Lalit Kala Akademi

5 - 10 April, 2013

Vadehra Art Gallery

Exhibition to mark the 25th anniversary of Vadehra Art Gallery

17 April - 30 May, 2013

Participating Artists:

Anita Dube, Anju Dodiya, Akshay Rathore, Arpita Singh, Atul Dodiya, Gipin Varghese, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Jitish Kallat, Nataraj Sharma, Neha Thakar, Paribartana Mohanty, Ranbir Kaleka, Rameshwar Broota, Ravinder Reddy, Rina Banerjee, Tushar Joag and Vivan Sundaram

Ideas of the Sublime

The sublime, according to the German philosopher Schopenhauer, could be beautiful or malignant, but it always creates a sense of awe.

In a global climate beset by doubt and economic uncertainty the exhibition Ideas of the Sublime seeks to restore to art its centrality in human experience. In a period devoid of heroism, a rising, unidentified demos and declining confidence, we may return to the sublime - a concept that extends from Greek philosophy to digital technology - as lying at the core of artistic expression.

A note on the Sublime

In his treatise On the Sublime the Greek philosopher Longinus in the 3rd century BC wrote “the first and most important source of sublimity is the power of forming great conceptions”. Over successive schools of thought, different thinkers have unpacked notions of the sublime, separating beauty from awe.

The philosopher Edmund Burke added a critical dimension in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1756 where he argued that the sublime and the beautiful are mutually exclusive. “Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, …. or operates in a manner analogous to terror is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling” (Part I Section VIII) and then “ terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime”. In Indian aesthetics, the sublime enjoys other readings -as the object of (impossible) desire, and as the subject of interpretation rather than representation, that allows us to speak of and engage with the undefinable. In the Natyashastra, (2nd century CE) the concept of the sublime embraces the different states of the performative arts, making a case for the interdependency of extreme emotion.

The definition and understanding of the sublime moved firmly into the visual domain of aesthetics with Kant, who interpreted the sublime as creating both anxiety and pleasure. In the 20th century psychoanalysis was a natural domain for uncovering the sublime: Jung argued that “the sublime secret of all origination” lies in uncovering the deepest self. Revived under post-modernism, after falling into disuse, the idea of the sublime was revised and proposed by Lyotard (Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime). Lyotard, who wrote on artists as varied as Barnett Newman, Brata Ettinger and Daniel Buren has suggested that the sublime is at the intersection of concept and experience: the limits of what the mind knows and what it feels. More recently Steve Jobs attributed Apple’s design values to the “aesthetically sublime” influence of Zen Buddhism.

In the areas of art and design, since the late 20th century the sublime continues to be invoked as thing, object, metaphysic condition. In the contemporary domain, global politics and economic conditions have tended to move between such extremes. At a moment when we grapple with models of political and economic viability, the idea of the sublime leads us into the domain of the experiential. Is the sublime an objective in art? Or is it a site for wilful travesty? What is the relationship between spectacularism, materiality - and its denial - and the sublime? As a principle how does it adapt to network aesthetics? Finally is the sublime, with its capacity to pack in the extremes of (aesthetic) experience anxiety and the pursuit of pleasure, the temper of our times?

Text by Gayatri Sinha.

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