First published in the catalogue for the solo exhibition TRACT at Nature Morte, New Delhi, September 2010

Hesitancy and authorship do not always go together. Some artists/authors do try and match them though; the works then can become uneasy mixtures- forming a amorphous objects, living contradiction of sorts.

Arun’s works rely on the signatures of the visible, often inferred through an amalgamation of personal experience and information routing. The result could have been chaotic, but the chaos is stalled because of a few factors. One is the stunted deliberation on the status of the objects, wherein a plant’s growth is suggested and is left in its full grown state. Hence the status of the art works does deliberately address the issue of authorship via the status of works as works and not as texts.

Diary as Ecology

The author comes and vanishes according to the strength or weakness of the propositional presence of an (experiencing) subject.

Anybody who hails from Vidarbha and the dry and arid regions subjacent to it, knows about crop yield, irrigation, anxiety over pests etc. Arun recounts the familial story of tending cattle, working in the fields and withstanding the trauma of one square meal a day.

So, to a “Farmer’s son” the physically present soil and the equally present crop yields the size of the barn, the volume of the water flow or the swell of the yield would matter and would translate via their many integrated properties, some of which get noticed by the urban eye, while some get overlooked.

Arun as a subject-experiencer is slightly different from what Arun as an author would be, as he recounts life in the villages of central and north Karnataka wherein the production of maize is the only source of income for many farmers of the arid regions. He recounts how a lot of farmers only get to eat a single square meal a day. These stories are bizarre as far as ecology is concerned, but Arun- as a somewhat maverick author, tends to incorporate all the deliberate deviations. Thus the diary, an innocuous entity may turn into an ecological register because of its attachment to the experiential ‘nature’ as well as the artifice.

The Hunger Story

The story is forever contentious and forever growing. It has a possibility of taking on cultural layering which comes with comparing across cultures that may give us a certain kind of solace, a deceptive veneer of complacency. But, that is not the end.

That is where the story begins. Tales of development and tales of deception and exploitation continue to mark each other as mutually supportive political mythologies. Thus, hunger and related calamities continue in Andhra Pradesh, the dismal economic treatment meted out produce a negative effect in the aftermath of Green Revolution in Punjab.

The story of draught is a common tale amongst the Vidarbha, Telengana and Karnataka farmers as well as farmers elsewhere in India by now. It is so widespread today that we blame it on global warming forgetting the protracted and continuous difficulties that these farmers face at all times.

The descriptive economy, notwithstanding its expanse of meaning may produce a journalistic quick shrunk effect, but the respect of the experiential defers that proposed immediacy of grievous circumstances of the farmers and their statistical/numeric or general and quick descriptions.

This is prospectively a slowing down process, a realm of possibility with a prospect for sustenance- in agriculture, industry and developments. Daily living, for a farmer or a farmland worker demands a constant engagement with material facts and their patterns, it demands a sustained and sustainable participation.

The Food Story

The food story is just the other side of hunger story and may take on a spectacular visage. Tales of food are prospectively linked with bounty, with prosperity as in the festive celebrations all over India and South Asia.

It is marked as a tragedy if on some occasion that is meant for celebration, the bounty shrinks into a grim unbecoming situation- such as scarce production of food due to natural calamities.

Food offers an exotic surface to culture, by which cultures can be conspicuous by their presences. Food culture is thus both an entry point as well as an exotic veneer to any culture.

The absence of bounty in the realm of food is more often a private story, in the preserve of a family, until its width and depth and pervasiveness spreads out and encompasses the whole world. Thus families would withstand it until it becomes fully blown public question such as in case of a declared draught/ flood/ famine situation which generally drew media attention.

Arun hails from a family of farmers; hence each story of bounty or scarcity of food takes him down the memory and experience of living the anxiety related to food. In Delhi and NCR he hardly can exercise the demonstrative capacity of a farmer-artist, or a former farmer and now an artist… He still does make the apparently absurd but strategic attempt at demonstrating the rice production - rice and wheat in their different states of growth and maturity thus replace the table tops, the dinner becomes only a prospect. In the realm of food a static prospect is always already absurd.

The Transformation Story

The stories which relate to the questions of land are always laden in anxieties of the future unless they are pronouncedly promissory or mythic. Arun’s attempt at revving up his otherwise prospectively quite a grim story is to be slightly loose in terms of the dictates of the genre. Photographic image of a potato, which resembles a man’s face (actually, a joker’s mask), is funny and relational at the same time. There are different kinds of, often even critical, questions it may raise, while in itself being just funny.

The familiar stories of agriculture and state, the realms of their overlaps thus are points where a curious alienation effect seems to make an entry. For example, how the state as a governing body is empowered to think of land as its property and thus takes over the question of the community’s own regular practices as a streamlined practice of exchanges… Arun’s works at times latch on to the symbolism of the public realm as seen in the coins, the units of measure for the capital- that display a truncated plant of maize with its branch in bounty to advertise the (frail) power of money as capital that state advertises in its currencies. We can see the other side this practice in the fairly innocuous orientation of an Indian weighing machine which weighs us for our weight while indirectly refers to our food habits and our (conspicuous) consumption, not to mention its’ acting as a surrogate tarot.

The weighing machine made by Arun is partially a found object and partially a ‘combine’, joining many usual components together with selectively alienandfantasy-objects.Thesecombinesliveasa collage of ‘part objects’ of a nation state, which governs by emblems as tokens, filled with promissory signs from the agricultural field, making their appearances on many occasions in the public world of fragments and then as a derive in Arun’s works.

Most of the dining tables Arun picked up from the vintage furniture shops form the mere frame for the plants so far. The processed product hardly appears in many of the works of Arun, except for in case of the sugar mound.

The suger mound forms a sugar cast diorama resembling an ancient religious city such as Borobudur, or even the ‘alien’ cities shown in the Hollywood films. The suger mound is also to be attacked and salvaged by battalions of ants, but before that the fantasy city shows its future- the sugar provides us with the clues. It’s a play of irony all the way. The usual, low tech methods of making sugar mounds out of mould are deployed processually to bring out the effect of the impossible and the absurd.

We, or at least some of our viewers, who hail either from urban or land detached suburban circumstances tend to receive the agricultural products as packaged commodities. Many of the urban consumers may also be aware that the neatly packaged things sent to us as offering have some kind of production story behind them, a story of labour and patience without which even the saplings would not grow, let alone the raw material turn into a product.

There are many images, especially one recurrent motif of a growing and tender sapling, lone and vulnerable that appears in Arun’s photographic work, reminding us, prospectively of the vulnerable status that we as human beings enjoy on earth, in our much overlooked, mutual dependency with nature, which we accept only while already being pushed to the edge.

The tool as well as the hand metaphors keep coming back in Arun’s work, they enjoy an ambiguous status, much like the personal and deeply felt daily feelings of suffering or pleasure occupy in the tables of history.

The point in Arun’s work matches, often in the raw, with the predicament of the nation India, but in terms of the technological future it shares a certain space with an imaginary science fiction scenario, which is subtly present to inform of the prospective future. So, even the hands that sow the seeds, which symbolically and eventually feed us, turn pink, violet, or blue in appearance. They are also truncated, suggesting violence that could overpower the tender labour, which the intimate knowledge of farming and agriculture entails for the insiders.

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