Sunday, December 07, 2008

Rothko and Cildo Meireles (Tate Modern)

I and Nora had been to Rothko exhibition a week back, but somehow did not enjoy seeing his work. According to Rothko, “The progression of a painter’s work…will be towards clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer…to achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.” Probably it is this removal of all obstacles and turning it into absolute clarity is what I did not understand. People were seen closely observing red on yellow, purple on black, black on grey and all kinds of colour combinations on huge canvases with mystified reverence. Adding to this was the gallery’s low lighting exactly “as had been requested by Rothko himself”. The exhibition also had Rothko’s work photographed under ultra violet light, to explain the numerous layers of colours, pigments and mediums that he used, which somehow seem to mystify the art work further. The exhibition illustrated the politics of art and the art gallery to its best.

In complete contradiction to this was Cildo Meireles’s work (born half a century after Rothko) which was absolutely stunning to engage with. Most exhibits were playful and at the same time political. For me Meireles managed the balance between politics and poetry beautifully. The rhetoric at no point in time took over the beauty of the form, which sometimes is very difficult especially when the art work is to represent a strong alignment within a highly political issue. It was nice. Inspite of the gallery having stationed public policing volunteers to stop people from taking photographs, I surreptitiously managed to take some snaps as a gesture of my support for the art work.


Having lived in Bombay all my life and lived through, the 1992 communal riots (900 dead, 2000 injured), the Bombay blast (thirteen in total) of 1993 (approx. 300 dead, 1400 injured), 11th July 2006 train bombings (209 dead, 700 injured), and other acts of violence like slum clearance, urban renewal, building collapse, flooding etc.which get skipped by the media looking for more sensational numbers, I feel we become numb to these incidences. We awake or take notice only when the violence reaches our door steps. Just like everyone else, when I heard the news, I called home to be reassured of my family’s well being, then discussed about how bad the incidence was with various people over the next few days and read a little of Salvoj Zizek. Somehow I had become apolitical (well I was indeed political enough to watch the news, be reading the right book at the right time and have a great theoretical framework to explain my take on the terror attack, but...), I could not do anything. It was as if, we have a lot to lose if we become political, our careers, our jobs, our friends, families, our lives. I wondered what was it like for these kids to do what they did, to become 20 year old terrorists and symbols of absolute horror. To feel as if they had nothing to lose, to take lives and end their own with so much ease. I believe the difference between the bomb yielding terrorist and the gun carrying is the same difference that lies in the sentence of death through the guillotine and one at the hands of an executioner...the later brings the locus of public attention from the instrument of death to the executioner, and in this case the executioners were some kids with guns with little to lose and in all probabilities with minds incapable of comprehending the strings that connected them to a much bigger web. A web made out of numerous strings of national interests, communal discontent, personal greed into which all of us contribute, as highly trained professionals designing cities in poorer nations governed by dictator, redesigning urban spaces to facilitate entry of real estate market, drawing substantial profits from the exploitation of unskilled labour working under us and continuing being numb, brain dead consumers infested by desires that turn us into individuals and not a collective (with me along with many more of you, being guilty to all of the above). I believe ‘terror’ is not this ridiculous entity outside us, or some random followers of abstract ideology, but it is a part of our everyday, just like the financial crisis, we have done our bit to contribute to it in one form or the other. And even if we do muster a collectivity we will be still clueless about what to do....maybe make a painting, light a candle, write a book, an article or probably vent out frustration through a blog post, the way I have done.

“We are overcome by anguish at this illogical moment of humanity.”