Monday, July 14, 2014

Persistence of Memory IV: the prefix "Re"

Honore Daumier
The prefix 're' started occurring vigorously in the post-structuralism phase. It was a landmark event when Derrida started breaking representation as 're'-presentation. George Luis Borges's comment like everything has been said and done already, nothing is new, what we can do now is to repeat only, - remained essential in many ways. In last two decades, thus, all the studies became re-visits, re-interpretations, re-examinings. Now-a-day thinkers re-think, onlookers re-look, and thus takers re-take.

Copying the great artists were a popular tradition ever in every traditions. The new generations learnt things by copying the early generation works. Not very consciously, but in performance art practices also it used to happen in certain ways. Here is an anecdote.
Taufik and Rahul in 'measuring with stretched bodies'

Syed Taufik Riaz, the Kolkata born Performace art practitiobner was doing some performance where he measures distance with his body lying on the ground. It was a practice taken from a popular Hindu ritual known as parikrama. In Mathura- Vrindavan area there are certain pathways around the holly hill of Govardhana where people make a circumambulatory journey measuring the path with bodies. However in a certain evidence where Taufik was practicing, Rahul Bhattacharya, writer and critic who developed interest in performative works lately also joined Taufik in the act. The act of Taufik was a silent and individualistic one. Taufik usually do not do public events such as: he does not call people to be 'audience', he does not go for public announcements. Then Rahul told me in a personal conversation that, "I was trying to experience what Taufik was having during the act. It could be seen as students of art copying great artists or established works to learn the process or to get the experience. If in painting or sculpture we learn from copying, then why not in performance?"

But in performance the method of learning through 'copying' may not work in the way it worked in other mediumistic practices. The philosophical traditions may have explored it, the representational arts may have done it. In music, singers and composers get established by copying the popular and established traditions. But in performance art, the genre what we know by the term, stands so isolated from any sort of obligations or boundaries that 'copying' and 'conventionalizing' or 'traditinalizing' were not welcome. At the same time the practices claimed some novelty or uniqueness, but used some pre-practiced act-based norms in the past. Thus paradoxically, some elements remained obvious and predictable even after the radical and extraordinariness. For example, appearing nude (after Marina Abramović, Vanessa Beecroft Carolee Schneemann?); making the body of the 'self' vulnerable (after works like "Rhythm 0" by Abramovic?); cutting cloths on a living body (after Yoko Ono?); allowing the public to scribble on the body of the performer (after Piero Manzoni?), stretching the body (after Dennis Oppenheim?), hurting the body of the self and taking risk (after Chris Burden?), use of vegetables and food; displaying of private body parts; reading a piece of writing at certain created circumstance (after Carolee Schneemann?); having costumed visual imagery and getting photographed in certain locations (after Rebecca Horn?), frequent re-occurrence of blood, urine and excreta; use of menstrual blood; or masturbating in performance (after Vito Acconci?) and so on.

Now why did I state that copying might not work good in 'performance art'? For that we shall come to another blog in coming days.

In Indian History of Art, learning through copying got a new phenomena in the Santiniketan school under the guidance of Acharya Nandalal Bose what Parvez Kabir proposed to say as 'The Nandalal Program'[1].

In his paper "Copies before Originals: Notes on a few Black House reliefs at Santiniketan", Kabir examines the strategies and functions behind the 'copy' works inscribed on the surface of the 'Black House' in a nuanced way. He comes to a conclusion, "The question of essence here, paradoxically then, is a modernist question all the way. For Nandalal and his people, the Black house reliefs were not schemas which they turned into appearances. They were rather the opposite; appearances of life-forms which were abstracted and synthesized into the universal schemas of form-making. The road of revelation was from image to form; from object to practice, and not the other way around. Seen in this light, the reliefs, as copies, indeed appear very modern in character. They seem to work as facilitators between modernist form-making and ancient objects of art, and one is even tempted to say that they don’t follow the originals, but precede them in a way. After all, it is only through their discursive mediation do we see the originals as formal constructions".

"Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" (original Spanish title: "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote") is a short story written in the form of a review or literary critical piece about Pierre Menard, a fictional 20th-century French writer by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. It begins with a brief introduction and a listing of Menard's work. Borges' "review" describes Menard's efforts to go beyond a mere "translation" of Don Quixote by immersing himself so thoroughly in the work as to be able to actually "re-create" it, line for line, in the original 17th-century Spanish. Thus, Pierre Menard is often used to raise questions and discussion about the nature of authorship, appropriation and interpretation.

George Luis Borges

"Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" is a form of literary criticism but through the medium of fantasy, irony, and humor. His narrator/reviewer considers Menard's fragmentary Quixote (which is line-for-line identical to the original) to be much richer in allusion than Cervantes's "original" work because Menard's must be considered in light of world events since 1602.

What happens if a writer re-writes a work of fiction by another writer 'as-it-is' or 'as-it-was', without changing anything of it? Is a copy only comprehensible only in the light of the original? How to read an original, and moreover, is it ever possible to trace the 'originality' of the original (so called)?

'Lady under moonlight' after Raja Ravi verma

When Pushpamala N copies Ravi Verma or Sher-Gil or any other pre-existent 'work of art', though we see it as a 're-interpretation', though we try to find out some 'subjective' presence of the 'present' artist, it is true that Pushpamala tries her best to 'justify' the original remaining 'truthful' as-much-as possible to the 'original' regarding the composition, colors, lights/lightings, expressions, bodily resemblance and so on. She never had any deliberate attempt to introduce or implement any visual element, which could be subjective and contemporary intervention, from her time. She tried to behave like the women in early twentieth Century woman, as it were portrayed already out there with much sincerity.
The impressions Project (Sunday Afternoon)

Bringing the River to the Festival
Noteworthy that in many contemporary pop-ish art practices it is available to see the contemporary elements juxtaposed into a pre-given set-up. Most recently critic and writer terned to performative practitioner Rahul Bhattacharya has been developing a series of 'copy' or 're-take' works. His 'The impressions Project (Sunday Afternoon)', a performative video based on Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, tries to resemble the composition of Seurat, but the elements are taken from the contemporary everyday life of Kolkata[2] a city in Indian state of West Bengal.  Earlier to that, a collaborative single channel video loop 'Bringing the River to the Festival', with Chinmoyi Patel, 're enacting' 'Luncheon on the Grass' was a site specific work[3]. It also imitates Édouard Manet only in the composition and the placement of characters against the backdrop-landscape, but the elements were essentially from the contemporary Surat (a city in Indian state of Gujarat).

"Reproducing an image is of course not only a question of re-presenting it physically", as Susie Tharu says in the 'Philosophy of Copy' section in her piece "This is not an inventory: Norm and performance in everyday femininity". Tharu says, " A major proposal made here is that far from being the derivative and mindless job that it is usually made out to be, copying or reproduction throws up unprecedented material and conceptual challenges."[4]

"... When the artists cite/perform a film still or an ethnographic record, they are citing the composition as well as its histories—as a whole as well as in parts. There is no guarantee that whole and part, or different parts, will travel together, or at the same pace, into the present day performance. In fact the only guarantee is the opposite: that however stern and demanding the copy, like the famous stick in the river, the image is necessarily changed in/by the citation."[5]

"While the formal task that is addressed here is imitation/reproduction, the success of'Native Women is in the attention it focuses on the terrain of difference.

Pushpamala herself draws our attention to this play of difference, even in the restrained citations that comprise the Native Types, using her larger-than-normal-Indian-woman body size as example of the
impossibility of the perfect copy and the possibilities opened up in that impossibility. Is it her body that is ill proportioned (a quintessentially contemporary response to the mirror image, the response perhaps that drives fashion, consumption and capital globally)? Or does the lack of fit open out onto time itself
and change, the tenuous materiality of the image, dependent on citation for its life. Does it point to the everyday labor of history that is the human predicament, to the sustaining presence of community and pull of virtue, to the logic of power that must wrestle continuously with the possibility of revolution, and the converse, the possibility of revolution if we are able to continuously wrestle with the logic of power? Is the force of agency to be understood, not as a voluntarist act, but in the possibilities offered by such citational practice?

The contrast between the dynamic of citation, reiteration, recreation, that is being explored here, and the questions raised by the aesthetic of expression/creation, is evident. The idea of the copy shifts the focus of interest from nature/ reality and creation (physical nature; the aesthetic impulse) to culture—an inheritance of shared meanings, their histories and politics. The questions that arise in this domain are of symbolic intelligibility, communication, dialogue, translation, travel. Attention shifts from reality to the image, to the virtual form of the real, to political histories of image making, the logic of image formation, dissemination, travel; from identity to the practices of identification and regulation, their role in the configuration and maintenance of power/domination; from a notion of performance as agentive, or as a never adequate representation of an ideal script, to the sense of performance as originary, and to the constituting and de-constituting possibilities of citation. The focus now is less on the image-objects themselves, and more on the process of their making, their formation and institutional location,
their relations with other images."[6]

The mediumistic shift that Pushpamala explored was doubly troubled and risk taking. Unlike other copy or re-creation works it did not undergo the troubles of one another medium troubles. It is not that she simply turned a oil painting to an photograph, or a moving picture into a stilled one. To encapture a lady from Raja Ravi Verma's oil or oleograph in a photographic medium, she had to enact it first under certain spatial artifice. The drapery, the chiaroscuro, the grounding of objects - all material elements had to be placed in real three dimensional space before capturing and printing on a two dimensional surface. Thus the labor of the recreation had undergone pains of realizing and exploring material qualities at multiple levels. This labor and pain remained the most essential aspects that the performance practitioners and actors loved to endure ever in the history.

[to be continued...]

[1] Parvez Kabir, "Copies before Originals: Notes on a few Black House reliefs at Santiniketan".

[2] Screened at Studio 21, Kolkata on 30th June, 2014, 'The impressions Project (Sunday Afternoon)', a performative video based on Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

[3] Done for "Scapes : City / Land" , taking place as a part of Tapi Utsav
[4] Susie Tharu, "This is not an inventory: Norm and performance in everyday femininity", Native women of South India : manners and customs/ Pushpamala, N; Clare Arni; Bangalore: Indian Foundation for The Arts, 2004.

[5] Susie Tharu, "This is not an inventory: Norm and performance in everyday femininity", Native women of South India : manners and customs/ Pushpamala, N; Clare Arni; Bangalore: Indian Foundation for The Arts, 2004.
[6] Susie Tharu, "This is not an inventory: Norm and performance in everyday femininity", Native women of South India : manners and customs/ Pushpamala, N; Clare Arni; Bangalore: Indian Foundation for The Arts, 2004.

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