Saturday, August 25, 2007

In our fairy tales the ugly people are those who are cruel and of bad character

VIEW: It undermines media credibility 25 Aug 2007 Make TOI your home page
A picture is worth a thousand words. Images have power of instant recall. Which is why the audio-visual medium, particularly television, is great for promotions, whether of products or personalities. And advertisements are mostly pictorial. However, the news that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's photo-graph was "airbrushed" before being published in the magazine, Paris Match - by electronically erasing love handles or flab from his waist - making the politician look trimmer than he is, comes as a blow to responsible journalism. Any alteration, minor or major, is deliberate distortion of truth. And the media - particularly the print media - are seen as guardians of truth. The printed word carries immense credibility among readers. Doctored pictures being passed off as real insult the intelligence of the reader. An alert blogger exposed a Reuters photograph of a fire in Beirut - caused by air force bombing - as software-doctored, deliberately accentuating the billowing smoke and fire. The blogger pointed out that the dishonest photo-grapher had superimposed twin images of the smoke and buildings to create an impression of density and extreme damage. The picture provoked angry reactions internationally.
Such misrepresentation is not only mischievous; it can be extremely dangerous and could backfire, creating damage and suspicion. Images of models are airbrushed routinely to enhance the quality of advertisements. However, when the same strategy is adopted to add value to the image of politicians, it raises ethical questions: Is it fair for a public figure to project himself as something he is not? Doing so would amount to tricking voters into believing what they see as the truth. It's not just about hiding flab; it is also about projecting the person as being fit and healthy, disciplined and alert, when he is in fact none of these. In any case, it is not the media's job to assist particular politicians look fitter than they are. It is the responsibility of photographers and writers, commentators and analysts to present things as they are rather than distort truth.
COUNTER VIEW: Appearance makes the man 25 Aug 2007
Who doesn't want to look attractive? These days one's appearance and image is everything even if it involves a minor distortion of reality. And, Paris Match's airbrushing of President Nicolas Sarkozy's love handles must be seen in this context. TV channels employ attractive presenters to increase their TRP ratings. Hotels and companies employ good-looking people to sit at their front desks to impress clients. We all know that prospective brides and grooms have for long engaged creative photographers to shoot pictures that would make them look attractive. Photographers digitally touch-up snaps of special occasions, like weddings of their clients to remove blemishes in their appearance. Apart from the yearning to look good oneself, a presentable appearance is vital for public figures like politicians these days. A recent survey by Australian researchers has found that good looks really do matter in politics. Voters link attractiveness to likeability. Appealing appearance, they say, can add an extra 1.5 to 2 per cent to a candidate's vote.
M G Ramachandran and N T Rama Rao exploited the popularity they gained by being attractive movie stars to enter politics. Even after they became career politicians, they continued to groom themselves well. This contributed a great deal in helping them become mass leaders and retain their popularity. It is a human tendency to rate people on their looks, irrespective of their character. We subconsciously link the outer appearances of people to the judgments that we think they would make. Most of our fairy tales revolve around a beautiful princess and her handsome prince. And, invariably, in these tales the ugly people are those who are cruel and of bad character. Clearly, these stories reflect our subconscious preference for the beautiful. The degree of attractiveness impacts all kinds of interpersonal relationships. Those with a good appearance receive sustained attention from others. Which country wouldn't like a hip, good-looking leader, even if it means touching up his or her photos and managing appearances? Make TOI your home page

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sadanga — the texts of Abanindranath and Sri Aurobindo read together illumine one another

Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER), Secretariat, Bharat Nivas, Auroville-605101. From the blurb The Hindu Tuesday, Aug 21, 2007
The book showcases the essential continuity of Indian painting by juxtaposing Ajanta and Nandalal Bose to convey the sense of unbroken tradition. The six limbs of painting, “Sadanga”, commented upon by Abanindranath Tagore is reproduced here. This is an ancient “Sastra” defining the principles of painting, an Indian tradition. The book notes that although it is true that the “Sadanga” contains universal principles which neither Leonardo da Vinci nor Poussin would have denied, Tagore, while reaffirming them, places them in the light of the Indian spirit and speaks of them as the guiding lights for an artist viewed as a Yogi.
As Sri Aurobindo said the characteristic of Indian painting and indeed all Indian art “appeals through the physical and the psychical to another spiritual vision from which the artist worked...”, extracts from Sri Aurobindo’s “The Foundations of Indian Culture” follow Sadanga — the texts of Abanindranath and Sri Aurobindo read together illumine one another.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Blue and white cows floating benignly in placid galaxies of the Milky Way

Home > Journals & Media > Journals > Auroville Today > June-July 2007 Current issue Archive copies Auroville Experience Cosmic cows in Creativity - in conversation with Priya Sundaravalli The exhibition Cosmic Cows in Creativity not only served to buy two much needed cattle grids, but also created awareness about the need for a community studio and cooperation among artists.
Creativity honours its name. Unique to this community are its collective art studio and the Hall of Light. The studio atelier is open to all residents - from professional artists to those who want to explore art material for the first time. One day a week, there is a 'Drawing Experiment' offered, where those who signup, investigate their unique expression through explorations on paper. The Hall of Light, on the other hand, a much larger space, hosts exhibitions as well as serves a wide range of activities: Valeria teaches ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement; there are regular classes in pilates and salsa, and the occasional musical jamborees. Their common denominator: it's all highly creative.
‘The Cosmic Cow' was the most recent art exhibition at the Hall of Light. Its highlight were the paintings of blue and white cows floating benignly in placid galaxies of the Milky Way. They were the work of Audrey, a professional artist from California who joined Auroville in October last year. Works of fellow resident artists, Adil and Marlenka, plus Ingaborg, a Drawing Experiment regular, were also on display.
The objective of the exhibition was to raise money to pay for cow-grids at the community gates. “Creativity needed to keep cows out of its flower beds, but lacked the funds. So we pooled our works and offered it for sale,” Audrey said cheerfully. The exhibition was a success. With the works made deliberately affordable by Auroville standards, almost all creations found a happy home. Now, cows and residents live in peaceful co-existence, separated by sturdy iron grids.
“Why ‘Cosmic Cow'?' I asked Audrey.
“Aerial views of the earth have affected my work for years. Here cows are such a powerful symbol. It was natural for me to want to present them from above. That led me to putting them in the cosmos. I was at that time doing large paintings of galaxies anyway. Also I found a rooftop over the barnyard at Pitchandikulam where I could draw and photograph the backs of cows. It's quite a landscape with their bone structure, massive girth, and all of it supported by those little hooves.”
She went on to say, “It's fascinating to me how the concept of the universe has changed during my lifetime. I was profoundly affected by the landing on the moon and the picture of the Earth rise from there. It was a powerful image, which made us realize that there we were on that beautiful little blue-green ball… While camping in the Sierras, I woke up before dawn one morning and spontaneously said “Here we come, Sun!” My body had realised that it was the earth which was turning around the sun, rather than the sun coming up. This experience made me think I was on the right track; the track of what I am still not sure!” Since then, Audrey has explored the view of the earth from hot-air balloons and small airplanes, making aerial photographs that became raw material for her work.
More art gyms please
Though Creativity's art studio is fulfilling its purpose, Audrey feels that it is limited in space and could serve a larger group. “Using one's hands to make images can be a healing activity, both for the mind and for the body. There is a wrong conception that one has to be an artist to enter a studio. It is for everyone. We've known for centuries that art balances the brain; it helps to articulate, and develop one's being integrally. Time and again, I've witnessed people working out some problem by just doing a drawing or a painting. When they concentrate, go inside, and create from there and not from the mind, something happens. What is expressed is not important - it's the process that matters. And whether it was intended or not, it affects the body favourably, and a balance or resolution is reached.
“Seen from this perspective, I feel Auroville needs to consider its lack of collective art studios or art gyms, as I like to call them. There are several gyms to take care of the body. But where are the spaces to explore and express oneself through images? Such art gyms should be open 24 hours of the day, so that people can come at any time they feel they want to work. It just needs a large and simple space, with plenty of light, good ventilation, ample storage space for inks and material. Anybody should be allowed to come: artists, guests, newcomers, villagers, workers, on a minimum of conditions - quiet respect for the space, the materials, and the fellow workers. Such art gym would also answer to the needs of visiting artists who would like to do creative work in Auroville. Right now, there is no place for them to work or even to meet other artists, and this needs to change.
Changing the artist's attitude
“All over the world we see artists coming together for multi-disciplinary projects. They work together, and sometimes live together forming artists' communities. Why not in Auroville? We artists can pool our resources, so that those who are well-established and sell their works can help those who are not so successful and have to buy their materials from their limited Auroville maintenance - which is almost impossible.”Audrey is sufficiently realistic to doubt that will change fast. “Artists are very much attached to their identity. Those who have worked hard to get a reputation usually don't like to be associated with artists who don't have one.” One of the ways to promote this, she feels, could be to have group shows, something that is already beginning to happen in Auroville. “I have heard of other ideas too, like the new website that will showcase the works of all Auroville artists. Another is the idea for an Auroville art lending library! But most of all, we need a place to work together - to support each other and to learn from one another.”

Monday, August 06, 2007

Nele Martens, Hufreesh Dumasia, Anna Maria, Agnus, and Henk van Putten

Five Auroville Artists at the Cymroza Gallery, Mumbai
by Debashish on Sun 05 Aug 2007 09:35 AM PDT Permanent Link
The group of 5 artists showing together at the Cymroza gallery in Mumbai, seem at first to have little in common. A German, an Italian, a Belgian and an Indian Parsi, four women painters and a Dutch male sculptor, make up the group. What joins them is the fact that they all live and work at Auroville, a spiritual community founded by Mirra Alfassa, also known as the Mother, a collaborator of the modern Indian yogi, Sri Aurobindo. This is, no doubt, a profound source of likeness, a shared inner orientation towards the discovery and expression of spiritual or cosmic realities and coherences or intensities. This, indeed, is evident, in the large generic titles given to the artworks and even the very courage to title abstractions against the grain of most modern and contemporary practice. The question of content in abstraction, or the division into style and content is generally considered problematic or non-significant in modernism- the style is the content, which needs no further reference. Of course, post-modern practice has challenged this modernist purism, and has attempted to return to art its vehicular function as a signifier or metonym for social and psychological experiences and interpretations. From a sealed hermetic testament offered as surface only to an uncomprehending anonymity dehumanized by the global regime of techno-capitalism, there is a shift towards the re-affirmation of art as language, a tool in the salvaging, re-membering or re-creation of shared values and experiences. Participants in a communitarian context of a shared material, social, ideal and dynamic psychological reality and process, the Auroville artists are exemplars of this post-modern practice of the alphabet, vocabulary and grammar of an art culture which inheres in a common universe of perceptions, experiences, orientations and movements.
However, this culture must not be mistaken for an isolated island, nor its art for an internal cult-dialect of prefabricated signifiers. The Auroville artists come from a variety of life-situations and cultures, but they also share the ubiquitous condition of modernity which encircles the earth today with its neo-liberalist homogenization, its conditioning of experience and its flattening and fragmentation of subjectivity and this is what has brought them to Auroville. Their work is marked by a distrust for ideologies, propaganda or advertisational hypnosis and what unites them also is a culture of freedom and personal intuition in the exploration of experiences of subjective universality or non-dual consciousness or perceptions of harmony and beauty behind the bewildering diversity and chaos of appearances. This imparts to their work the freshness of an optimism born of a lived collective culture of progressive experience and it is in this sense that their art becomes a language of shared perceptions far subtler and more primordial than the language of words.
Just as one may identify a common faith in the human ability to experience states of universal consciousness and harmony and a common culture of experimental seeking for these experiences and realizations which bestows meaning and content uniting these artists, one may also identify a shared language in their expression. This is what one might now call the global tradition of modern abstraction. From its foundations in the work of Wassily Kandinsky and other European artists attempting to salvage a universal and non-sectarian spirituality out of the ruins of pre-modern civilization between two world wars, through its phase of bold experimentation and self-confidence in the post-World War II manifestation of American abstract expressionism, abstraction in art has accumulated a repertory of expressive means that marks it as a visual language of the independence of consciousness from national or multi-national or ethnic or sectarian or even human identifications or identity politics. It has received its share of castigation for this – berated for an insensitivity to postcolonial inequalities or international humanist or socialist struggles, equated with the belligerence and arrogant individualism of American modernity, dismissed as domesticated neo-liberal d├ęcor, put down as inhuman or anti-human, it continues nevertheless to draw diverse gifted adherents and enrich itself with extensions of its expressive possibilities. In Auroville, it finds a natural crucible for its furtherance through artists attempting to overcome the division between subject and object in the realization of states of non-duality or to disengage identity from its entrapment in forms so as to invoke new potentia of a transcendental creativity, or expressing perceptions of matter as force, idea and quality of consciousness or questioning the limits of the human in its transpersonal stretch towards universality. To the specter of anonymity, dehumanization and homogenization of modern global humanity, these expressions of a social consciousness stretching towards a self-exceeding of our present boundaries and the discovery of powers of universality and harmony in shaping the future, are a welcome alternative, to say the least.
The revision of human subjectivity that could be said to have launched itself as an omni-disciplinary revolution around the turn of the 19th/20th c., found its inspirations in modalities of being and expression rooted in pre-modern and non-western cultures. Modern vehicles for synthetic ideas of world spirituality, such as Theosophy or Neo-Platonism or trans-cultural reconstructions of Vedanta, Daoism or Zen Buddhism, were important acknowledged or unacknowledged sources behind Euro-American abstraction. The independent hierarchic world of Platonic Ideas or the mergence of forms in the formless indivisibility of the Vedantic Brahman or the animistic or occult energy patterns of the consciousness-beings of Theosophy became the legitimate descriptive field of the new art, as proclaimed by its prophets, such as Wassily Kandinsky, in his “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” A variety of creative movements and groupings followed, a seminal one in which Kandinsky himself, along with a number of other innovators of form were involved, being the design and architectural creative community of Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919. Bauhaus design veered in a direction which attempted to validate structure, technological precision, simplicity and the high polish or transparency of ultra-modern materiality walking the borderline between form abstraction and functionality in a self-conscious non-ethnic “international style.” It also spawned a new interest in geometric abstraction in painting. All these tendencies were inherited and powerfully reconfigured by American Abstraction in the post-World War II period. The descendents of Abstract Expressionism, such as Action Painting or Color Field or Minimalism, opened up overlapping visual language domains marked by an immediacy of optical experience without idea content, which could only be described in terms of the conditions of their creation – a spontaneous performance of dynamic intuition which sought its prehistory in the art of accident of the color drip ceramics of Tang China or the crazy spontaneity of splashed ink paintings and their calligraphic counterparts or the chromatic intensity or cosmic geometry of Tantric yantras.
In the Auroville artists, we may find a completion of the circle of the forms and languages of abstract experimentation developed in Euro-American modernism through its re-assimilation in new traditions of Asiatic consciousness practice. For example, Nele Martens draws her inspiration from the play of conscious energy in or as form, universally active in nature. Structural modeling through variations of color density combine with controlled or swift rhythmic and textured brush dynamism to convey an impression of archetypal energy-events at the subtle interface between substance and force. While Martens, of German origin, with her early cultural immersion in the work of Bauhaus artists, can be seen furthering the traditions of Kandinsky, Klee and Johannes Itten, she brings to her paintings a color sensitivity and intensity which introduces an element of quality of consciousness missing in her European sources and only beginning to be hinted at in the later American Color Field artists. One may see this most clearly in a painting like Immersion, where the simplicity and contrast of the two-color scheme and the luminosity of pigment project a powerful visual immediacy through which a synaesthetic sixth-sense experiences the consciousness-world of flowers. The bold and expressive structural power of Martens’ work predominates in paintings like “Breakthrough,” while the dream-like monochromatic It Touches My Soul, stands apart for its evocation of interiority. These two paintings may, in fact, be taken together as exemplifying the sunlight and moonlight polarities of Martens’ consciousness explorations. Nele Martens' Paintings (Mouseover image for title; Click to see full size)
Another artist relying on intensity of color as a primary qualitative constituent of her work is Hufreesh Dumasia. Dumasia’s canvases present an all-over attention, placing her inheritance closer to the American Abstract Expressionists. But unlike Pollock or de Kooning or their descendents, her centreless expanses radiate an intense exuberance and light, the subtle shades of the qualitative language of an impersonal and transcendental Delight, which as the Upanishads say, is the originating power of all Becoming. But these shades of Delight are not abstractions or even symbols for Dumasia. As in Martens’ case, a direct and mindless optical impression is the carrier of a synaesthetic experience of these universal Delight-states in their cosmic materiality. Dumasia’s layered densities of scattered color-particles and stretches of expanding amorphous shape are subtly organized through underlying rhythmic circularities or sinusoids and impress the viewer as descriptions of archetypical processes and realities at atomic or astrophysical levels of consciousness-matter. Hufreesh Dumasia's Paintings (Mouseover image for title; Click to see full size)
Annamaria is a third artist of this group to rely on non-formal elements of abstraction to express herself. Anna Maria, draws her inspiration from an intimate lived relationship with the world of natural contours and vegetation. These forms, looming out of thin evocative patina-washes, are reminiscent of Chinese splashed ink landscapes or other conceptual abstractions of the Chinese literati (wen-ren) painters. She clarifies that she paints out of an inner intuition but it was only after discovering studies of chaos and fractal theory that she consciously sought the capture of similar processes in her work. In this, I feel more confirmed that her inspiration parallels the Daoist ideas of expressive spontaneity arising out of a meditative union with the creative shakti in Nature - giving body to the elemental lines behind natural forms and processes. However, to these microcosmic exercises, color lends a dimension of inner dynamism and drama, as brought out most clearly in a painting like The Invading Light. Annamaria's Paintings (Mouseover image for title; Click to see full size)
If the previous three artists depend more on color, line or texture, Belgian painter, Agnus and Dutch sculptor, Henk van Putten put to work a progressive intuition in the expressive power of geometric form. With a predisposition towards the retention of the marks of natural or historical ageing processes in the perpetual recyclings of cultural materials, the marks of the passage of time bearing within them the insignia of imperishable or eternal gestures, Agnus uses the patina settled covers of aged ferrous boxes as the surfaces for her brushed acrylic subtle symbols of the hermetic life of devotion and self-transcendence. These symbols serve as watermarks, burned or etched into the inevitable decay of forms, a reminder of the persistent imperishable in perishable things (nityo’nityanam), formed of the enigmatic language of familiar similitude, yet uniquely distinct in every instance. Agnus' Paintings (Mouseover image for title; Click to see full size)
Finally, the work of Henk van Putten, the only sculptor in the group, draws us further into the pure geometries of form and the properties of material substance with their immediate modern roots in Bauhaus design. The machined purity and perfection of deceptively simple forms, extruded or interlocking curvatures painted in intense primary colors bring to concrete focus a fusion of the worlds of rational order and the spontaneous symbols of earth fertility, while at the same time presenting and resolving the ambiguous relations between inside and outside and stillness and movement. Pythagorean geometry, Platonic Ideas and the perpetual circulations of Tantric meditation machines (yantras) form the archaic presences enlivening and rendering perennial these ultra-modern solids, offering themselves as inexhaustible bodies of contemplation. Henk van Putten's Sculptures (Mouseover image for title; Click to see full size)