It’s been about a week so this is nothing if not late but then again, it’s not like I’m running a newspaper here. The Times of India Kala Ghoda Arts Festival was held between 2nd and 10th Feb in our fair city. Artists hung huge apples from trees (to remind us of “our inner Eves and the subversive power of transgression”) and exhibited photographs of lewd graffiti spotted on local trains (Chirodeep Chaudhuri’s and very disturbing). Presumably inspired by Spider-Man, a chap built an enormous Mosquito Man out of metallic strips. Krsna Mehta, once a talented designer and now a freak who wants to be a photographer and artist, made a ferris wheel of dabbas and bicycles. My personal favourite was the Polar Bear Car, which was a good ole fashioned Ambassador covered in white fur. If the little plaque in front of it was to be believed, the car was left in cold temperatures in a lab and within three days grew all this fur to protect itself. Naturally.
Lest we all get seduced by this silliness, the gallery Bodhi Art organised a set of lectures on art with panelists that sounded really very impressive. Everyone named in the panel was intelligent, by reputation, and so I cheerfully showed up for the first one, ready to be educated and talk in a deeper pitch by the end of it. The talk was called “Articulate v/s Art” (didn’t know there was an opposition but never mind that) and had in the panel the following –
Girish Shahane, cultural commentator, art critic and former editor of ArtIndia, the only art magazine in the country,
Bose Krishnamachari, once-cool and now not-so-cool artist,
Shireen Gandhy, owner of Chemould Prescott Road, among the best galleries in the city,
and Ranjit Hoskote, art writer, critic, curator, poet and due to change his name to Jack-of-all-trades very soon.
Seated in an order of bald to Afro – Girish Shahane (bald, clean-shaven), Bose Krishnamachari (bald, goateed), Ranjit Hoskote (wispy hair and a manicured line of beard along his jaw) and Shireen Gandhy (an explosion of curly hair, no beard) – the luminaries engaged in a conversation that was spellbinding. I naturally took notes so here are choice excerpts:
Ranjit Hoskote (RH): Tell me Shireen, is looking at or talking about art the same thing?
Shireen Gandhy (SG): Uhmm…
Girish Shahane (GS): The literary background of current art critics is a significant part of the problem. In case of the modernists, art was purely visual and the critics added the words. With conceptual art, words began coming in and it stopped being purely visual. Now this is a problem because in India, English is a class-based language. Very few speak it well.
(At this point the most delicious Rehaan Engineer, theatre actor and general studmuffin, seated one row ahead of me, had a small fit and adopted the semi-foetal position that air hostesses tell you to take in the event of a plane crash. This is how I know Mr. Engineer was wearing hot red underwear. Sigh…)
Bose Krishnamachari (BK): Critics most of the time ridicule artists and are not willing to understand the kind of work artists put into work. I look for friends in every field. Lifestyle itself is art.
SG: I somehow feel that artists’ work is not criticised enough. There’s not enough honest conversations.
BK: That is what I said. We need friends.
(This set of non-sequiturs made Rehaan Engineer look up, thus robbing me of my view of the small of his back, fringed by the red waist of his bikini bottom underwear. Which is why I was able to appreciate the irony of Shireen Gandhy asking for criticism since if any of her shows are criticised, she apparently kicks up a hissy fit.)
GS: ArtIndia is like Playboy. Everyone says they buy it for the articles but everyone only looks at the pictures.
RH: The problem is semi-literacy. In an oral culture, you’d have mnemonic.
(It’s ok. No one got that. Not even Rehaan Engineer, who for all his sex appeal, directs and acts in the most bizarre and incomprehensible things in the world.)
BK: We need more historical books on contemporary art.
Predictably enough, I didn’t go back for any more of the talks.