When an Idea Takes Shape…

Namratha A. Rai
Published: July 2018

An expression of one’s beliefs, feelings or a stroke of inspiration at the sight of the most mundane things, art can take many forms

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate – Harvey Fierstein. But is it possible to define art? Is it about an expression of beliefs, phenomena or instincts? Although a single line of thought might not suffice to answer this question, most would agree that it’s about creativity, the artist’s interpretation, and manifestation of something that stimulates a person’s thought.

Come to think of it even categorising art is a monumental task. Broadly, art can be classified into performing arts and visual arts. Delve further into these two categories, and you’ll find different kinds of genre. If one attempts to define and categorise each kind in a broad sense, visual arts would include painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, even architecture and other visual media where images are created while performing arts would include music, theatre, film and dance. Literature too is considered an art.

In the present era, modern art forms have established their own genre. In modern art forms, the artist’s ideas are expressed very differently than the traditional art forms and to understand them, one needs to use the clues that the artist leaves and interpret the work. For instance, abstract art and expressionist art both play around with colours but with abstract, it is about arranging colours and the end results do not look like real life objects while expressionist art is a visualisation of an artist’s emotional state in colours and gestures. Conceptual art and minimalist art differ in that the former is mostly about the idea and not the object while the latter is about the material.

If a city in India was ever suited for an artist, it is Bengaluru. Its vibrant tones can be seen in the workshops, exhibitions and fests that are held frequently, in the galleries that display art works, and its openness in introducing and encouraging newcomers. Bengaluru International Arts Festival (BIAF) is recognised as one of the major global cultural events on par with other international fests, further sealing the deal. AIM – Artistes Introspective Movement, which is a part of BIAF, was established in 2003 to bring together like-minded artists in the field of visual arts, dance, music and theatre from across the globe to perform and showcase innovative styles in these fields. BIAF also utilises a part of the funds collected for the welfare of the community.

Traditional, modern, minimalist, abstract or conceptual, you’ll find them all, and more here. Conceptual art is slowly gaining recognition, although for most, understanding the artwork might not be easy. In an interview with Mithun Jayaram, a conceptual artist in Bengaluru, we see how a conceptual artist sees, feels and executes an idea.

Mithun Jayaram completed his initial education in Dubai and pursued a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at LaSalle College of Arts in Singapore. He has worked on group exhibitions with award winning artists in Europe and Singapore.

Here is an excerpt of an interview with him:

What are you working on right now?
I’m exploring textures created through knots. I knot over knot, over knot, over knot… And will see where that’ll take me.

I’ve decided to use one of the simplest of knots (the over-hand knot) for this exploration. Generally, knots are either used functionally or portrayed ornamentally. I’m taking the functional act of knotting and repeating the process to see what (non-functional) textures may coalesce.

How and why did you choose conceptual art over other forms?
I enjoy the terrifying sense of freedom that it allows. Before facing the hurdles of reality and all its gravity, I must build through thought. I tend to have a visual idea. This idea evolves maybe a dozen times, before reaching the point where I feel confident in starting to explore a material.

While getting somewhere with the idea, form and texture, the challenge of presentation (or addition of materials) comes to play. I don’t have a set-way of dealing with this issue, but, whether through dreams, passing comments, intuition, or by means of elimination, things seem to turn out fine.

That was the why. As for how I chose it; I don’t have an answer. It was a natural flow that landed me here.

What do you look at when you see an art work?
This depends on the work. I tend to first look for which senses I’m involving, when engaging with a work. Looking at the materials used, I imagine the process that would be involved in making it. I look at the link between the actions used and the object’s evolution.

Then, depending on the context, I play detective and make meaning out for myself. If I feel like delving further, I’d use various critical lens (i.e. historical contexts/psychoanalytical theory/feminist theory/post-colonial theory/et c.) to see its connection within the context it’s created in.

Artists talk about connections with their work, how do you connect with yours?
I’m unsure about what connections they may be talking about. I connect with my works by looking at them having a life-span. They are conceptually conceived, they get created, they grow and have a ‘life’ with an audience, and finally, they get taken down, the remains stored.

Have you tried other forms of art?
I have dabbled in drawings, paintings, sound, video and photography but, if I were to think about it… Conceptual art can encompass all.

Have you incorporated other forms in your artwork?
This question evokes two art-words; Mixed-media and Cross-disciplinary collaborations. So, yes to both.

Where do you get your ideas from?
The source of inspiration is not restricted to a particular means. It varies perhaps from conversations, movies, sounds, speculation, nature, and random thought. I do gravitate towards things absurd, surreal, notions of body horror, fragility and ephemerality. Ideas get translated from everywhere.

If you had to represent a basket of fruits, how would you do it?
Ideally, I’d try to construct a representation through layers of scents. I’d look at what fruit combinations, what atmosphere, what level of decay/ freshness I’d involve. Then I’d look at what material the container would be in, the state of the container (i.e. clean/rusty/dusty), along with the surrounding space.

Author/Poet Diane Ackerman described it best saying, “Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years of experiences. Hit a tripwire of smell, and the memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.”

If you had to do A Roomful of Old Ladies again, and you had to choose a different material, what would it be?
I wouldn’t do it again, hence I wouldn’t choose a different material for that title. The work had a life-span and has moved on.

Why A Roomful of Old Ladies Clattering their Fingernails?
The title came about while making the work. I was in the process of making a chandelier of pencil lead. While shaving the wood off the pencils, leaving only the lines of lead behind, I saw, in my head, how the chandelier would breathe, if it were alive, and what the environment would be like for such a creature to exist. I then focused on the sounds of that space and it sounded like a roomful of old ladies clattering their fingernails.

How do you choose or decide on the material(s) once you have an idea? Do you try out various materials or do you work keeping a material in mind?
I aim for a personal dialogue with the material. The material(s) tends to be emblematic either through the nature of the material(s), the intended use of the material(s) and/or the verbs I choose to engage with the material(s). For example, I wanted to work on ideas regarding remembering and forgetting. I wanted to use familiar objects that would be found in stationary shops accessible to most people. By sieving through the intended functions of the objects in the shop, I arrived at the choice of using Post-It papers (that help as reminders) and erasers (that help forget/erase) that went through a process that became the work titled, “The Feeling Bubble of Forgetting”.