Artists

One is, of course, historically, indebted to and dependent upon European thought, as it is indispensable in helping us to think through the experiences of political modernity in non-Western nations. However, it remains inadequate as a model for systems which remain completely out of its reach. Instead of taking historical time as integral, the social historian Dipesh Chakrabarty suggests plural, normative horizons, specific to the existence of postcolonial nations: It is that insofar as the academic discourse of history - that is, 'history' as a discourse produced at the institutional site of t. university - is concerned, 'Euro.' remains t. sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories, including the ones we call 'Chinese', 'Kenyan', and so on There is a peculiar way in which these other histories tend to become variations on a master narrative that could caIled ‘the history of Europe. [1]

The one-way traffic Chakrabarly describes is also visible in the current push to extend constituents and communities, a movement accompanied by other experimental activities within the European Union. Where there were once welcoming arms, albeit for the purpose of economic expansion and audits, there now remains an intact hostility when it comes to revisions of history (ies). The suggestions of an open-ended archive - which could upload layers of meaning away from the binary that has so often created a cultural ambience rather than an international construct of culture - remain unwelcome and face ideological opposition within the postglobal discordance of the new millennium. The eulogies are evident in the bounded economic and immigration policies which affect porosity and the worlding of the delivery of the postcolonial within the European and North American frame.

In the late twentieth-century cultural studies sector, which often reflects upon issues heralded as culturally important, and which acts upon cultural or historical violence, these often entangled and oppositional constitutes were regarded as the "Said phenomenon". This tagging emerged out of reactions to the scholarly critique by the Palestinian/American Edward W. Said, and particularly his noble work Orientalism (1979) [2].The "Said phenomenon” reveals an embroiled and bitter series of much-published correspondence that often leads to heated debates over the study of literary or cultural history through textual, and often schizophrenic, references.

Similarly, the publication of the Black Atlantic, Modernity and Double Consciousness[3], by the sociologist Paul Gilroy in 1993, opened up a new dimension in a shared global history by fostering a desire to uncover and unravel previously redundant texts, conference papers and lyrics, which had provided the author with the basis for liberating a set of opinionated and often fossilised positions. Perhaps the Black Atlantic and, to some degree, Orientalism, now provide the bookends for what we “postcolonial studies”, and have helped to formulate many of the theoretical standpoints of the latter. Burgeoning in their wake has been a series of interpretations, methodologies and even academic departments, which are dedicated to these fields of study and which allow us to question the authority of centuries of unsettled questions.

Importantly, it has been argued that these duelling treatises have made the memory of the "Orient' and the Atlantic a central and appropriately humanised issue, by allowing the reader to rethink ideas and to address the issue of representation within a critical framework. These initial introductions helped to link memory to aspects of geography and culture. As such, the impact of the publications, alongside key works by authors, poets, performers, filmmakers and visual artists, has helped the process of historicising regions and localities and of making global notions of identity and cultural heritage an internationally important issue.

As such we remain indebted to the phenomenal rise of postcolonial thinking processes which started in the seventies within cultural studies and have since broadened the outlook of the field for us, allowing us to comprehend more fully both globalisation and post-globalisation.

If one returns to the research premise and the methodology of the Black Atlantic example then one has to ask the relevant question: How does our coming to terms with contemporary culture, which includes visual theses as well as performative and literary miscellany, provide insights into that historical lineage on which we still draw for many of the premises and practices that underpin our ongoing activity? What is the contemporary role and function of art as a producer of knowledge and as a cultural entity, and does culture entity, and does current cartographical mapping?

The obligatory response from within the contemporary fold is highlighted by the art historian Geeta Kapur who makes the following nuanced observations:

The Contemporary world art presents itself as a volatile phenomenon that can nevertheless be comprehended. It poses itself in many different ways: as a mass of fragments, as new universals, as barely differentiated images and objects in the gargantuan consumption mechanism of global capital. How do we make sense of these developments: as anti-hegemonic politics, as an expository ground for resurgent identities, as an index of democratisation, as a spectral triumph, as a fresh franchise on creativity? [4]

Our ability to produce mewing through the formal invention of the arts has often been described in terms of a literary or artistic invention transforming the power of lived experience into symbolic form. We have of course been transfixed by artistic invention and meaning since time immemorial, as advertently highlighted by the work of the Surrealists in post-war Europe. [5] But, as art historian Stanley Abe warns us, the distinct twists and practices of reading the symbolic can lead to the construction of meanings and the framing of propositions that we have teamed to call history. Abe talks about the European invention of Buddhism, a concept that came into being to make sense of religious practices in Asia. He helps to chart the changing attitudes towards Buddhist art, which was initially looked upon as mere ethnographic evidence. He helps to uncover the fallacies of Western-style aestheticism, which claims to be non-imperialistic, but in fact just "brackets" colonial practices instead of leaving them behind.

Art historian Irit Rogoff suggests that by closely examining the emerging configurations of postmodernity, we are at a place which we call "what it is, that we do". Locating ourselves within "what it is, that we do" provides us with the crucial means to attention to the apparently seamless and "natural" condition of our existence. This awareness of our conditionprovidesmuch-need.insight and a powerfully critical reflexive self-consciousness, which together allow for the uncommodified criticism of history, and belief, which can, in turn, work towards resistance. The struggle continues on a day-to-day basis, outside the official discourses of the nationalist and institutional frames, in what Franz Fanon has called the conscious knowledge and the practice of action.

The artist Shilpa Gupta created Untitled (2005-06) an interactive installation with touchscreens that help us to further understand both the process and the inherent possibilities of representation and resistance.

Click through the shifting landscape, the road route between Srinagar to Gulmurgh - small towns appear, dissolve into villages which open into fields or sometimes just a few huts. The Kashmiri landscape is extremely beautiful - the chinar trees, herds grazing, people at work and sometimes resting on charpoys by the National Highway. Locate, though comparatively miniscule scale to the endless panorama, armed military guards, which stud it at regular intervals, continuing to stir a strange sense of uncertainty. [6]

The Untitled (2005-06) installation forms an intense realisation of the most mundane and pedestrian journey, which not only shapes the visible memories of an individual and a journey but also creates an immense library cataloguing the militaristic history of decades of the independence struggle by Kashmiris in India. The artist thus enables the audience, beset by their present anxieties about India and Pakistan, to enter a series of consciously founded and designed spaces in which to contemplate their cultural memory in the form of symbolic arrested moments where the preserve of land become the guarded enclaves of struggle, occupation and colonial legacy. The carefully considered localised references in the accompanying conversation are lost to an international audience whose grasp of Hindi is absent. This particular aspect of the work not only brings national meaning to an aspect of Indian, Kashmiri and Pakistani identity, but also begins the process of revealing the hidden spectres of life within the subcontinent, towards an eventual transnationalisation of collective memory. Here the discourses of space - Third Spaces, heterotopias, demarcation lines - become constructs that give birth to transgeography, transnationality and translinguality. Untitled (2005-06) acts as an accumulative microcosm that posits difficult 'local views', rather than presenting these difficulties of translation as merely beguiling theoretical constructs that are taken for granted and further reduced to academic propositions.

Doubling Democracy Through Culture

The artist, Shilpa Gupta, tackles these issues from the artists' points of view, proposing to position works and theses that articulate 'what it is, that we do'. Contesting purely theoretical formulas, the intention is to present a group of selected visual, video and sculptural works that reveal complex cultural identities, artistic heritages, and political orientations in contemporary art, all of which help us to evaluate and extend our knowledge and framing of contemporary India. As such, its goals lie in 'de-flattening' the presentation and interpretation of international art by developing a new regional approach: one that is governed by emphasising the individuality both of historical fact in relation to the imagination, and of regional negotiations based on concrete contact rather than secondary examination, so as to reflect reality rather than anthropology.

The artworks and the artists assist us in grappling with the complexities of the present through lived knowledge and partially interpreted traces of geography within the frame of historicity. Instead of defining India in terms of static political geography or cultural/ethnic identity, the circuit of positions allows us to approach it from an artist's point of view - as a place both real and imaginary, and as a collection of diverse cultural and aesthetic traditions.

Thus the diversity of experiences - dependent on an infinite array of historical alignments within the spectrum of the contemporary, perambulatory conditions that are making Asia contemporary - provide infinite spaces for re-evaluating the prototypes that have emerged in politics and the economy. The processes of post-war Asian modernisation arguably originated within the difficult passages of neo-colonialism and state-capitalism, where political traces of post-war heterogeneity have left a radical space for multiple remodellings.

Such works as Security Guards and There is No Explosives in This, she creates a hallucinatory picture of resistance by building an aggregate image of urbanity: a condition set up in opposition to devolved innocent pictures of progress and growth. In reducing and postponing assimilation into the hub of the city sprawl, the artist draws on polarised intervention. A modification of reality takes place: a failed translation that questions public space and public security. The value of these images comes from stopping and standing beside, and choosing not to be overlooked by disarray or time itself. The repetition of these as conglomerate images in different parts of the cities further emphasise the previously held expectations of the viewer and, like many other artists, Shilpa Gupta is interested in exposing homogeneous behaviour: what it is, what it can do, and what it allows others to be. Is she suggesting a re-examination of the current contemporary climate of fear and terrorism or how we view urban decay and history or is she further exposing the globe as a summative environment in which progress is measured by decay and regeneration rather than by the unknown territory of the individual, flight?

Viewing even a selected work from Gupta's oeuvre demonstrates that contemporary art and thought, both from and about India, are neither confined to a single geographical sphere nor defined by the artist's religion or gender. Her thinking suggests a derivation of ideas and visual vocabulary from an interest in art, religion, lifestyle and philosophy that has its intellectual base in India. This new confidence - which hosts a thickened global archive within the contemporary - radically departs from the occupation of a single Eurocentric space and gets to grips with the partial knowledge of numerous histories.

This regional remapping advocates the porosity of political, philosophical, linguistic and religious boundaries; a porosity that distinctively undermines the prefectures built as Western nationalism that serviced modernity's quest for complete paternal knowledge and control. Especially evident in the works Blame and Don't See, Don't Hear, Don't Speak which interrogate the privileged images which have remained part of postmodernism, materialisation within economic context andarraign,these worksclarify rather the postcolonial articulations of order, translation and interpretation.

Touching, sliding discussions

Sociologist Ashish Nandy has often talked of the potential for the closer scrutiny of societal arrangements which reveal not only hostilities but also paradoxical pragmatisms measurable in human terms rather than sociologically or politically In a discussion recently, he highlighted one such arrangement that had been used as an insurance mechanism to allay anxieties, recalling the practice of visiting more than one Indian sacred space (temple, mosque and church) to ask for supernatural guidance and assurance. This observation invites us to question the tightly-held premise that identity is constructed out of a singular affiliation. The formation of identities in specific cases - including the State of Punjab and Kashmir, which owe their existence to the colonial divisions of lands - leads to supranational identities in the creation and enforcement of nation state identities (India and Pakistan).

The understanding reached by many cultural producers including Gupta, as they facilitate an increment in dialogue, has helped to formulate a theory that comes out of understanding the nature of conflict and even its management. At other times the resistance of assimilation has helped to evolve a realistic philosophical stance that has helped even when culture is viewed as a secondary substratum to be negotiated: that is, the view that the production of culture is amateurish, a luxury or a drain on limited societal resources. In some extreme cases, culture is viewed by the authorities as both a criminal and a dangerous entity, to be curtailed and controlled by institutional legitimation.

To manage production and circumvent official worries, Asian cultural entrepreneurs have learned routes by which to manage culture and cultural producers.

From Ground Zero to the Petronas Towers - forming a global canon.

These subtle structural changes, as exemplified above, introduce the need to comprehend turns that affect the translatability of cultures on the move.

The term used in cultural studies to refer to this process - the "Translational Turn" [7] - refers to the necessity of translating cultural processes due to the decomposition of the old dichotomies (identity-alterity, inside-outside, coloniser-colonised, East-West). The encounter of cultures, inter-religious relationships and conflicts within (or strategies for) the integration of diversified cultural systems nowadays ask for a new approach towards negotiating cultural systems and processes. In a way, this turn helps to negotiate the manner in which the figures conducting the translation - the translator, the artist, the curator, the philosopher or the collector - have become central to the process of organising for the public, within the "programme attitude" so prevalent in contemporary cultural economies.

Today, the movement of people around the globe can be seen to mirror the very process of translation itself, for translation is not just the transfer of texts from one language into another, it is now rightly seen as a process of negotiation between texts and between cultures, a process during which all kinds of transactions take place mediated by the figure of the translator [8]. More recent works that employ texts or words by Gupta, including greeddesires, memory, blindstars and Lines can be read as a vibrant symbol for national enterprise, used explicitly to talk about motives including greed and “progress”, the symbolic use of images without a picture indicative of a flight without real purpose or soul. The strategic use of texts as images are not merely remarks but explains many aspects of the artist, working methods and contextual arrangements. As Bartosz Bolechow said “America does the cooking, Europe does the washing, up.” [9] So in Gupta's work it questions what does Asia do?

It is in the fact of potential translation, as in so much of Gupta, work that every act of liberation opens up new relations of power, which in turn bear the inherent danger of domination. Liberation has to be maintained: that is, the reinstated mobility of power relations has to be controlled by what Foucault calls "practices of liberty” [10].

These concerns are visually made comprehensive in the text work where two words circle each other - blindstars, starsblind or greeddesires, desiresgreed to form routing between their individual meanings into a distinct fabrication that presents itself within the Indian urban contexts in order to talk about assets, people and design. These ambitions that fuel desires from the shanty towns of Indian cities to the fables of Bollywood are presented as a mantra of wishes and aspirations which provide a notion of the future and communal longing in the yearning to dismantle the structures of poverty and hunger. These wordscapes that allow an understanding of the mass ambitions that bind public spaces besides roads, parks and railway lines are dramatically reconstructed as meandering circles in Gupta, work. The clash of the two words brings together multiple terms of the economic condition of the Indian metropolis - the need to survive and the momentum needed to better oneself that furnishes and fuels the thriving economic boom through the exploitative Indian cheap labour market which has always provided the sound basis for growth arid which is now also the basis of the resources for building work in the Middle East.

Gupta, work permits the viewer and the reader to access converging points which are seemingly unconnected but which allow for an understanding of historiographical debates through perspectives rooted in geographies, economic resurgence to cultural memories. As a theoretical construct and as an approach, her work can create a further understanding of one's own space and place, and a means by which one is able to articulate the drive towards a liberating reality as part of an international history. This is vitally important for survival in the receding environment of postcolonial subjectivity and geography, as pointed out in the initial paragraphs of this essay. The liberation from centred perspectives, be they the battered concepts of Eurocentrism or the shifts in gendered power relations, can also help us to think tangentially in terms of Modernism as an interdependent international experience.

Notes

[1] Edward Said, Orientalism, Vintage Books, New York 1979

[2] Ibid

[3] Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double consciousness, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1993

[4] Geeta Kapur, unpublished text for the conference on the Delhi Biennale, 2007

[5] Franklin Rosemont describes the experimentation with sleep, sleeplessness and dreams by the Surrealists as follows: "Surrealism aims to reduce, andultimately toresolve, thecontradictions between sleeping and waking, dream and action, reason and madness, the conscious and the unconscious, the individual and the society, the subjective and the object.. It aims for free imagination from the mechanisms of psychic and social repression, so that the inspiration and exaltation heretofore regarded as the exclusive domain of poets and artists will be acknowledged as the common property of all." See Andre Breton and the First Principles of Surrealism, Pluto Press, London 1978, P. 1.

[6] Shilpa Gupta, URL: .

[7] This shift in paradigms points towards the idea of culture as translation, overcoming the notion of culture as text. Drawing away from the concept of translation as mere linguistic transformation of one meaning articulated in several languages, the translational turn is regarded as a transformative process that neglects the existence of original and reproduction. For further information see Doris Bachmann-Medick, Cultural Turns: Neuorientierungen in den Kulturwissenschaften, Reinbekbei Hamburg, Rowohft 2006.

[8] Susan Bassnett, Translation Studies, Root/edge, London/New York 2002, p. 5.

[9] Bartosz Bolechow, The Polish Foreign Affairs Digest, Issue no.4 (17)/2005, Published by Polski Instytut Spraw Mi dzynarodowych

[10] Amongst the forces that affect us, eases exert a transformative power Foucault returns to Greco-Roman antiquity to discover the self understood as individual agency characterized by autarchy and auto-affection. The "disempowering" forces that we resist, be they material, historical, economic or socio-political, are simultaneously the forces that power our ability to create ourselves differently This is what Foucault meant when he proposed that we should each summon the power to create our fife as a work of ad-to give it a different fonn from the one imposed upon us by external forces. What Foucault called an "aesthetics of existence" should therefore be understood as a practice of freedom.
From the exhibition catalogue published by 1X1 Gallery (2008).
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