She has marked a shift from documentary film making to the arena of video art. Soudhamini, a documentary and video film maker, writer and producer, recently presented her video art at Apparao Galleries in Chennai. The Bangalore-based artist showed her works Mrgseersham, Meditation and the Tiger and Purappadu to a select audience.
Through this medium, Soudhamini foregrounds concepts, evacuating her documentary format for exploring the visual world juxtaposed with her experiences. She has been creating video art since 2003, the process culminating in these recent works, in which she has privileged the articulation of time. Time as a concept appropriately alludes to her medium which is one of a moving image and hence time captured not as transient element but meditative to explore its various dimensions like conveying the cyclical process of birth, maturity and death at various planes of existence. According to her, time becomes “vertical”.
She says, “It is about understanding, rising—not above, but from within experience—to contain it in one’s mind and me. This is what it means to me. This is what this small slice of life gives me. I think these three works—Mrgseersham, Meditation on the Tiger and Purappadu mark a turning point, a certain fragile understanding that in a way goes beyond the medium”.
In her video making, the form and content are derived from nature and human habitat. The world of nature is represented by animals and birds, like tiger, deer, turtle and the swan. Within her deep subconscious, these creatures implicate a deeper meaning that could translate to her life experiences; certain values she holds dearly, perhaps finds translation through the animal imagery. Tiger, turtle, swan and painted animals from Franz Marck’s works — deer, cow, goat in Meditation on the Tiger are symbolic of power, persistence, grace, agility, patience and hard work respectively. Video art as a genre and a medium of expression was initiated in the early 1960s by the Korean artist Nam Jun Paik, who predicted that “one day, artists will work with the electronic apparatuses as they do with brush, violin or garbage today”. As a medium it is dependent on the physical sensations afforded by the latest technology, not as an end in themselves but as a means of transmitting specifically contemporary experience, or recording for posterity an otherwise transient performance or even an abstract idea. In the Indian context, it has found a limited appreciative and an aware audience. Indian artists with their video art have largely found recognition and acclaim internationally among collectors, gallerists and museum curators.
Soudhamini’s video Meditations on the Tiger (for the City of Munich and the Forum Goethe Institute, Munich) was compiled as a triptych within three frames that run simultaneously with the tiger, a woman travelling in a train, and the landscape through which the train passes. The juxtaposition of an animal and an avian as swan may appear titillating, yet, time appears as a metaphor in the movement or the speed of the train and the tiger chasing its prey while the element of water flowed steadily and ruefully with the swans offering similar reading.
She is a patient observer and a subtle storyteller, proves her work Mrgseersham. The video poignantly reveals significant emotional content. Through a vertical barred window that initially shows the activities within the apartment complex, it gradually transits to the representation of the deer. Ironically, this animal given to open spaces and joyous scampering is imprisoned within the concrete urban space. Is Soudhamini making an attempt to gesture towards the lack of freedom? Or the loss of individuality in a culture of crowdedness? Juxtaposition of binaries as inside/outside, prison/freedom makes this particular video thought provoking and evocative. Purupaddu, the video on turtles seems to wander and ruminate, collecting stray moments and fleeting impressions that snap together to reveal intriguing patterns of emotional significance.
These videos display techniques engaged by Soudhamini to meditate on the fragility of ephemeral time, emotions, unforgettable moments by blurring the imagery and bringing into focus, as extreme close ups. The image and depth which video offers has a different feel and experience from films she had been making. Her engagement with animals to mark her narratives seemingly, is her voice concerning life, which is lived at different levels from the material, inspirational to the spiritual and appropriately illustrated through the animals.