The internationally renowned Otholith Group makes its debut in India at the India Art Summit with seminal works on today's pressing issues.
Among the many notable international names that India Art Summit (IAS) 2011 boasts, is the London-based Otholith Group. The highly reputed artist-led collective, nominated for Turner Prize 2010 — the annual prize given to a British Visual Artist under 50 years of age by the Tate Gallery that was eventually won by sound artist Susan Philipsz — is in India for the first time with a trilogy of the films “Otholith I”, “Otholith II” and “Otholith III” made by group members Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun in the last decade. While these films are being showcased at New Delhi's Gallery Seven till February 20th, another film “Nervus Rerum” (the nerve of things) — shot in 2008 in the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank, can be seen at the video lounge in this year's edition of the IAS that opens this Friday at Pragati Maidan for general public.
It is such work that has earned the group a significant place in the world of New Media art today. Anjalika, who co-founded the group with Kodwo in 2002, says in the group's integrated practice, moving image finds supreme place. The moving image is used in multiple ways — installations, exhibitions, films, workshops, discourses — to explore the issues of politics, imbalances, injustice, representation of an idea and how the truth gets manipulated by those in power. “Our essay films seek to emancipate the viewer in order to enable him or her to think. We are not here to entertain. All good art, for instance, Black Audio Film Collective, is complex,” responds Anjalika to the comment of their art being “heavy”.
Borrowing its name from the structure in the inner ear that gives us a sense of gravity and orientation, The Otholith, Anjalika says, is interested in disorientation. Their work of essay films ventures into the future while dealing with burning issues of today. “Otolith I” (2003), the group's first film (which includes camerawork by Richard Couzins), presents a world where humanity is devoid of its own worldliness and everything is weightless. The film which revolves around London's 2003 anti-war protest march, has Dr. Usha, a fictional descendant of Anjalika Sagar, weaving together the evolution of our species from a 22nd Century International Space Station. Since their work always moves between past and the present, it goes back in time showing Anasuya Gyan-Chand, grandmother of the narrator, recalling the impact of the Soviet space programme on Indian socialism and feminism.
The connection with India isn't confined to its co-founder Anjalika's Indian roots but surfaces in their work too. In “Otholith II” (2007) the group again presses the forward button to zoom into the future juxtaposing scenes of Mumbai slums with the regulated architecture of Chandigarh, said to be a well-planned city designed by Le Corbusier in 1963. “My grandmother was a feminist and my grandfather was a well-known economist. They were socialist and so am I. I am interested in modernist projects of India and the various interrelationships between regulated and unregulated architecture in India and visions of a modernist city, etc,” says Sagar on her way from Kolkata where too at Experimenter Gallery, the Otholith Trilogy was showcased.
With the third piece “Otholith III”, the group again resorts to reconstructing the past with Satyajit Ray's unrealised sci-fi film “The Alien” about a friendly alien visiting a rural Bengal village. The film toyed with the idea what if the film had got made in India.
On its participation in the India Art Summit, Anjalika says she is curious to see what kind of people would be able to see their work. “It is an art fair and not a biennale. I would prefer more public to come in and see our work. In India, we need more public spaces, more discourses,” she adds.