presupposes disturbs the way in which bodies fit their functions and destinations.’(4)

Curatorial Concept for Curation Theory Workshop on Art in the Context of Conflict in February, 2012.

This is a work in progress.

(1) Multitudes: War and democracy in the age of Empire, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, 2005, Penguin.

(2) The Neighbour before the House is a series of videos shot with surveillance cameras in eight different locations in Jerusalem by CAMP- Shaina Anand, Ashok Sukumaran, Nida Ghouse and Mahmoud Jiddah, Shereen Barakat and Mahasen Nasser- Eldin.

(3) The Museum as Medium- symposium at The Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Also a book by James Putnam called Art and Artifact: Museum as Medium, 2001, Thames and Hudson.

(4) Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community, Jacques Rancière. It is the plenary lecture delivered at the symposium Aesthetics and Politics: With and Around Jacques Rancière at University of Amsterdam in June 2006.