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The moving art of video

  • Vaica, a one-of-its-kind festival, is dedicated to video art
  • By showing over 60 works by 35 artists, it seeks to showcase the diversity of styles within the medium

From ‘Counterfeit’ by Babu Eshwar Prasad
From ‘Counterfeit’ by Babu Eshwar Prasad (Courtesy artist/Vaica)

Scrolling through Mithu Sen’s Instagram feed is like viewing the working of an artist’s mind. Short videos, scribbles and short verses offer an insight into the process that has gone into the creation of her video installation, (Un) Poetry. “My (Un) Poetry is a set of abstract, minimal, sublime, funny, nonsensical, clever monosyllables and one-liners, vernacular in nature and a form of parallel vocabulary, where the script attains a visual form," notes Sen in an artist statement about the nearly 11 minute-long animated video.

And now (Un) Poetry can be viewed at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), Saket, Delhi, as part of the unique Video Art (By) Indian Contemporary Artists festival (Vaica)—incidentally, the first event on such a scale dedicated to the medium. Viewers can see 60-plus video works by 35 artists such as Shakuntala Kulkarni, Ranbir Kaleka, Baptist Coelho, Darshana Vora, Sharmila Samant, Veer Munshi and Jahangir Asgar Jani.

The idea for the festival has its roots in curator Bharati Kapadia’s own tryst with video art. “Two years ago, I was making a video for an exhibition. I wanted to find out how other artists were engaging with the medium. So, I started searching the internet for examples but couldn’t find any. One had to delve deep into artists’ and galleries’ websites or art archives," says Kapadia, who has a four-decade-long visual arts practice, and has produced innovative work in painting, printmaking, collage, performance and video.

From ‘Forest’ by Ranbir Kaleka.
From ‘Forest’ by Ranbir Kaleka.

She realized it wasn’t easy to access, or understand, art in this medium. She approached her friend, documentary film-maker Chandita Mukherjee. After intense discussions, the duo decided to start a project to bring avant-garde video art to the fore. “We realized that there were no reference points for people to find out what’s happening in this medium. What would you even type into the search tool of YouTube? This information was not commonly available," says Mukherjee. Also, most artists were not creating video with the sole purpose of exhibiting it. “They would have a long-term exhibition—painting, sculpture or mixed media—spanning three-four months, within which they would place one video installation," she adds.

Kapadia started contacting visual artists, and out of the 39 they reached out to, 35 agreed to participate in the festival. A proposal was drawn up and institutions such as the KNMA and Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, Mumbai, became involved. The first edition of the festival took place in Mumbai in November, with 65 works being shown at The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhanvan, G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture and Godrej India Culture Lab over five days. “Since the Delhi edition covers only four days, we are showing four-five videos less," says Kapadia.

The festival, which is trying to establish a connect with viewers, comes at a time when there is a greater discourse within the art world about new media in art. In 2017, a solo by Sahil Naik at Experimenter, Kolkata, titled Ground Zero: Site As Witness/Architecture As Evidence, sought to explore this genre. Another example was on view at the India Art Fair 2019, when the Shalini Passi Art Foundation, Delhi, presented a dedicated video art booth on site, featuring works such as Anita Dube’s Kissa-e-Noor Mohammed (Garam Hawa), Jitish Kallat’s Forensic Trail Of A Grand Banquet, Sen’s Icarus and Kaleka’s Man With Cockerel-2. The KNMA has earlier shown video art by Nalini Malani on a big scale; the museum’s collection also boasts of video works by Amar Kanwar, Neha Choksi, Bani Abidi and Sonia Khurana.

“The medium of video as practiced by visual artists is relatively unfamiliar to the Indian audiences interested in the current art and culture practices. The early practitioners like Nalini Malani and Ranbir Kaleka started exploring video art in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But over the last few years, more younger artists are interested in its vocabulary. It’s a virtual medium and so one does not need space to exhibit it," Kapadia said in an interview in October. Vaica tries to take the conversation forward by creating a space where artists, students, researchers and critics can come together to discuss the works. The idea is to also showcase the diversity of styles within the medium. Kapadia cites the example of Kaleka’s work.“Ranbir’s work lies in the realm of fantasy. What he puts in front of us—these are not narratives in the strict sense of the word, as they don’t have a beginning or an end. They are abstract episodes," she says.

Then there is Vora’s Interior Projections (Private View), a collection of videos made between 2004-05. According to Vora, these videos were works in progress, with her practice having moved on since then. “Interior Projections were separate videos made using a standard definition video camera, but I have recompiled and recontextualized them to complement my current series, Observations For Projections," she says. They (the older videos) were surreal narratives to an extent, made in the studio space using simple props such as gloves or a book. “I have arranged them in a sequence of acts. It’s quite surprising that I have managed that, given that they were not meant to be together at that time," says the UK-based artist. There are common threads—for one, no work is longer than 15 minutes. And all of them are single-channel works. This, according to the curators, was intentional. “Single-channel viewing is important to see the medium for what it is, without the distractions of loops and multiple channels," says Kapadia.

The Video Art (By) Indian Contemporary Artists Festival (Vaica) is on view at the KNMA, Delhi, till 6 January.

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