It’s a 50-year-old art form but video art—which usually consists of 1- to 10-minute audiovisual clips featuring artistic (and arty) takes on anything—still has an avant-garde feel to it. Primarily because it often makes little sense when viewed for the first time. Nor is an accompanying note by the artist or repeated viewing a guarantee of eventual comprehension.
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The 90 videos that will be shown over four days next week at Gallery Espace, New Delhi— marking the conclusion of Video Wednesdays, its year-long showings of video artworks—provide yet another opportunity to sample this eclectic and freewheeling art form.
“When I started Video Wednesdays (July 2008), there was no unique platform for videos, though a lot of video was happening,” says Delhi-based curator and art critic Johny ML, who approached Renu Modi, director of Gallery Espace, with the idea of showing video artworks on a regular basis. “(It) was not done to show off or to say that we are avant-garde,” says Modi, who saw the screenings as a non-commercial endeavour that fit with the gallery’s art education initiatives. “We had a basic format of presentation and we kept the cost low,” she adds. Some videos shown did find buyers, at prices ranging from Rs40,000 to Rs90,000, which was a bonus.
And so, for the past year, on the last Wednesday of every month, anyone who cared to could head to the comfortable darkened viewing room in the Gallery Espace basement, partake of fresh popcorn and watch video artworks projected on to a wall. Johny points out that the easy and relaxed atmosphere encouraged people to come—students, artists, art scholars, journalists and even people from the Airtel office next door got a chance to see video artworks by established artists such as Ranbir Kaleka, Chintan Upadhyay and Sonia Khurana, as well as a host of other artists from all over India. On average, 50 people came for each show and often exchanged views on the videos with the curator and artists. “We had the beginning of a discourse,” says Johny. “Not the academic kind, but questioning…by a localized, new audience.”
Go figure: (left) A still from Narasimha Avatar by Ebenezer Singh; (right) and Six Drops by Sudarshan Shetty. Photographs courtesy Gallery Espace
A random sampling of some of the video works that’ll be shown reconfirms their capacity to entertain and elevate—and to leave you scratching your head. Something Terrible Has Happened, a 6-minute video by Baptist Coelho, has a young man (the artist) attired in a natty suit dig up a square patch of lawn in a well-kept garden and place an air vent cover there. The piece has a comic-nonsense feel—never mind the serious-sounding artist’s note on environmental degradation.
Artist Ebenezer Singh hilariously spoofs Tamil cinema song and dance routines by the simple expedient of imitating them in Sakalaka Vallavan. Ranbir Kaleka’s part still-life and part motion-picture, titled He was a Good Man, leaves you nonplussed at first, but then draws you in with its meditative quality and makes you apprehend something larger in the portrait of an old man threading a needle.
During the grand finale, five prominent guest curators, including artist Bose Krishnamachari, and art critic and writers Gayatri Sinha and Nancy Adajania, will show video works they have selected; there will be a panel discussion on video art; and a Video Adda will show works by first-time video artists.
“Ten years ago, I would not respond to video art,” says Modi. “I was not convinced.” But now she is happy with the year-long effort for two reasons—the quality of video artworks the gallery received and because she feels that she has done her bit for contemporary art in India. “In 2005, there was no audience for photography or video art,” says Johny. “Now you can approach video without fear; it’s become familiar.”
Grand Finale of Video Wednesdays @ Gallery Espace will be held from 29 July to 1 August at Gallery Espace, 16, Community Centre, New Friends Colony, New Delhi.