BANGALORE: Since the beginning of the digital age, arguments have been made for and against the use of digital technology to make art — be it photography, mixed media paintings or anything else. There was and still is, to a large extent, an overwhelming feeling that digital tools are nothing more than shortcuts to making art without learning the fundamentals. Digital artists have in turn argued that it is rather just a different kind of tool for making art, and not a replacement for traditional art entirely. City Express takes a look at some recent and unique work being done in the field of digital art and the various ways it is being used now.
Media meets art
Ahmedabad-based graphic designer Roshni Chinubhai, as part of her masters programme (in art, design and communication, CEPT University, Ahmedabad) presented a project titled Mediatures. A series of five ‘mediatures’ or digital collages, they borrow from Mughal miniature paintings or are constructed within a miniature framework. Marrying her interests of media culture and its influence with the visual narratives of the Mughal miniature paintings, the project is a stunning visual narrative of present day media. “The point of departure for this project was to integrate past visual narrative structures with what I was seeing around me, using the media as my lens. I’d initially looked at many Indian narrative structures, ranging from traditional and folk art to hand painted posters and photo documentation. I eventually chose the Mughal miniature framework because of it’s story telling aspects, the clever use of symbology and importantly the nature of the content in the Mughal miniatures. Especially during the reign of emperors Jehangir and Shah Jahan, the allegoric portrayal of political themes and the idea of a commissioned depiction of how history is meant to be remembered fascinated me,” says Roshni.
The artist who is currently based out of Pune, strongly believes that the medium of work adds a layer to the message. “For Mediature, I chose to paint instead of using found or media generated imagery; the resulting message would’ve been a different project. I strongly believe that the concept or message of the work should play a key role in selection of the medium. As a visual communicator, selection of medium is only a part of my process. Each medium, be it painting, installation, video or photography will be able to bring to one's work what no other medium can. We have many artists today who are crossing the boundaries of fine and applied art and venturing into digital media such as installation, video and animation. So while arguments have been made in the past and will continue to be made about the authenticity of digital art, I’m hopeful that it will be the content and not the medium that will dictate a work's standing,” she explains.
Digital art for restoration
Temple and court spaces have vast stretches of narrative mural paintings, engaged in a losing battle with time and the administration, and will soon be lost forever if attempts are not made to save them. 'If they can't be saved there, save them elsewhere, through documentation, digital restoration and replication on other media including cloth (kalamkari), film (animation).' This is the underlying thought behind MV Bhaskar's project, for which he has documented and archived murals in Tamil Nadu for over 10 years. Bhaskar was given an Indian Foundation for the Arts (IFA) grant to digitally replicate the 17th century Ramayana murals of the Chengam Venugopala Parthasarthy temple in Tamil Nadu. He has worked in over 40 locations and documented them, all in Tamil Nadu, except one in Andhra Pradesh (Lepakshi).
“My goal is to digitally restore all of them. I have started with the Ramayana narrative at Chengam. There are six other Ramayana narratives all over Tamil Nadu, which I plan to work on next. Two locations with Jain paintings are my next priority,” he says.
“Mural paintings are not evenly preserved. In fact, they are more damaged than preserved. There is not even one continuous, damage-free stretch measuring beyond 200 sq. ft. This makes the reconstruction necessary for the retelling of the story, a difficult proposition and a complex job. There are two aspects to this work. One is documentation: depending on the location, team size can be as high as 10 to 12 people, all freelancers. Second is artworking. This is done by three of us. Patalam Ramachandriah, a Kalamkari artist based in Kalahasti, helps me draw the full picture, especially the missing parts, based on my research and our collective understanding. D Samson, my illustrator colleague at the publishing services company that I work for, helps me to digitally redraw the outlines of the painting as a Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) which can be blown up to any size," he explains.
One of the main aims of Bhaskar's project is to replicate the reconstructed mural in other media, especially animation. "The mural painting sources I work with are narrative mural paintings. There is a story that can and should be retold.
I plan to make animated short films with drawings from the mural as the basis. To get the music for the animated film, I have also been looking at the musical instruments featured in the murals, finding them on the field and recording them,” he says.
Photography as digital art
Last year, noted artist and photographer, the Bangalore-based Shibu Arakkal bagged the Lorenzo il Magnifico gold prize in the digital art category for his work titled Constructing Life at the prestigious Florence Biennale. Although Shibu Arakkal had entered his work into the photography category of the biennale, the international panel of jurists decided to award him under the digital art category, due to his technique and creative execution of the work.
“I worked on ‘Constructing Life’ for over four years and it is based on the lives of the construction workers who live in Bangalore. It basically explores the idea of the increasing gap between the rich and the poor,” explains Arakkal.
When asked what he thought about the age old debate for and against digital art he’s quick to say, “I think these artists need to go abroad and see what’s ruling the roost now and maybe that will put things into context.”
Digital art and authenticity
Very often, when there’s a concern related to digital art, it’s about authenticity. “For a traditionally produced piece, there’s only one original; all other reproductions are clearly copies. When it comes to digital art, once you create it, every reproduction is the same as the other,” says Manush John, student of Srishti School of Art Design and Technology.
However, the people who usually have a problem, he says, are patrons and collectors who would like to invest in prized originals like Rembrandt or Picasso.
“But there’s a whole demographic out there that cares only about the image. Take ‘Mona Lisa’ for instance, you see it on mugs, on Tshirts, on pencil boxes. Reproductions are more affordable: they could start at Rs 1000 and go up to Rs 5000. Originals could cost you anywhere from Rs 10,000 to lakhs” he adds.
So to cater to both groups, the concept of limited editions is introduced. When he had an exhibition at 545 in Indiranagar last year and visitors brought up these questions, he explained to them that all the works there were limited editions. “I told them that — since this was one of my first exhibitions and I wasn’t looking to expand too much right then — all of the ones on display could only be printed twice. Then people feel a greater sense of ownership,” he clarifies.