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Tactile Traces


Blogger: Manashri Pai Dukle

(Art Historian, Interior Stylist, Writer, Art educator and an Artist based in Goa.)




"It's impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information."If you leave footprints, people can see that you have walked but if they can't see the traces at all then they assume that you haven't walked at all. Traces “the visible invisible”, are memories and time captured in a standstill of the morphing attire. Traces are the visible after effects of the invisible causes. Traces are impressions of touch.


Alwar Balasubramaniam, Untitled (cast from self), left: sand, fibreglass; right: evaporating compound, 2004



Alwar Balasubramaniam, light Makes Dark, Acrylic,Oil, Soot on canvas, in the artist’s frame, 2004



Alwar Balasubramaniam's art speaks about art being between the physical existence (Science) and the invisible existence (Spirituality). Sahil Naik's work speaks about the poetics of terror, of memories and loss. His work captures the traces of effect.



Sahil naik, Ground Zero: Artist as the suspect, Concrete structure, cement, hand cut bricks, wood, metal, berglass, buff board, corrugated sheets, wires, tiles, plaster of paris and other miscellaneous materials, 2016



Sahil Naik, Ground Zero/Artist as the Suspect, 2018



Through her work, Zarina Hashmi traces a way back to her personal history and experience of loss and nostalgia of partition, through the combination of text and forms.


Zarina Hashmi, Home is a foreign place, woodcuts on kozo paper, mounted on somerset paper,1999



Dayanita Singh, through her practice documents traces of history, culture and customs in the hues of monochromatic frames of impressions (photographs), while Sheela Gowda's work is "process-oriented" that incorporates traces of experience in her unique visual-material language. The idea of the tactile touch and the invisible sensations of the tangible, memories and histories is what make the common ground for the above-mentioned artists and their practice.



Sheela Gowda, Behold, human hair and car bumpers, 2009



Contemporary Art practices are revising the traditional definitions of “what art should be?”.’Is this art?’ is a question often raised by museum visitors when encountering contemporary artworks. But what factors influence museum visitors’ judgement on contemporary art? To what extent do visitors’ prior knowledge, socio-demographic background, emotional experiences, and specific aspects of the artwork itself, influence their judgments? These are some of the important aspects to be addressed while experiencing a work of art in the current time. Art is no more limited to being a product, but it is also the process; art need not be something you appreciate for being beautiful, contemporary practices have pushed the boundaries of its definition beyond the set norms.



Dayanita Singh, Seated Gods, Black and White silver gelatin print, 2006



In recent times, the idea of Art as an aesthetic object is fading away, replacing it by questions of how art objects can be located on the cultural and social maps? Moving away from the material culture. Art is considered participatory as well as something that can impact and affect. Contemporary art initiates a platform for shared interactions. It provides varied ways to create and assert representational models for social and cultural relations.


Contemporary art trend is deeply embedded in everyday life as well as is integral to ritual, political or biographical importance, no single explanation can encompass the diverse ways that art establishes, sustains, or transforms social relations. Through its making, using, and display, art helps people share underlying understandings of the world. Art is in the process, sometimes with no final material product to display but only the ideated conclusions. The idea of art being a trace can be understood with the above-mentioned artists’ practice and how they use art as a means to reach to the material that causes the trail.


Alwar Balasubramaniam’s work is predominated by a controlled use of White and tactility, a combination of conceptual ideation and material. His work is driven by spiritual concerns and matter. His work is a quest for epiphany, trying to draw from the idea of science being the physical existence and Spirituality the invisible existence and detecting art somewhere within these polarities. Sahil Naik’s work strives for control in miniature settings, with his meticulous process of replicating architectural traces, gauging both the witness and the evidence narratives. Naik’s work reads “the possibility of understanding what has happened, and under what circumstances”. Zarina Hashmi’s work attempted at identifying the ‘home’. Though she lived in New York for the last four and a half decades of her lifetime, she didn’t consider the place her home. She always identified herself with a permanent exile, tracing her way back to home through her practice. She once said “I do not feel at home anywhere, but the idea of home follows me wherever I go.” Dayanita Singh uses Photography as the medium to create archival traces, by visiting and revisiting spaces in black and white and now lush tonal frames. Sheela Gowda is known for producing large-scale installation art in which she transforms everyday materials through layers of processes, tracing back to local traditions of craft and the role of labour in making art.


For the art jargon to be translated into the viewer’s parlance takes an understanding of the process of art and the structure that underlies the final product, the eye to read the traces, in the form of history, philosophy, concepts and experimentation with the materials and mediums. Diverse in nature, contemporary art as a whole is distinct by the very lack of a uniform, organising principle, ideology, or "-ism". It is part of a socio-cultural dialogue that concerns larger contextual frameworks such as personal and cultural identity, family, community, politics and nationality, among other aspects. Contemporary art practice is largely a journey of either tracing back to something or leaving traces behind.



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