Measures for Small Things

- Anshuman Das Gupta        

It has been some time now that art practice in India has formed an inclusive pattern, a pattern that matches the rise of new urbanism- its cartographic schemes and its speedy ways. This new genre is recognizable by its attraction to grids, simulating the new urban economy of senses and the quickly reproducible pattern of the new media and capacitates itself to give the illusion of packaged information– images and texts in an integrated system. It replicates the available media-generated images of public interest via transfer/graft and uses them as resources/reference. There is a fair bit of overlap between what the media argues for or illustrates and what this new genre illuminates or fails to illuminate. It is good for the moment to say that it is a navigational device, a pointer that brings our consciousness back to the logic of the senses in a media age; this being the logic of this genre.

It is also a fact that the highly distributed technology of today has made possible the transmission, viewing and sharing of visual data between far away locations possible, paving the way for greater participation. This has also opened up possibilities for personalization of the visual medium- for innocuous and very private reasons such as keeping records of private events/ situations as well as for greater evidentiary purposes. What happens when these small innocuous records become part of the greater visual transmission and circulation of images in the larger private-public viewing systems, is not a part of our knowledge yet.

Binoy Varghese’s body of works grows out of his persistent preoccupation with media generated images as well as common everyday encounters. He tries to fuse the two and in that there are sequences of thoughts and consequential entanglements with the representational world. The photographs he uses and the resultant paintings may thus, easily participate in the code of the virtual and simulated universal- the current logic of the image world while representing the autochthonous subject. Binoy is not unaware of these double possibilities; in his earlier practices, one does see him entering into the recycle economy of mechanical copies, wherein the local and the global share a flat plane. But, here his images come to cohabit the double ness in a different mould, that of rapport and distances. The images live out this contrary pull productively.

Selective Viewing

The use of photography in the documentation of ethnic variety, habitations and habits, as cultural curiosities is not new. Ethnographers used them profusely and regularly. Their documents from field work provided records of encounters with ethnic others- minor or tribal cultures that were the centre of ethnographic interest. In these photos, the points of view- the bone of contention were supported by several monitoring and charting devices and props of common ethnographic use. This formed quite a murky and entangled poise for ethnography, in the general distribution of visual and aural cultures. Current ethnographical practices have grown more reflexive.

A self-aware ethnography often works in tandem with artists; the collaboration produces a surrealist account of an encounter with other cultures. This flexible ethnography prefers a certain kind of two way traffic between the viewer and the viewed. In this mode of documentation there are possibilities of rapport between the subject and objects of interest, making the action participatory or, even celebrative.

Binoy’s entry point can be charted on the self aware and flexible and prospectively participatory documents, the documents which live with the mimetic cycle of children (mostly) from the majority of the Indian population- who live in the villages or suburban India. A large proportion of this population is constantly evicted from its lands to pave way for the newly emerging metropolitan locations; the developmental economy and urban populace forgetting about this group even when it comprises the workforce responsible for the buildings.

Binoy has travelled to many villages in many parts of India, by himself as well as with NGOs, where he has found his encounters with the world outside the mid-section of the society, not only thrilling, but an eye-opener. For among the teeming hundreds of anonymous villagers and suburban dwellers, he has been able to detect a different logic for survival, another system of life beyond the formal organization of his familiar society.

Among these encounters, Binoy found his interaction with the children from the marginal societies, most attractive; the most common and universally tempting parameter still binding them, being their innocence. This perhaps, is part of the reason why he floods his canvases with an atmosphere of joy and celebration.

The faces peeping out of the territory of his frames are rarely adults; children, mostly within their teens- some just toddlers, pose, expose, gesticulate, group together… as they smile out at him/ us.  We identify them as minors, as Binoy clearly does in more than one sense. His positions are clear with respect to the current congregation of images-

‘Now the nation is on the move towards the global village and globalization, and we too are moving towards urbanization in every phase of our life, our cities are turning into concrete jungles without any logic or any aesthetics, making multistory buildings everywhere. The powerful bodies in the state joined hand to evacuate common man from their land and livelihood. The rural people are helpless and the live examples are Singur, Nandigram and other parts of our country. The people are moving from villages to the cities for their daily living. The city has to accommodate these people; nobody wants to acknowledge that these displaced people are very much needed for the development of the society. The urban population thinks these labour forces from the rural areas are burden to the ever growing population of the metropolitan cities. In fact these are the people who make the cities into developed metropolitan cities’.

[ Binoy Varghese, statement regarding Multistory/ stories, Oct, 2008] 

Hence, the smiling faces that belong to the generic order discussed earlier (the ethnic minority) are not indicative- they are not guarantee for their social meaning, which may communicate another order of reality that would necessitate some manoeuvre on the part of the artist.

The Manoeuvre

The works presented in this exhibition are of course a result of the reconciled thinking of Binoy who relentlessly collects documents and engages with the possibilities of addressing the question of absence. His works thus form a ploy of joyful resurfacing of the un- represented, or the under-represented people from the visual world- newspaper magazines, paintings.

He, I suppose would treat all modes of communication -television, newspaper, in the similar manner before the contents regroup in paintings.

Also, along with the formal and ideational engagements, come his interest in reading – one book in particular that he might have enjoyed reading and learnt from is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. As Roy unravels a part of her autobiographical and memorial experience via the third person narration, Binoy figures out a way of selective engagement with documents as a ploy for a possible subjective projection. This is his scheme for infusing the play of feelings in paintings, which otherwise seem fairly distanced, and by choice of language, somewhat depersonalized.

As a result, the works undergo changes. There are situational variations in the way boys and girls pose, in the way they smile or shy away from smiling. There is bound to be both variation and repetition in the moments that photos originally captured, but Binoy brings them back to attention- a special and intense and affective attention for the viewers.

He thus manoeuvres the images. The images are more intense than one’s eye is accustomed to. The world is generated from the models and is a simulation. Hence, Binoy’s images transcend the order of the presence that a photograph demands.

They are grafted images; an image of flower beds might form the background, then the smiling faces grafted upon it.. Finally, the highlights and distribution of brightness would be manoeuvred to bring everything forth to a surface dance of rhythm and intensities, on the canvas. These works of the artist swing between the brightnesses and intensities as a metaphoric grid from where the images get their dynamism.

Binoy creates variations from within the elements that are formative to his image structures. He intensifies via the positioning of the figures, the modes of stenciling and the intensities.  This happens by means of his choosing an area of a source photograph and then blowing it up. The little moments then don’t get lost; they take on a certain intensity, in their movements, or stasis- as the device of close up does to the photograph.

One of the paintings in this suite of work depicts a classroom full of girls. The eyes are mostly fixed in what is obviously the direction of the teaching; though in some cases the eyes wander away to look outward, towards you. The contact is established. Your eyes veer around the surface of this contact to be able to probe deeper, but are stopped. For, there is not much of a depth to probe. The surface is a skin. This is the illusion, the trap of a language via which a reasonable argument can proceed. The double trap- for the viewer, as well as for the subject-matter like the little girls, is established. The signal is sent forth via the manoeuvre of elemental and formal properties, which is the process of intensification.

Binoy is interested in music- hence a certain grasp over rhythm is expected of him; his technique is that of an editor, intensifying, going close and cutting a frame by frame scenario of a slow moving terrain- the all-smiles youngsters of the future India, by a gesture rescuing them from their state of de-recognition and bringing them to a state of presence.

He possibly tries a countermove to what media theorists like Baudrillard announced- in the context of media as an end of the subject; If there is no subject behind the image, retrieval of meaning becomes impossible.

There will have to be a forced oblivion in the process of mediatic message transmission. The process of oblivion can be violent, hence the process of creation of presence, as if by a reverse engineering can be equally violent. The intensification of the images, the high degree of saturation of colour and the differential scale- all such image manoeuvres Binoy resorts to are part of the language game of Art making and communication exercise, that passionately links him to his concerns.

In certain images where the boys and girls group together, there are possibilities of performances, unorganized performance of the kids unaccustomed to organized performative tactics. The gestures, the bodies, the gazes are all scattered, and what brings them close to us are the parallels, through the projected lush nature. Nature- flowers and vegetation and the children (seen as part of it) have a relative space to cohabit. In some of these works we see nature (as vegetation) getting charged up, sometimes brought forward, treated differently, given a different scale and colour and by the intensities and saturation used, is allowed to override the human content. In another painting, Binoy sandwiches the figures onto a flattened flowerbed, so that they share the same plane as the ground.

By manipulating the  visible components, Binoy accentuates certain details and foregrounds them. The result often verges on the surrealistic, the mismatch and the attempt towards the matching of different scales or, a prospective comparison of the naturalness/ innocence and shared experience in a country like India is often grounded, hence creating a visionscape, close to the absurd. The images are often more loaded than expected, with prospects of meanings; often more intensely suggestive in terms of their social content, despite being close to the genres available in practices of our time.

Binoy’s image world lives with the possibilities of future understanding and hence is often distanded from the present time, it lives in a different time zone crossing paths with those of the viewers. 

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