EXHIBITION - Generation-i (Mar 04-31, 2004) :


"We are the data we swirl in" (Raqs Media Collective)

If 'knowledge' was the catchword of the Enlightenment, then 'information' is that of the 21st century. Modernity propagates a bombardment on the individual's consciousness through a constant stream of 'facts'. Newspapers, films, radio, television and the internet all contribute to defining the parameters of our experience, immersing us in a continuous discourse with our external environment. It is in this context that the image attains its significance. Through the predominance of mass media as a means of communication, the image has become a vital trope of contemporary culture. "Generation i" attempts to examine the importance of the image in modern society, elucidating its role in shaping reality and the ways in which we perceive it.

"Generation i" has a double-edged relation to the image. It serves to stress not only the fact that the image is received, i.e. a product of dominant structures of power, but also to underline the artists' manipulation of the image to counteract these centers of control.

The centrality of the image in contemporary society has an ambiguous aspect, as the image is ultimately fluid in its ability to create and dismantle contexts of interpretation. It serves both the systems of which it is originally a part (i.e. the dominant structures of economic, social and political power) and - through quotation and re-contextualization - to question the premises on which such strongholds are based. So, in addition to understanding the nature of the authority at work behind an image, the artists of "Generation i" seek to explore the unpredictability of the image, with its corresponding ability to emphasize the underlying tensions of sociological realities.

The Image and Mass Media

The artists in the present collection are highly attuned to mass media and the latter's enormous impact on current society. For instance, the exhibition operates on a variety of visual citations from it: from Bose Krishnamachari's hyper-realistic Displaced Movements (a simulation of a black and white photograph or film still) to the newspaper motif that runs through Prasanta Sahu's amalgamation of picture and text. Manisha Gera Baswani too, highlights the seductive power of Hollywood blockbusters in her painting Reloaded. She says, that the work is an "obvious inspiration from the movie 'The Matrix' where the endless shower of green symbols on a black screen had caught my imagination."

The artists' inclusion of motifs from mass media and their acute sensitivity to the image is linked to their understanding of the world in which we live. This exhibition serves to stress these artists' awareness of the shifting structures of the real.

In a vital sense mass media forms the way we see the world, nationality and ourselves. The proliferation of images lends them an extreme power to fashion our approach to these issues. Consequently, we have to ask ourselves: what does mass media tell us and how does it affect our ways of seeing?

The link between exterior influences and internal states of being is perhaps best exemplified in Balasubramaniam's work In but out. It refers to the dialogue linking the private spaces of the self to its surrounding environment. In Balasubramaniam's 'sculpture', the mesh-like construction of the head, underscores the permeable nature of individual consciousness. The determining function of the external world is reflected as what is 'outside' gets absorbed as part of the subject's interior processes.

The connection between the self and its external environment needs to be looked at more closely. Mass media is a product of power structures that lie outside the individual's control and are ultimately even removed from the jurisdiction of a country that is not at the centre of the dissemination of images. If mass media structures our perception of civilization and ourselves, then it does so according to the dominant economic and political forces of the times. A more troubling extension of this in current society is the prevalence of targeted media. Advertisements are addressed to a specifically chosen audience and news channels are planned according to the needs of the country concerned. So, not only is what we experience deliberately slanted, it is so in a manner that to a great extent lies outside our sway. One begins to wonder whether one can even talk about an indigenous Indian identity without seeing it colored by the Western (particularly Anglo-American) dogma that is infiltrated through the media.

The artists in "Generation i" are deeply conscious of the social, economic and political motivations that are inevitably expressed through the means of mass media. There is no doubt in their work, that mass media marks, in the ideological inclination of the images it employs, the principal centers of control, including the (sometimes competing) forces of global capitalism, Western supremacy, military authority and masculine chauvinism. So, for these artists, the image is never innocent. It is always already immersed in a historical dialogue.

Reena Saini Kallat's painting Meteor Markings studies the complicated strands of the media's valorization of violence. It is a reflection on both the horror of violence and the reasons used for its justification in society. In Kallat's painting the relation of beauty to violence is deliberately unclear. The well-known image of the Madonna and child is juxtaposed with a weapon-like object. Interestingly the vulnerability of the mother and child is subtly contravened in this painting, as they are depicted with a rough finish somewhat similar to the black and white images in newspapers. On the other hand the intricate, gold-leaf patterning of the dubiously suspended object draws attention to its fragile glamour. This role reversal underscores the aesthetizisation of violence in society.

Image and Interpretation

However, as referred to earlier, there is another side to this debate. If the artists in this exhibition are aware of the forces at work through the image, they are equally conscious of the latter's destabilizing tendency. The image's lack of fixity permits it to undermine or at least question the seats of power. The volatility of the image, i.e. its ability to be repeated and re-contextualized in subversive ways, allows it to unearth the contradictory tendencies within modernity. So, it is in their highly sensitive use of the image that these artists attain a certain distance from the dominant social order, using it to analyze the operations and inherent propensities of popular culture.

The development of this dialogue is different in each of these artists, according to their diverse concerns and it is particularly obvious in the work of the artists who borrow motifs directly from mass media and reconfigure them in order to analyze social mechanisms.

For example, one of the most interesting formulations of the capriciousness of the image can be found in T.V Santhosh's Untitled work. Through the use of well-known imagery in unusual combinations, the painting opens up a range of interpretative possibilities. A break from Santhosh's artistic endeavors so far, which have been involved in reflecting snippets of historical data in a hyper-realist style, this work puts the image into play. In staging a duplication of the picture of a Palestinian protestor, resembling positive and negative photographs, Santosh underlines its symbolic potential. As the painting enacts a transformative doubling before our very eyes, it topples our expectations of this over-familiar scenario from the news, allowing us to glimpse a larger context. It is no longer about a localized phenomenon but attempts to explore that idea of protest in its more general implications.

In Subodh Gupta's Saat Sumundar par (10) too, a similar slippage of meaning seems to occur with what appears to be a fairly mundane photograph of a public space. An extremely ordinary scene at an airport terminal takes on other layers of insinuation. Ironically, it is the very directness of the massive, hyper-realist canvas that lends it a confrontational, unsettling air. The truncated bodies are both excruciatingly physical presences and at the same time unreal in their lack of individuality. This anonymity confers upon them a variable quality, as the figures seem to be suspended in limbo. It draws attention to the dual dimension of travel (the large packing cases suggest that it may be for immigration purposes): the anxious sense of a loss of self as well as its seductive promise of material re-definition.

However, even the artists in the collection who do not make palpable references to mass media, are no less conscious of the value of the image as tool for evaluating contemporary reality. For example, the humorous, sinister and slightly surreal images of Natesan and Panda are equally probing of societal norms and their unspoken consequences. In Panda's painting An External Appearance, the use of the huge lizard is dramatically unnerving. The lizard seems to serve as a metaphor for the disquieting forces at work in society.

In contrast to Panda, neither of Natesan's works is ostensibly representative of flights of fancy (they do not portray events outside our ordinary experience), yet his technique lends an eerie glitter to the imagery, imbuing it with mysterious implications. The street scene becomes more than just a depiction of a place, resembling the cheap fluorescent lighting of shopping centers, it seems to mutate before our eyes. "Sometimes there is so much light in the photograph that it becomes something else, some other visual information." (Shibu Natesan,

"Generation i" intends to map the trajectory of the image. It serves to emphasize its importance in creating the 'lived world' of our experience. The artists in this show scrutinize the image both in terms of its impregnation with the dominant ideology of the times as well as in terms of its irreverent tendency to outdo the centers of authority from which it is received.

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