The unique solo exhibition displays artworks that re-imagine our perception of reality and are created using a combination of 3D graphics and lenticular printing to evoke three-dimensional space.
Art Radar also talks to Baiju Parthan about his creative process and the technology that supports him in the execution of his vision.
Showcasing the impact of digitisation on human experiences
Baiju Parthan is an intermedia artist who works with painting as well as digital technology-based installation art, and is one of the first exponents of new media art in India. At the conceptual level, his work focuses on the one hand, on the impact of digitisation and how it is changing our perception and experience of the world. On the other hand, at a more personal and subjective level, Parthan also explores alternative world views and knowledge systems such as alchemy, Shamanism and other fringe science theories, in his artistic practice.
Parthan was born in Kotayyam, Kerala and after completing his degree in botany enrolled himself for a diploma in civil engineering before entering the world of art by joining the Goa College of Art in 1978. After spending several years absorbing the artistic and musical culture of Goa, he moved to Mumbai where he worked with the Times of India Group as an editorial artist, with his work appearing in the Illustrated Weekly of India, Science Today and the Times Sunday Review.
Parthan left his job to concentrate on his career in the 1990s after his first solo exhibition, and since then he has shown extensively in India and overseas at galleries such as Vadehra Art Gallery (New Delhi), Aicon Gallery (New York) and Art Musings (Mumbai), and in exhibitions such as “Under Construction” (Tokyo, 2002), “Capital & Karma” (Vienna, 2002), “Zoom” (Lisbon, 2004) and “Along the X-Axis” (New Delhi, 2004). With wide-ranging academic interests, Parthan also studied comparative mythology at the University of Mumbai in the 1980s and some years later he added computer software programming and hardware engineering into his repository of knowledge. In an interview with Nancy Adajania for “Baiju Parthan – The Dialogue Series”, the artist says:
I have always been fascinated by the randomness of actions in the computer world, I see it almost as a cosmic principle. Because, as logical beings, we take all kinds of things that cannot be explained and push them into this space called the random, the accidental, the coincidental […] for me software – both as a tool and an artefact – is fascinating because it is a mirror that reflects us. It mirrors our thinking process because we have produced it.
A virtual re-imagination of reality
“Ray Trace” is a solo exhibition that showcases a range of the artist’s lenticular works, which are a combination of 3D graphics and lenticular printing technology. The process itself involves sculpting and modelling the image in three-dimensional virtual space, using 3D software tools and then presenting the result as stereoscopic prints that evoke the illusion of three-dimensional space and movement.
On display are examples from some of Parthan’s most iconic series, including “Monument” (2011), “Chorus” (2011) and “Terminus” (2017), which are all new media works that re-imagine historic landmarks and the cityscape of Mumbai. The visuals have creative interventions made by the artist that alter the viewer’s recollection of the actual landmark – thereby suggesting how the virtual could affect and alter the real. Deposition and Testimony (2013) is created entirely out of virtual objects presented within an illusory three-dimensional stage and relies on the viewer’s location to resolve itself as an interactive artwork. This set of three works try to follow the art historical tradition of ‘Memento Mori’ art, a genre of art that reminds the viewer of their own mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life.
Also on display is the “Big Data” series (2016), which is a set of animated prints created using 3D graphics to represent a world submerged within invisible data clouds, with all the items that define our reality – our personal lives, identities, commerce and war – all warehoused in spread sheets, databases and virtual servers. In another interplay between what is real and what is virtual, the works Fructus Nubes (2016) and Eden (2017) feature the pear, an icon that the artist has used on several occasions. While Fructus Nubes is about the tag clouds that have become an essential interface between humans and technology, in Eden the artist comments on the precarious state of knowledge as it is defined today, both by social media and the globalised market economy.
Using a vocabulary of arcane symbols, found images, photographs and computer generated imagery, Parthan creates multi-layered landscapes that conflate the virtual world with reality. The numerous computer-generated virtual objects, presented in video installations and 3D lenticular prints, seem to overpower the reality present in the images. They present to us on behalf of the artist, his critique of the negative impact of digitisation and how it is changing our perceptions and experiences of the real world.
Art Radar talks to Baiju Parthan about the subject matter in his practice, his artistic style and the technology that assists his creative process.
“Ray Trace” showcases your intermedia works, which are a combination of 3D graphics and lenticular printing technology. Could you explain to Art Radar readers the creative and technological process involved in their execution?
Technically speaking, the present day lenticular print technology is a version of the ‘parallax stereogram’ developed by American inventor Frederic Eugene Ives in 1901. The technique involves combining two images of a scenery or object from two different angles into a single image by slicing the source images into very thin strips. These strips are arranged underneath a transparent refracting panel to create the illusion of three-dimensional depth.
The way I use this medium diverges from its lineage in the sense I use stereoscopic prints to showcase virtual objects and scenes generated with 3D graphics software and photography.
You have always created your own path in the world of contemporary Indian art, rather than follow popular trends. What is it that attracts you to the unconventional – in your subject matter, artistic style and production techniques?
Not following trends is an unintentional outcome of my tendency to get into things that artists are not naturally drawn to. For instance, I have studied programming languages and kept myself updated on the developments in that field not for writing programmes but for the sake of experiencing how a computer programmer looks at and experiences the world around. Likewise, there are other off tangent interests that I pursue not for any practical purpose. All those things add up to make my art appear rather unconventional. Having said that, I am not denying that there is also the thrill and satisfaction of doing something that is outside of the norm and getting away with it.
You have used fruit as a motif for several years, but in a very different avatar from what we are familiar with. What is the rationale behind these highly engineered fruit that appear in many of your works?
To begin with, the way I related to plants, flowers and fruits was coloured by my background in botany. Then I went on to study comparative mythology and got a totally different set of meanings associated with plants and trees. I began using the fruit motif as a receptacle to bring together and fuse these diverse sets of meanings into a coherent whole. Eventually, the fruit transformed into ‘Engineered fruit’, which has become a signature motif for my art practice that draws upon metaphysics, science and how technology is transforming contemporary social reality. Frankly, I never intended to keep on doing this theme, but somehow it keeps returning and instead of suppressing it I have continued my engagement with it.
You were a student of botany before you studied art. How does your knowledge of the plant world manifest in your work?
I was student of botany before I went on to study visual arts. The study of botany has had a very positive effect on my art. First of all as a student of botany I enjoyed drawing scores of plant cross-section diagrams and herbarium studies before I received visual art training. Because of that past experience, the artworks I produce owe a lot to the visual syntax of diagrams. Aside from that, fruits and flowers and plants in some form or the other are always present in my art.
There is always an underlying philosophical statement behind most of your artworks. You have even studied mythology and philosophy. How does this interest fit in to the fantastical imagery that characterises your practice?
My exposure to philosophy and mythology has brought in quite a lot of metaphysical references into my work. The fantastical imagery and arcane symbolism and cryptic elements that appear in my work are a result of my attempt to present these metaphysical ideas and connections. I do not expect these symbols to be read literally but only as metaphors that add an extra layer of meaning.
Your works have an intriguing complexity that is not immediately evident at first glance. The symbolism and depth of meaning can be absorbed only when one spends time with the work, to explore it further. Is it challenging for you sometimes, to get your message across to onlookers?
In general, my attempt is to produce an artwork that is open-ended and has the potential to offer a multitude of readings. I agree that most of my artworks appear dense and tend not to open up immediately. I have accepted the fact that because of this approach I might lose part of the viewership who demand immediacy and instant communication. Unfortunately, it is not possible to change this aspect of my art, as what I produce is an extension of myself and I guess as a person I am complex and somewhat opaque.
Given the high level of detail in the final product, there must be a fair amount of research and thinking that goes into each of your artworks. What is the conceptual and creative process in your work method? How long does it take you to complete one such project?
On an average, I take a month or more for a work irrespective of whether it is a painting or a new media piece. A major portion of my output belongs to a well defined conceptual framework or theme that in a nutshell is about the impact of digitisation and how it is changing our perceptions and experience of the world. Along with that, there is a parallel stream of works that are personal and subjective, exploring alternative world views and knowledge systems as in alchemy, shamanism, fringe science, etc. I do a lot of research before I start a work and continue doing so as the work progresses. It is within this ongoing research process that I come across ideas for new works and new directions, which in turn sparks off more researching.
Could you share with Art Radar readers what is next on the anvil for you in 2018 and what they might look forward to from your studio?
There are three show participations I have committed to towards the second half of 2018 and a couple more in the first half of 2019. To be frank, I prefer not to make plans about what I am going to do in the future. I work very organically and feel more comfortable looking back and being happy about what I have managed to do.
“Ray Trace” is on view from 10 May to 30 June 2018 at Art Musings, 1 Admiralty Building, Colaba, Mumbai 400005.
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