Anuj Daga & Bharati Kapadia
Access the essay in the VAICA 2 Catalogue
The pandemic year forced most of us into increased screen-times, where indulgence in videos remained the primary way of escaping the imposed interiority of the home. Speaking to a friend over a Zoom call, watching a tele-series over Netflix, browsing through a short clip over YouTube, or checking up a quick gif message over WhatsApp – all define forms of screen material that may be called “video” – through which we come to refill the world lost at present, while being in the safe confines of our home. The term “video” is now charged primarily with the way it is received, rather than produced. Screen devices once the primary instruments to broadcast video, are also the tools through which videos are produced today. Electronic and digital equipment has enabled camera-less videos, making it more accessible, resulting into a plurality of expressive moving image forms.
In curating the video works for VAICA 2, we came across a range of experiments that could not be classified within the existing formats of motion-picture exhibition. Video works demand a space of their own for they cannot be easily categorised within the existing genres of short films, commercial advertisements, promotional shorts, hand held reels, or playful voiceover tik-toks. Such forms of video production get quickly subsumed into the logic of the market or thrive on popular modes of expression. In addition, most of them have their own platforms, established social or commercial currency and channels of recognition and legitimisation.
Video art on the other hand are works of art in the realm of the screen made in unique dialogue with its apparatus. These works do not necessarily respect the time-rhythms of the commercial formats. They are driven by their subjects and necessity of the creators’ expression. The logics of the marketplace do not bother them. In many instances, we encounter such videos in art galleries that annotate and accentuate a broader set works within conventional exhibitions. Galleries are traditionally designed to accommodate artworks like paintings or sculptures. However, many artists have also taken to producing video works exclusively, which demands a comprehensive discourse of their own. What would be the architecture of a gallery for video works be like?
VAICA offers an intermediate space in order to interrogate, articulate and incubate such thoughts in the emerging landscape of new media art production in South Asia. The curatorial process for the second edition of VAICA gave us a chance to articulate nine provisional entry points through which video art may be appreciated and understood. These points have been crystallised from our close engagement with the material we received and sieved through collectively to put up the present festival. These thoughts are inscribed within the practice of video art in India, and thereby the list is an expanding, rather than a comprehensive one. They may seem to conflate with theories of cinema, screen or moving images. Yet, we argue for the existence of this curious form, that allows it to embrace screen expressions that do not fit into other existing spaces. In this background, the works of VAICA recognise and operate actively within the following perceptive registers of moving images:
- Collision of serendipitous image-worlds
Often, we imagine our world through images which share similar visual characteristics; those that are defined by modes of art history, cultural trends, popular media and other such channels. This puts us at the risk of a kind of smugness, preventing us from taking a chance to craft a fresh world for ourselves. However, when images outside the sphere of sameness are brought together, they are likely to trigger latent worlds, potentially undiscovered within us. Video art allows a passage into these new worlds through the meshing of the unexpected.
- Re-engineering the language of images
Video art challenges the basic techniques through which visual representations are shaped and brought together. Through a play in time and space, a painting may begin to move and shift, a body may exist in multiple locations and landscapes may liquefy and merge into one another. Such orchestrations push video art to slide between the existing grammars of image construction. The resultant work of art is not dependent on one single technique, rather is open to engaging with multiple media and methods. We can say that video art works through the disruption of temporal continuity, disorientation of spatial fixity, and disjuncture of conventional techniques of representation.
- Fracturing the conventional narrative structures of story telling
Forms of storytelling that extend beyond the narrative structures of beginning-middle-and-end find space in video art. Forms like video diaries and video sketches are new ways to record time fragments. Such recorded memories are accessed today in jump cuts, often over personal screen devices. Also, real time can be fractured into fragments and transformed to appear in different forms such as GIFs or memes. Video art harnesses these emerging tropes as a formal device, thereby reinventing methods of assembling and organising the ways of storytelling.
- Altering the proximities of vision
Video art works play with juxtapositions of images at different scales of space and time. They may unfold a small detail by zooming into an object or idea, or hold on our attention to a single frame for prolonged periods. In doing so, they can offer sharp commentaries on different subjects in little time. Works of video art shift and complicate our notions of the near and far, and attempt to sustain our gaze, amidst aspects that may be easily overlooked. It highlights the aspect of time that is built into the nature of seeing in a strategic and thoughtful manner, creating fresh ground for altered perspectives.
- Transgression of disciplinary boundaries
Video craft renders traditional tools of a discipline in alternative ways, inevitably leading into new territories of exploration. The screen liberates the artist from material fixity of producing an image, thereby making it easier to work with several media at once. By harnessing a range of techniques and forms, artists are able to push for new modes of expression and arguments that encapsulate issues urgent to their practice, and simultaneously move towards their reconciliation with the contemporary environment. In doing so, they articulate novel methods of hiding or revealing, narrating and communicating, or even diving into the inner life of the video creation.
- Pushing the limits of one’s artistic medium
What happens when one artistic medium is recast within the register of video? The imagination of one’s work and practice through the apparatus of the screen produces an extension of the tools of one medium, giving a new dimension to its own evolution. Limitations of a medium may be compensated by video in order to further an artistic thought. Drawings morph into animations; the spatial qualities of paintings may be explored from new viewpoints; projections of sculptures can warp images and performers may splice acts across time. Staging of mise-en-scenes and splicing of unlikely montages are techniques employed by several artists in imagining their work for the screen. In this sense, video acts as a valuable prosthetic for existing mediums of expression.
- Interaction between the body and the screen
Several of the works in VAICA 2 challenge the familiar ways in which our bodies engage with the screen. They compel us to twist and turn our own bodies in order to engage with the subject. Subjecting one’s body to display on the screen may reveal new choreographies of our own selves. Video art thus opens up the space between body and performance. It asks us to wonder if there is only one way of looking at the screen, if there are only limited ways to be inside our bodies, and if there could be space to inhabit in between the body and the screen.
- Re-orchestration of image, sound and text
Etymologically, ‘video’ emerged in 1930s from the Latin videre ‘to see’, on the pattern of audio. Video art interrogates established associations between how image, sound and text are bundled together within audio-visual space. At the same time, it offers sustained engagement with alternative non visual forms which aid visual imagination. Artists may launch images from the space of music, foreground poetry with moving images or collage photographs and texts to produce affective visual narratives. These experiments allow us to consider the internal dependence of various forms of expression and ways in which they communicate certain emotions and ideas to us.
- Challenging the idea of reality
Our physical and intellectual reality is increasingly being shaped by video-matter. Today, we access, record, alter and share our everyday life most readily through the act of video making. While videos made via screen devices multiply the ways in which we construct the real, video art offers an artful dimension by stringing these fragments into new abstractions. In capturing ‘noise’, video camera essentially introduces us to the notion of image resolution – the distance between two pixels, or units of visual information. ‘Seeing’ is often used interchangeably with ‘knowing’ in the contemporary society. Video art makes us aware of the gaps between the two pixels, thus creating room for more knowledge.
The ideas listed above are not mutually exclusive, rather they dialogue and reinforce each other, in most instances, in order to produce powerful abstractions that help us contemplate upon a range of emotions that we constantly negotiate in space and time. Video art lends the possibility to hold these ephemeral fragments and give them an expression, while VAICA takes these ahead to build emotional communities around them. We live in a moving world that demands a medium of expression complimentary to the transitory nature of our experience. Video art has the potential of holding the poetics and politics of such existence, while we wade through the transforming currents of the contemporary life.