‘Today, development of the self must precede the development of the technology or we will go nowhere—there will be condominiums in data space […] Applications of tools are only reflections of the users—chopsticks may be a simple eating utensil or a weapon, depending on who’s using them.’ – Bill Viola
When working on the present issue on Video Practices, Viola’s prophesy struck a chord, articulating anew how, through the perspectives of time and space, transient human experience becomes enriched in its assumptions of the past and projects forward to the possibilities of the future. Nam June Paik had predicted in 1965 that ‘the cathode ray tube will replace the canvas’ and exploring the contemporary practices of some of the most distinguished art practitioners of contemporary times, this seems to be happening in our lifetimes. In the essays and photo-essays in this volume, the recurring leitmotif seems to be the most fundamental need, the desire to share an experience that has been profound and significant with others. Here is a reaffirmation that the medium of video is today the most relevant art form in contemporary times. The range of art practitioners and art practices that we have been witnessing at the dOCUMENTA 13, at Biennales, Art Conferences globally, give voice to a plurality of concerns, issues, subjects that are crying out to be heard.
The instance of Ai Weiwei’s protests that led to his brief incarceration and global outrage proves that art can be used by activists to score a point anywhere in the world. From the artist whose work cocks a snook at the absurdly quotidian that can be exploited to gain political mileage (I am referring here to Shilpa Gupta’s sound installation that examined the newly created songs at traffic signals in Kolkata) to works that deal with gender issues, environment, ethnic identities, nationhood, sexuality, religion and human condition, the subjects are many. The fires ignited in various corners of the world in protest threaten to set aflame the world we have lived out our complacent existences in, sovereign forests will be destroyed and civilized societies devastated unless we initiate change. Apart from the physical, the artists touch upon the emotional and psychological collapse around us too—and it is equally this other aspect that we discover in the works documented in this issue.
‘No one is thinking about the flower, no one is thinking about the fish, no one wants to believe that the garden is dying, that the garden’s heart has swollen under the sun,that the garden is slowly being drained of green memories.’ – Forough Farokhzad.
During the making of this issue, amidst the terror attacks and natural disasters that made regular headlines in the media, there was a ray of happy tidings that made us all, as a nation, extremely proud. We would like to extend our heartiest congratulations to Nalini Malani who received the prestigious Fukuoaka Award this year. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to each and every artist who came forward so readily. My gratitude also to the distinguished panel of contributors whose scholarly dissertations make this issue so special. It was an honour to interview William Kentridge, when he was visiting India recently. I am also grateful to Amar Kanwar who shared his work with me over days. Each artist responded warmly to my invitation and I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Wael Shawky, Angelica Mesiti, Nalini Malani, Amar Kanwar, Ranbir Kaleka, the Otolith Group, Yang Fudong, Sheba Chachi, Darshana Vora, Mayura Subhedar, Sudarshan Shetty, Shilpa Gupta, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Jaret Vadera and Abir Karmakar. A special word of thanks to the distinguished writers: Michael Rush, Ranjit Hoskote, Akansha Rastogi, Rosa Salvo, Shanay Jhaveri, Anupa Mehta, Katya Garcia Anton, Deepanjana Pal, Lucian Harris, Girish Shahane, Swapna Tamhane, Sabin Iqbal, Natasha Ginwala and Paroma Maiti. Last but not the least, Johan Pijnappel who wrote such a perceptive and insightful essay on Nalini Malani’s practice. I remain indebted to Reena and Abhijit Lath for giving me a free rein, never interfering or disagreeing with my editorial decisions. Also to Ruma Dasgupta, Piu and Debjanee, my salaams for all their inputs and work. Sunitha Kumar Emmart was extremely helpful with suggestions,names and contacts and my heartfelt thanks to her.