Deccan Herald, Sunday, September 7, 2003


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Un-art by Un-artists

How many artists dance when they dance? How many singers sing when they sing? How many artists create when they create? How many people live when they live? wonders Tarun Cherian as he ponders over the power and creativity of art

It can get to you. Signatures masquerading as artists. One original spark rehashed a million times in the name of coherence. Mannered prettiness being feted. And you turn and ask yourself, “Is this it? Is this art?” The answer to this question – and it is one that confronts every true artist and aesthete – came to me not at a gallery, not from an artist, but from out there – next to the kachara dabba.

What was it about the two that caught my attention? The fact that they, In their mid 30’s, were rather old for rag pickers? Or that they were invading a principally middle-class neighbourhood? That I suspected they were planning to chase the dragon? That they were so ragged and dead beat to be almost sinister. That their souls stained, warped by years of scrounging for scraps. 
Since our dog, Buffy, ambles rather than walks I had time and enough for the sideshows of life and the cover to stop observe and follow them.

One of them reached down and started scrounging around in the garbage heap. He found a bottle. It wasn’t right and was discarded. They looked around picked another and it was perfect. Then he reached down scrimmaged a little and found a pink used condom and popped it over the bottle. And wham the electricity happened! An icon of extraordinary and searing power had been formed. For it was a mocking, perverted feeding bottle – and yet one of soul searching depth. For its power is the power of a dark primeval goddess, gathering to itself the hurt, the abandoned, the wounded, the discarded and from their pain forming a thunderstorm of raw truth, a milk of nurturing grace.

They were ecstatic over it. Giggling, chuckling. For the next 15 minutes, pondering over whether to blow smoke into it. Still ambling behind, with dog in tow, I was voyeur to an art event ferocious with pesticides of meaning. For this piece humbles Duchamp. Makes Joel Peter Witkins work seem prettiness. Makes Joseph Beuy’s work in safe gallery enclaves seem safe and timid. Shows up the Viennese blood artists work as forced cleverness.

They were not artists. They had no gallery. They could afford no art material. They had no audience. Or didn’t know they had one of one plus uninterested dog. They had no sponsors. No art promoters. No connoisseurs. No PR help. But they do have something that is in each of us, the power of the creator, the power to create a space that invites a god in – no matter how ragged. And they didn’t just have this power, but used it with such power that art could aspire to it.

To me this encounter is deeply humbling for it reminds me that one has no excuses. No excuses not to reach into the heart of things. No excuse to let oneself be turned into the gilded lapdog of the in crowd. No excuse to let the boa constricting coils of a system crush one. No excuse not to reach for the incandescent truth of life. 

Now as I discuss this event with friends there are largely two reactions to the event. One characterised by the reaction of an art follower. “Thank you for telling me about it” she said “ For it offers hope that the genuine exists”. The possibility that humas may wish to reach for the hem of meaning. The other mildly put by nutritionist, mystic and aesthete Usha Abraham – “but is it not dark? Should art not uplift?” The answer I gave her was that this iconic creation had a genuineness that few pieces of art possess. Second it had the power to reach deep within, feeding the darker portion’s of one’s being almost through anti-dotive action the way a ‘Waiting for Godot’ does. Through its nipple darkness it nourishes. If one can knock the deadbeat’s bottle as dark, equally can one condemn Handel’s ‘Messiah’ of being heavy & sad. 

Besides because it is often pretty, one often misses how dangerous mediocre art is. How its plasticity suffocates and strangles. A related flavour of this argument was raised by Yusuf Arakkal in The Indian Express. He referred to an art performance where an artist masturbated in front of an audience/ street corner. Is any excess that disturbs art? A valid point. But here the performers weren’t playing to a gallery. Also by reverse for any artist who has been working for awhile much of the work or technique is mere mechanicity. Yusuf Arakkal’s own recent exhibition of homage to world art by that same measure can be accused of precisely that – self referential vapidity.

The issue is that beyond the pull of either mere technique, that artists gifted visually can be trapped by, or the forced excess that many performance artists can fall into (and these are both crimes I accuse myself of) is the possibility of something so genuine one is awed by it.

How many artists dance when they dance? How many singers sing when they sing? How many artists create when they create? How many people live when they live? 
It is a beautiful and magnificently apt thing that two deadbeat bums should remind one that there is a wonderfully electrifying intensity art and life can touch. And if one can’t afford a canvas there always is the kachara dabba.

SUNDAY HERALD

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