At Khoj’s Peers 2014 Open Day, the artists were not merely showing art, but were also showing ‘how to see’ art.

The open day of the event “Peers 2014” at Khoj International Artists’ Association, New Delhi, was more than the culmination of the Student Artists’ Residency period. It was a window into the multifarious manifestations art has acquired in contemporary India. The art works by the student artists in the residency ranged from scribblings to videography, sculptures to e-books and neon lights to masonry. It was not just the sheer eclecticism of these artists but also the perspectives and crafts involved in their artistic endeavours that fed both the sight and the thought of art enthusiasts.

Sangita Maity’s documentation of workers and labourers is as far away from the ‘art for art’s sake’ ideal as it could ever get. It has conflated the ordinarily conceived as not-so-artistic, mechanical work of this class with the elitism of high art and is truly postmodernist in character. In an art studio, the sight of wires and a freshly masoned structure — along with boards displaying in writing the works and lives of the workers — is not merely unusual but also a sort of social commentary. The politics is implicit and also calls for a reassessment of what aesthetics in art is. The aesthetic here is not merely that which is, in the coherence of its form, pleasant to the eye, but that which incorporates the unsung — or rather un-museumed — art within the ambit of the so-called high-class art. It certainly evacuates art of purism.

Ragini Bhow describes her work thus: “My recent work addresses the nature of seeing, illusion and the human perception of reality. By altering the familiar into the unfamiliar, I am able to traverse an ambiguous space that raises questions on what it means to view nature from the identity of a terrestrial. Through juxtapositions of manmade elements with the found organic — such as wood and neon light — I am interested in transforming the mundane into sacred artefacts that face an alternate dimension.” Her work would appear to be an assemblage of disparate objects initially, but on discerning, there is certainly more than meets the eye. Pieces of glass on the floor (in patterns but unjoined), a large leaf with its stem inside a folded pipe, amongst other things — the conglomeration can be seen as representative of the nature of art itself, its ability to receive certain elements and offer back infinite permutations and combinations.

Sanket R. Jadia’s formation of objects is meant to include the unobserved dimension along with the ordinarily perceived one. In his words, his art attempts to “deconstruct the visible by constructing the invisible, to expose the optical unconscious of our perceptive world.” The objects included hands of human beings, bottles, cans, etc. Almost all of these showcased breakages and fragmentations; some hands lacked fingers, the bottles were broken and so on. On whether he meant to challenge common perceptions of art or whether it was a deliberate attempt to include the grotesque in art, he said that the agenda was not to challenge anything, but to merely re-position perception, by juxtaposing the mobile forms with static ones and showing the static ones as somehow becoming formless, amorphous, dynamic. To one’s mind, this has definite reverberations in the transmutations involved in the very act of perception — which is inherently partial and shifting.

Dheer Kaku has in a way resorted to multimedia, linguistic experiments co-existing with technology. In his words, he explores “patterns, repetitions, loops, lines, circles, time, symmetry, shapes and ideas.” Four diaries were filled with interesting scribblings and sketches, much in the nature of Dadaist and Surrealist art from the early 20th century. Some lines challenged the very act of interpretation, like the one that stated, “Understanding these words will only prove there is a way to find meaning in things that do not mean anything to me. I mean ...” Such an expression synthesises the random and the chance-happenings with the deliberate ones in art, reflecting on how art also derives from the naturally and un-self-consciously creative moments and inspirations.

Amshu Chukki’s work deals with, as she puts it, “fragmentation, fragmented spaces and what constitutes them.” The audio-visuals running on 4-5 television sets simultaneously displayed aquarium scenes alongside the running of a sewing machine with its constant sound jarring the mind. Occasional glimpses of the person using the machine flitted by. The mechanical movements of the machine and the fluid, unpremeditated moves of the fish; the constant and unpleasant sound of the machine and the silence and serenity in the aquarium were interesting and innovative juxtapositions.

Diptej S. Virnekar’s work is “about material culture, desires, beliefs and ironies of life which forms as multiple layers of our life.” Through his practice he tries to question “between these different layers and the sense of in-betweens being from a lower class background.” His art work exposes the underbelly of the urban milieu. It is the depiction of an alternative cityscape, with a slow-motioned videographic capture of the closely set clusters of EWS residences. It converges with a focus on the minimal spaces, almost like a crack, between two such buildings. This projection was on the ceiling of the room where it was being displayed, making the artwork’s presentation not merely unusual, but also more realistic, because the video mostly included the tops of the houses. Another projection was made on a wall, displaying walls of a lack-lustre building. An interesting technique here was the coinciding of a video-recorded shutter’s movement with those of an actual shutter on the wall. Even more novel was the appearance of a human hand in the video, drawing down the shutter. The photographic nature of the wall’s depiction contrasted with the movement of the hand, the latter probably also adding a note of distanciation to the visuals.

These varied forms of art patronised and encouraged by Khoj incorporate the mundane within the artistic, but not without an alteration of perspectives. The artists were not merely showing art, but were also showing ‘how to see’ art. Art is not here the ivory tower, but is, rather, a committed and fresh engagement with reality.

(The author is an Assistant Professor of English at Lakshmibai College, Delhi University)