This article first appeared in The Fuschia Tree- an online art zine. You can check the original article here.
“Popular culture is something that most people feel compelled to relate to, but is really a trap.”
Navin Thomas’ career goals changed from being the Incredible Hulk, a church pipe organ player to a fruit picker, though currently he’s happy content being an artist. Viewing Navin Thomas’ artworks is like entering a laboratory that has a minimalist sculpture and an aural engagement of living beings. As an observer, the audience can choose to spend hours recognizing a pattern in the engagement or just relish the innovative conversation between elements. Making sound installations from public telephones, transistors, magnetic audiotapes, old television sets and ultra-violet light ecology, Navin sets out to explore the interaction and relationship between the components of electro-acoustic ecology.
A self proclaimed flea-market junkie, he believes that one can know a lot about a culture from what it throws away. His personal ‘micro-culture’ (a concept introduced by novelist William Gibson) ranges from storerooms full of dusty radios to the lost and found sections. Here we share 7 influences of pop culture on artist Navin Thomas followed by 3 of his own works that seem to have evolved from these influences.
Shintaro Katsu in Zatoichi
Katsu is the fictional blind masseuse and sword master in the film and later television series of the same name / Zatoichi, comparable to what Rajnikanth is for many Indians. With incredibly swift and precise fighting skills, one of the favourite sequences, repeated several times is when Zatoichi cuts the candles in half, and Katsu in his inimitable style says “Kurayami nara kochi no mon da” – Darkness is my advantage. Watch the film here.
Giant Robot from Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot
From his earliest memories of television, every Thursday 7 pm was dedicated to Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot: the flying capabilities, bullet guns for nails, fire starting capabilities and unmatched strength of the Giant Robot made this first sci-fi serial a memorable experience. He still watches it, on occasion.
Horror’s favourite voice, Vincent Price’s deep, rich tone could unsettle anyone. Navin’s favourite Vincent Price movie, Theatre of Blood (1973), with one of the best performances by the actor, has a surreal quality.Price plays the role of a Shakespearean actor called Edward Lionheart, who takes revenge by murdering film-critics who mocked his acting skills. After each death recites portions of Shakespeare. . Though one is forced to wonder whether Navin would be a great fan of ‘Monster Vitamins’.
Phantom’s Skull Cave
The hideout of Phantom is located behind a waterfall in Bangalla. It has special coves including treasure rooms, radio room the crypt and even a room with a bathtub. But Navin’s interest lies in the chronicle room where all the previous phantoms have recorded their adventures. Probably the first super hero archivist, there are some serious overlaps in the events recorded by Phantom and history as we understand it. It is not the impossibility, but the possibility of such places and characters that he finds particularly fascinating.
Iggy Pop (I’m bored)
Incredible, inspiring, different, menacing, rowdy, freak, unforgettable… There are so many words that describe Iggy Pop, but what stands out is his unpredictability, unfearing and unapologetic nature. I’m bored – a sarcastic comment on all the highfalutin meaningless talk that makes life boring.
Watch part of an old documentary on The Stooges here.
Harry Bertoia’s wire mesh chair
One of the most famous design pieces is Harry Bertoia’s wire mesh chair. Interestingly, other than furniture designing, Bertoia made metal sculptures engaging with sound, structure and material. The biomorphic sculpture design invokes similar feelings to that of Navin’s minimalist functional electro – acoustic sculptures.
Yes, another robot features in this list. This one is the collectors’ favourite: robots made by the Japanese company Horikawa. Producing different types of robots from 1950s through the 80s, each robot was unique in its demeanor and function. Some even had a small light projection on their chests, producing images of the surface of the moon or distant planets. Thus is sound found in the heavens too.
Navin Thomas’ Invite for the show – From Town’s End…
First is the invite for the opening of his show From Town’s End… at Gallery Ske in 2010. Made out of an audio tape and an empty cover of the audio tape, Navin came up with this in 20 minutes as a graphic designer was unavailable. The design stays true to the medium and character of his art; the realization of living in a sonic magnetic environment… and that life isn’t boring if we just listen!
Don’t Stare at the Light, too brightly…, Navin Thomas, 2010
Don’t Stare at the Light, too brightly… was shown as part of his show ‘From Town’s End’ at Gallery Ske in Bengaluru in 2010. In this work, insects are attracted to the ultra violet light made out of an industrial exhaust fan, as one of the two speakers play the calls of nocturnal insects and animals, while the other one plays instrumental music ‘My Funny Valentine’. The tragic romance (almost Shakespearean!) and devotion of the insects to the flower shaped light emitter is played out as their bodies lie scattered on the ground.
The Conversation Piece, Navin Thomas, 2010, Gallery Ske
This piece was a conversation between two chairs. When people sit on the chairs, it’s the chairs that converse with each other as the shift in chair leads to a fluctuation in audio frequencies coming from the transistors wired to the chair. Surely it is a minimalist installation where one can sit back and let the chair do the talking!