by Manu SharmaFeb 26, 2023
The second edition of VAICA festival 2021, titled Fields of Vision, curated by Bharati Kapadia, Chandita Mukherjee, and Anuj Daga, tabs on the surge in the audience engagement with the digital media and screen time as it runs on the VAICA (Video Art by Indian Contemporary Artists) website for four weeks from November 20 to December 18, 2021. The festival, presented by Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in association with Comet Media Foundation, showcases the diversity of formats, subjects and issues that were being explored within the practice of video art and moving images by Indian contemporary artists. Adhering to the focus of the public platform VAICA i.e., developing critical engagement with the video and moving images, the second edition of VAICA festival has astutely divided the 121 video works by 79 Indian artists into four key themes – Cartographies of Sensation, Orbits of Desire, Peripheries of the Real and Urban Heterotopias – which directly speak to the zeitgeist of the present time about cultural politics.
In an interview with STIR, the VAICA curatorial team explains, “The ideas of cartography, orbits, peripheries and heterotopias are spatial concepts that try to circumscribe or map an infinite space into a discernible territory. These concepts were coupled with broad synergies of the subject matter being explored within the video works received, in order to mark the territories charted by video art in India. This process of coupling is what we understand as interpolation. The resultant interpolated fields: scientific-sensual, body-desire, real-imagined and hetero-urban therefore give rise to the weekly themes of the festival that are in dialogue with each other. The curatorial mounting of the festival thus invites reflection upon the notion of seeing and sensation, in other words, video and art.”
Furthermore, the curators talk about their approach to thread together four diverse themes of the festival under the umbrella of Fields of Vision, “The scientific concept of ‘field of vision’ was artistically leveraged into the curatorial arching of the overall festival. Fields of Vision hints at the duality of human limitation in visual perception and its expansion through the medium of the screen. The pluralising of the singular ‘field’ into the multiple ‘fields’ proposes widening of perspectives, multiplying vectors of viewing, and discovering new directions for wandering, pause and inhabitation.”
The first curatorial theme of Cartographies of Sensation, as mentioned in detail on the website of the festival, “maps the coordinates of experience, observation, perception and artistic production. In these mappings, moving images play between the polarities of science and fiction. They become vehicles of thought and speculation interweaving science with artifice – relocating the boundaries of awareness of the self and its surroundings.” To illustrate this, for instance, Bharati Kapadia’s video Playing with Danger under this first curatorial theme delineates the notion of home and what lies outside the domain of the inner world. If the danger is pervasive, the video critically walks us through its kaleidoscopic forms - abusive power structures, myopic vision of social understanding, to name a few.
Looking at the tactile essence of desire through bodily acts, the videos under the theme of Orbits of Desire, “explore the body as the medium through which we make memories or express our inner desires.” The videos here archive temporal bodies as the experiential “sites of retention and release” only to effectively “rediscover the desires”. The video installation Accidentally Miraculous Everyday from that Heaven by Moonis Ahmad Shah in this section reconstructs the imagery of people from difficult places. The human body(ies) merges and blurs as the artist plays with the technique of photogrammetry to thread a collection of two-dimensional images into three-dimensional. The video underscores the impossibility of a seamless run of the images to trace the indexical occurrence of the void. For the artist, it turns into a metaphorical representation of the silence and being silenced – a plea to mine their history.
The third segment Peripheries of the Real if works to explore environmental aspects, it also underlines the adversaries of the recent pandemic crisis and entailing anxiety of lockdown. Even if the order to stay home in the recent past lent a taste of isolation and angst, the video Lockdown 1 by Veer Munshi relooks at the complexity of lockdown via the region of Kashmir that has regularly faced the period of curfew. Munshi is mindful of the difference of the reasons leading to the lockdown in the two geographical contexts - valley and the rest of the country. Yet, as the video opens a window to the dysfunctional spaces of the old silk reeling factory in Solina, Kashmir, to give a glimpse of abandonment, it manoeuvres the audience to think about the trauma experienced by the people not just over the period of a few months, but now for decades.
The last section of the festival Urban heterotopias as a commentary on the geographies of the cities problematises the conventional boundaries between the inside and outside space to see it as a potential “ground where multiple ideologies collide, intertwine, repel and dance with each other.” The pandemic-induced lockdown is the immediate example to critique the pervasive inequality running through the urban architecture and its residents. Abeer Khan’s video Makaan is a testimony to the lived experiences of the residents living in the vertical micro-apartments in cosmopolitan Mumbai. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority, as part of its programme rehabilitates the displaced residents of slums, has constructed the cramped housing societies. The sustained demarcation between the inner and outer world is highlighted as Khan records the everyday life lived in the passageways from the exteriors of the society building. A view of the living conditions of the residents from the series of the small horizontal windows and iron grills of the corridors indicates the negotiation practised by the urban dwellers in favour of cohabitation.
The online version of the festival eases access to the spectrum of artists as well as reaches out to global audiences. Consequently, it anchors the possibility of forging new communities around “shared inquiries and interests”. Yet, the curators admit to the fact, “We are very cognizant of the fact that accessing such a festival through the fixed frame of one’s computer screen runs the risk of overlooking the spatial and bodily encounters that play phenomenally in the reception of videos.” When the video artists express the legitimate concerns over the audience experience of their works on a digital platform, the curators channelise these tensions to think critically about, “the role of spatial mediation and our modes of viewing art digitally.” With the scale of the second edition of the festival, VAICA has successfully re-established itself on firm grounds only to spark the perceptive vision to see the many manifestations of creativity and criticality.
VAICA 2 Fields of Vision runs online at the website www.vaica.org until December 18, 2021.