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The digital awakening

ENSCONCED AMIDST sprawling lawns and set in the heart of city lights, Kochi's premier art museum, Durbar Hall is metamorphosed into a virtual gallery. Behind closed doors, ten young artists are immersed in an art workshop hoping that with a click of a pen mouse a whole new aesthetic will emerge and the computer will materialise as a new medium in their anthology. As a fringe benefit, it would showcase their techno-savvy image to an inspired audience.

For three full days their studio is Gallery B and their easel the computer. A walk to the friendly art supply store is stopped short, as the Adobe Photoshop software is equally responsive, providing them with an astounding range of brushes and an unlimited colour palette. "There are more colours here than I can think of... though personally I would prefer a restricted palette," says Manoj Vyloor, a participant in this workshop.

Artists, in their new avatar as digital designers, sit in pin drop silence as their classroom activity gets underway, in cahoots as they collaborate with their new tool. All of them are experienced in computer art, some more than others; few are familiar with Corel Draw and Illustrator software, others are still experimenting, albeit cautiously as they go along. They make their images in layers, configure their colour settings, choose their brush strokes, opt for water colour, chalk, charcoal, oil pastel or heavy flow dry edges ... the choices are mind-boggling... and save each layer in a different file. Once satisfied and all done, the layers are merged to complete the whole.

The missive is clear: within the stipulated three days, they make ten odd paintings of which one will be blown up to a huge, hear this, 20 feet x 10 feet, digital wallpaper mural! These will then be put up on hoardings outside the hall, in full public view.

"By enlarging the pictures, we are attempting to turn the gallery outwards and bring art into public view, " says Kanai Kunhiraman, celebrated sculptor, chairman of the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi and the brain behind this art camp.

No longer do hesitant viewers need feel intimidated by the interiors of museums and galleries. Art is coming to you. You could like it or simply drive past without worrying whether it is too esoteric or indeed too banal.

Digital art is a relatively new sphere of art activity and like everything modern throws up a large number of questions, some of them reactionary. How original is this art where you can cut, copy and paste? Where you cannot feel the texture of thick strokes on canvas let alone wait to see the paint dry up? Where high art is saved in a floppy, of which you can take out not one, but limitless copies? Where a simple finger movement can fill colour in a selected area. And another can undo it all! Above and beyond, the nagging worry: Can anyone with access to a computer and the appropriate software become an artist?

Kunhiraman has the answers. "Brushes, paints and canvas alone don't make an artist. Computers are simply another tool in the hands of the artist. The latter still have to have an aesthetic sensibility. A master artist always blends skilful craftsmanship with imaginative faculties. People's attitude that computers are a non-art medium must change. Don't for a moment think that this can replace or even mimic traditional methods of painting or sculpture as we know it."

"There is no original artist," says Haridas, another participant who works at an advertising agency in Bangalore. "It is external stimuli that go through a series of combinations and permutations within the brain before a novel idea comes to the fore. Art is just a means of expression of that idea and computers are a device to carry it." Moreover, Haridas has no qualms about the mass production of his artwork. "In fact, I would be happy if more and more people have access to it. The challenge really is to get rid of old conceptions, take a new, fresh look and de-mystify art." Sindhu, a fellow member at the camp, defends the user-friendly, interactive gizmo but admits that even as computers may well be the favourite medium of the future, she prefers to mix the traditional with the modern. "When it comes to painting in this mega size, computers definitely help." It would be well nigh impossible to do it manually. On the monitor screen, her half-done painting looks precise, clear-cut. "The entire camp is so exciting because I have only a faint idea how my work will look once it's enlarged and pasted on a billboard."

She needn't have had a sleepless night. Sindhu's work, a painterly dimension to computer art, had the right nuances and shades of colour, just as she had hoped. As the hoardings came into full view, the area started milling with people. A new initiative was unfolding before them and they had to be part of the process. The sign on the hoarding is clear. Art is a social activity and cannot be divorced from the world around. And willy-nilly, it has to walk the path paved by science. Therein lies its relevance in our technology-dominated world.


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