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Posted at: Mar 10, 2018, 2:44 AM; last updated: Mar 10, 2018, 2:44 AM (IST)

When the canvas gets moving

In times when visual art is finding a new place and meaning, films are becoming both a natural progression and an important part of artists’ oeuvre

Nonika Singh

You are born a painter and you die a painter. The axiom may have been true once but today it is an anachronism that belongs to another era. As new rules are being written, an artist can be anything a painter, a sculptor, a performance artist, an installation artist, and yes, a filmmaker too. As more and more painters, sculptors and multimedia artists are drawn towards the moving image, short films and videos have become an equally bona fide medium of their expression.

The bohemian artist duo, Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra known for their avant garde art, has just made a short film titled Q. Born out of nine scripts that became one, one scene has been made into a film. The idea was to explore human desire. In this case, it centres around a girl’s yearning to fly. Part fictional, it brings together wrestlers shot in an akhara in Jalandhar, who play musical chairs.

Veer Munshi, whose tumultuous roots entrenched in the Valley invariably trail and define his works, has made videos Leaves Like Hands of Flame and Shrapnel. He says, “Every medium has a possibility and limitation. When you are dealing with a subject, you want to explore it in its entirety. It’s not that cinema tends to be more evocative or painting less communicative ... each medium ought to speak for itself.”

By and large artists move towards a film as an extension of the kind of work they are doing. Munshi decided to make a video on Shrapnel series for he wanted to create a greater impact and strike home the intensity of violence ripping his home state. 

Thukral adds: “It’s not as if one day I look at the sky and decide ok today I will make a short film. It just grows organically out of the idea that we are working on which we expand further.” 

Q is a project about a deserted bride from Punjab — a tale of her desperation and her dreams. Thus, it is in the same continuum of material aspirations of the urban middle class that the duo has been working on. 

Artist Sudarshan Shetty’s Shoonya Ghar talks of morality, a concern that reflects in his other works too. The film, both real and surreal, at once is also a tribute to late vocalist Kumar Gandharva and Gorakhnath. Then another film of his, A Song A Story has been inspired by a Kannada story. It has as many metaphysical moments as layers, has as many multiple meanings as the viewer can see in it. The obvious one is that if you have a song to sing and a story to tell, don’t suppress it within. 

Indeed, artists make for natural raconteurs. Artist Siddarth adds further, “We all are born storytellers, and since visual artists are automatically drawn towards images, cinema becomes a natural way of expression. The difference is that as painters we can create stories with visuals alone and sense an abstraction in objects.” 

Now that can be a plus as well as a minus since often painters-turned-filmmakers miss the point of storytelling and are enmeshed in images alone. 

According to Munshi, “Unlike paintings, which are so difficult to transport, a film or a video is just a click away.” Another advantage is how it brings in more viewers and not just art connoisseurs but cinema buffs too. In the West, the line between a film for an art project and regular one often gets fused. In India, the platforms to showcase artists’ films are limited.  But avenues are opening up and special spaces are being created.

Among the many challenges that artists face apart from where to showcase also is how to make it convey what they set out to. Market is another problem ... while a painting will eventually find a buyer, an artist’s film is not exactly a market-friendly endeavour. But then, as Munshi says, “When has commerce driven an artist?” Veteran artist Prem Singh, however, also sees these films as a vehicle. “Since today everyone, artists included, wants to reach out to the masses and television channels are playing a near negligible role in promoting art. The films become an introduction of sorts to artists and their body of work.” 

That is not to say films are attention-seeking gimmicks or publicity blitzkrieg. Cinema is as much an extension of artists’ oeuvre as part of it. Commercial window may have opened a crack but the possibilities are immense. As Gene Youngblood said: “Expanded cinema isn’t a movie at all: like life, it’s a process of becoming.”

This is cinema too

The term expanded cinema was coined in the mid-1960s by US filmmaker Stan Van Der Beek, when artists and filmmakers started to challenge the conventions of spectatorship, creating more participatory roles for the viewer. They chose to show their works, not in cinemas, but in art galleries, warehouses, and in the open air, and invented different ways of experiencing films through multi-screen projections.

(As defined by Tate Gallery)

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