Solo Show at #1, Shanti road Studio Gallery, Bangalore.

Witness and More

- Ravikumar Kashi

As an artist, I see myself as a witness to my times, to the ways it is being re-presented in the media and a witness to the visual culture around me. Many a time, however, the detachment of a witness undergoes a shift. But that’s only later.

I have the habit of collecting photos, images/ ad clippings, discarded objects, headlines, quotations and the like, which interest me. I also keep clicking pictures on my camera. This becomes my source of imagery. When I am working, images are not sketched or painted directly; most of it comes filtered through this secondary source, resulting in the construction of an altered reality. But the starting point is a diary, where I keep jotting down ideas with drawings and text. This, in essence, triggers my work. It is from here that it takes off and grows.

Connections everywhere . . .

The experience of an urban artist like me is seldom purely visual. It is almost always mixed with textual messages. I am accosted by messages, whether at home or outside, which I cannot escape. So, if my experience has to be translated authentically into my work, it has to necessarily be a mingling of images and text; each one affecting the meaning of the other.

The format of my work is also akin to watching television. Imagine a bank of televisions in a store, each tuned to a different channel, or random surfing of channels. Hundreds of images are all talking at the same time, in a hyper-textual visual narrative. I look at these images as connected rather than isolated chunks. The connections do not seem forced, as much as nearly random.

In fact, connections exist between the strangest of things. Take T-Shirts for example. Wearing a T- shirt is a way of making statements about oneself; a way of connecting, with whatever the wearer wants to connect. It can be casual and provocative at the same time; the body becoming a mobile carrier of messages. I have been fascinated by T shirts bearing images and text for a long time, and soaked them, using their language in my work.

These themes and approaches are not something which I have explored only in paper but also in my paintings and photographs. The idea which appears in one medium flows seamlessly into another and takes an altogether different shape.

Medium and message . . .

Paper serves many roles - from informing (newspaper, magazines) to cleansing (toilet rolls, tissues) - in our daily lives. But its major role is documentary in nature. Images and text written or printed on paper have a ring of authority. In my work, this documentary connotation is one of the uses as it suits my `witness’ approach. At the same time, paper also has the unassailable implication of being a fragile material. I have used this connotation as well, questioning the links between strength and safety. When I cast an armour or a sword or a shield in paper, it is quite useless. A paper sword and a paper shield are no combat gear at all. The sword can hardly wound or a shield hardly protect. So also, when a T shirt is cast in paper pulp and painted upon, it turns into an object which can only be looked at and appreciated, not worn.

Here and now . . .

A soldier has just returned home from his battle; war weary, tired and his head filled with nightmarish images. He has hung up his sword, shield and helmet on a hook in a corner of his house. At least for the moment it is a 'Pause’, till the next conflict arises. What an arsenal he has! All made of paper.

‘Chatter’ is a work which owes its source to the spectacle of a T-shirt discount sale shop where hundreds of T-shirts are displayed, with each one carrying some image or statement. Displayed together they get linked in our mind. More than a story, it seems like chatter; as if randomly catching a line or two of an ongoing conversation in passing. If I treat them as trigger points and fill rest of the details a new world opens. One where hundreds of stories are being enacted all around and also getting interconnected. Stories of love, lust, alienation, aggression and a foreboding sense of time closing in. I had taken pictures of kids playing with their toy gun and posing like a cinematic hero. This I have used along with another picture I had taken of a human figure moulded in wax at the sculpture department of Glasgow school of art. ‘Your turn next’ has been moulded in two different kinds of fibers, one in cotton and another in jute to represent two individuals. I wanted to suggest how war games have seeped into or daily lives, which we have absorbed and enact without really being critical.

‘Shoot’ is a set of eight heads about blurring of lines between games and violent behavior. Words - Target, fun, power, victim - are written on four faces while rest of the four faces have targets painted on them. It is an ambiguous positioning between ‘target shooting’ games and the actual act of shooting at somebody. The fact that all the faces are same makes it possibly interchangeable.

‘Do you feel safe?’ is a question which, magazines pose every now and then in their opinion polls. If the question can be reframed slightly as to what makes you feel safe? - the answers would be varied. This work is also about defining one’s own self in opposition to the ‘other’ and thereby creating divisions; which in turn feeds on a sense of insecurity and paranoia.

Gap and bridge . . .

Pause’ is a moment when action comes to a stand still or so it seems at least for the person who is watching a video on the screen. With the pressing of a button action can be controlled. All mayhem and murder (on screen) stops. It is time for reflection and repose. But in real life it seldom happens like that. Even when it seems like a brief period of lull, it is an imperfect pause. Increasing aggression and violence surrounding us are seldom in control of an individual. As an artist I might be incapable of directly changing the ground realities around me with my work. My medium has limited reach and strength compared to the other factors which shape our lives. But I can ponder and paint. At this point, there is also a slight shift: there is nagging urge to abandon the role of a detached witness and step in. Not for any other reason except, perhaps, to contribute in a little way to a new course of direction. Since all stories are interlinked, who knows, this might be quite possible.