Arranged neatly atop a table in Vishal Dar’s studio is a set of male and female human—and humanoid—figures, each about 10 inches tall. They look decidedly pre-digital, until Dar explains what they are—models for the characters of a graphic novel he is working on, the artwork for which is being done entirely in the digital medium—that is, on a computer, with the aid of computer software.
Dar explains that making a physical model initially helps conceptualize and flesh out a character, underscoring how the material and digital worlds are intertwined.
A trained architect, Dar obtained a master’s degree in new media arts from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 2002, and has been making digital artworks ever since. They fall in three broad categories—video, interactive (where a viewer can manipulate the digital image, just as in a video game), and illustrative (digital prints).
Dar proceeds to show Cutter, a striking, minute-long work of video art, on his PC, in which a Rs500 “Gandhi” note comes alive in startling ways—the note serves as a screen of sorts on which, at one point, a comic-book-style pistol appears and shoots at the word “fake” which emerges from the mouth of the Gandhi portrait and floats across; the “fake” disappears with a “bang”, which has been rendered in classic bold-red, comic-style legend. Various other things happen at different times—Gandhi’s glasses abruptly shoot out searchlight beams; the top of his head splits open to reveal an eye floating in the darkness within. In a playful manner, the silent video touches on our ambiguous relationship with the Father of the Nation and his legacy.
Light bug: Docile Bodies , a digital print by Vishal Dar, featured in the show By George , curated by Gitanjali Dang.
Dar calls attention to how the technical soundness of the video makes for “seamless” viewing. “I like (a work to be) technically resolved to a tee,” he says. He is not bragging; only making the point that the “experimental” nature of digital art is no excuse for shoddy execution. Dar’s other grouse is that new media artists hardly use the technology to its full potential. “Video as a medium can be tiny as a stamp and as large as a building,” he says. “Allow it to become what it can. It is not traditional media.”
An example of the transition from traditional to digital medium is his work with car lights. At the India Art Summit in New Delhi last year, his installation of car lights and windshield wipers, titled Khatmal, resembled a bloated bedbug. Dar then transferred the concept to the digital realm and seems to be revelling in the artistic possibilities that digital images of car lights have opened up. One work comprises a series of lights configured to resemble insects, arranged neatly in rows and columns as if in a biology book illustration.
“The physical installation comes with its own paraphernalia, its own mechanics, its own maintenance,” he says. “If I go digital, I can do what I want with it—I can resize, reconfigure and re-engineer the image. The image becomes the pigment.” Just like steel pots and pans are the building blocks of Subodh Gupta’s sculptures? “Subodh is a great artist,” Dar replies. “But he belongs to the last century.”
Dar is vocal in his love for technology and the possibilities it offers. He calls the personal computer his artistic “collaborator”. “I feel a mystical connection with the machine. It is not just a tool,” he says, and then continues, now addressing the machine in the second person: “You are exciting my intelligence; you are pushing me to think, to evolve.”