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Written by Palak Malik
A few years back when I went to Cochin, I was taken aback by an exhibition at Kashi Art Cafe. The gallery space made use of 7-8 iPad screens to display the artwork, which the viewers could scroll through. For me, this was the first instance to see an example of mixed media art. Few years down the line, it is no surprise that the contemporary art scene is filled with such instances wherein installations have come to represent advancements in technology. Even though this synthesis of art and technology seems seamless in today’s age, but historically it may be interesting to observe that in 1967, an official organisation called EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology) was formed to facilitate this blend. So, it was not very long ago that the two entities – Art and Technology (commonly referred to as ARTech), artists and engineers – were considered as two separate and discrete entities. This, however, was the beginning of an era of mixed media.
Art, when deconstructed, is simply a reflection of two co-ordinates known as time and technology. New means of expression, along with new-age materials, have always caught the artists' fancy. This is the basic premise of mixed media art. The whole idea behind ARTech is to integrate technology with art and make the art more appealing to all senses by initiating a two-way conversation between the artist and the viewer. Engagement of this sort leads to an overtly emotional and sensual art experience. For instance, Navjot Altaf’s 22 channel video installation four years ago in Talwar Gallery, or the recent three-channel video installation in Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, which when reflected in seventy-two mirrors, was a great example of ARTech, where he used mixed media to convey his thoughts This ARTech installation opened up the possibility of a multi-layered discourse with the audience.
Almost all aspects of our modern-day lives are dictated by hi-tech devices, from home automation to Skype conferences and call meetings on the go. We even talk about the eventual death of print media and the emergence of digital journalism, so it is no wonder that artists too have developed a taste for scientific know-how as a means of expression. Be it digital screens, neon lights, or audio waves, art is no more just about the central theme of artistic imagination of an idea that is being communicated. The artists today are open to using mixed media to create the desired effect. Today, art, and especially mixed media art is all about ARTech, which means execution art along with technological input and state-of-the-art material that determines the outcome. The practice of mixed media brings in its own set of complications; these new materials require a certain kind of finesse that comes only with a multi-disciplinary approach to art. Architecture in this regard is seen as a utilitarian art, but when an architect like Vishal K Dar forays into art, the result is spectacular steel sculptures wherein geometry effortlessly blends with design.
One of the defining characteristics of mixed media to create high-tech artwork is its ability to teleport the receiver from reality to a world of imagination. If we simply look at the photographic artworks, Pushpamala N’s photo performances in collaboration with Clare Arni transcends the boundaries of fact and fiction. The illusion of time is constructed and deconstructed in the same image similar to time travel. The audio-visual art movement manages to create a cinematic experience in the confines of the exhibition space. Case in point, Sheba Chhachhi’s usage of light-boxes for digital storytelling.
Sheba Chhachhi, Neelkanth: Poison/Nectar, 2000-02, installation with one LCD projector, one DVD player, 174 aluminium boxes each with a light bulb, photographs, four light-dimmers, four translites. installed structure in mandala form, projection on central floor platform, aluminum boxes: 22.8cm x 61cm (height), translites: 40.6cm x 17.7cm x 10.1cm
Even Shilpa Gupta’s work in the area of mixed media has been exceptional. Her playful use of video projection in the art series ‘Shadow’ makes use of real-time viewer interaction. Her other techno-art projects too use audio as an instrument of conversation along with the canvas. What is more fascinating is how she chooses to use text with technology. The neon signs or the light installations in the public domain force a one-way dialogue bridging the high culture with the low.
If we zoom out from the exhibition spaces and look at the real-world scenario, it is impossible to ignore the extent of art intervention in our modern life. Virtual exhibitions and online art tours have made sure that everyone can easily access art with the click of a mouse. Whether it is a virtual tour of Van Gogh’s masterpieces or contemporary 3D art spaces, all you need is good internet speed to develop art intelligence.
In real life, there is an unusual juxtaposition with performing art. B.L.O.T (Basic Love of Things) is a band that uses mixed media like film animation and motion graphic video projections along with the music. Their performances expose club going youngsters to a psychedelic form of visual art experience. Moreover, a recent Coca Cola advertisement that made use of tribal art of Warli painting, integrated a dying art into the mainstream medium. Here it may be impressive to note that this endeavour not just puts a work of art in the public domain but preserved the same by digitization.
Coca Cola advertisement that made use of tribal art of Warli painting
With this technological art integration and revival in full swing, it may not be an exaggeration to say that we are living in a science-fiction ‘Art Age’. Art and especially the mixed media art is a reflection of society and the changing dynamics of society. And, it is only when art is versatile enough to represent a compelling portrayal of life and times of the artists’ existence that it fulfils its function. Another important aspect of contemporary art or mixed media art is that it initiates a two-way conversation wherein artists’ expression gets feedback via audience engagement. Eventually, the tools artist chooses to work with speak for cultural and technological advancement. The current mixed media artworks speak volumes!