Bring home the groovy
AVANT GARDE BANGALORE ISSUE
Bring home the groovy
This year’s edition of Experimenta features a strong contingent of spirited artists, says Michael G Unnis.
Of all the constructs, paradigms, stratagems, intellections and conceits that you will come upon in the following pages, perhaps the one most pertinent to Experimenta, as a festival of avant-garde art and cinema, is that of the “art of the moving image”. For Shai Heredia, the director of the festival (which she initiated in 2003), concepts of media art, video works and digital, virtual or interactive installations, among other conceptions, aren’t in any way unfamiliar. When viewed in such a cluttered polymorphic context, the “moving image” as an artistic concept was marked by the remarkable breadth of works and ideas that it encompassed, explained Heredia.
“The moving image is today the most open and inclusive medium of art,” she said, pointing out that instances of it are embedded and diffused in every sphere of modern life. “Everyone is connected to the moving image,” she offered, “from screens on railway station platforms to YouTube to movies on your phone.” A result of such ubiquity is that “people are less and less interested in classifying the work they see as documentary or fiction or experimental or video art,” reasoned Heredia. The moving image unites most other forms, while in its essence, resists and withstands every manner of classification and genre-making, she explained.
Experimenta showcases a fair number of films from outside India that have, at least at some point, been noted as radical and subversive. As Heredia put it, a large part of the works at the festival were “by spirited artists who take risks – formally, conceptually, politically – and are not afraid to share their mistakes”. The films of Joyce Wieland, for instance, which spanned the early-’60s and the mid-’80s (and will be screened as a focus programme at Experimenta this year, alongside a retrospective of the Lithuanian filmmaker Adolfas Mekas), are known for their stance on feminism, nationalism, and the effects of colonisation, apart from the issues of ecology and the environment. The Canadian filmmaker and artist (who died in 1998) was given to “fuel her art with social and political activism long before it had become fashionable to do so”, said Lauren Howes, the director of the Canadian Filmmaking Development Corporation, who will curate the Wieland segment. Viewed today, the films remain compelling, even if they were based in the radical ideas and movements of the ’60s and ’70s, said Howes.
The radical streak in Wieland extended to her methods – she was known to indulge in physically manipulating filmstrips for her creations. Wieland, in fact, would often resort to the resource of “her kitchen table as her film set”, to make her 1965 work Water Sark, for instance, noted Howes. In another film, Handtinting (’67), Wieland had employed found footage of a Jobs Corps documentary [the US Department of Labour programme] “and literally hand-dyed the filmstrips, and also punctured it with knitting needles”, Howes said. In that abstracted manner, Wieland’s works helped “bridge a gap between the white cube of the gallery and the black box of the cinema”, said Howes.
The experimental idea isn’t an unfamiliar one in India, suggested Bernd Lützeler, a German filmmaker who has toyed with Bollywood clichés, banalities and excess in his earlier works, and whose short film The Voice of God – set amidst Mumbai’s traffic, combining techniques of stop-motion and long-time exposure shots – is part of Experimenta.
“I see Bollywood as material that’s interesting – but I don’t expect any Bollywood fans to enjoy my films,” he said. As Lützeler sees it, the experimental notion today is “just a style, a look”. He pointed out that before the advent of DVDs, he would watch Bollywood films on VHS tapes “without subtitles, not understanding a word and looking at it as experimental”. And his view that they can be considered experimental hasn’t changed. “It’s total liberation from time, space, logic and continuity,” he said. In that sense, the nature of most selections at Experimenta made them largely non-language-specific, noted Heredia. “Anyone can experience the work quite easily,” she said. “If you are open to a new experience, come along.”
Experimenta opens at the National Gallery of Modern Art on Wed Nov 30.