‘Cinema Verite Redux’, the exhibition curated by Shaheen Merali for Gallery Sumukha, was a fine example of insightful concept, sustained quality and tight as well as varied display. The reference to the 1960s film genre here did not aim at any obvious parallels, but served as an inspirational focus on certain attitudes to the world and aesthetics that cinema verite emphasised in its time and that to some degree continue in the work spirit and methods of many contemporaries. The common strands here were probing unadorned reality with harsh frankness, interaction of technology and document with suggestiveness and personal touch, unbridled spontaneity revealing and being steered to reveal an often uncomfortable truth in a language intrinsic to the camera. Although not clarified by the curator, the element of chance stressed by him could be understood as random encounters whose apparent incongruity throws up hidden but essential layers of things and yields moods and metaphors.
The seven Indian and international artists in the show sourced from diverse aspects of film and the photographic image without even addressing cinema verite directly, but Merali was able to make the viewer recognise a number of strands that deep down linked with this heritage and in a manner admitted their debt to it. To follow the curator’s sequence of foci, the “forensic cinema” part examined and let erupt to the surface visceral, animalistic drives of uncontrollable humanity.
Parvathi Nayar juxtaposed still close-ups from Awara which offered conventional images of stages in romantic love to the surging chaos of cell fertilisation, the cinematic and the microscopic evidencing the brutality underneath mediated by the precision of a seemingly delicate draughtsmanship that blended in traces of photographic grain, digital blur and low-end graphic posters. Marina Roy’s video in a riot of painterly and animation-like colour and line surfed through invisible apartment walls to discover an enormity of weird, subconscious fantasies and instincts let loose by the intimacy of the space, its erstwhile patrician culture being submerged by a beastly organic substratum. The artists of “the dominant episteme” chapter faced the immediate, literal presence of people and objects from within its own ironies constructing their denouncement and an appeal for respect. Subba Ghosh, alluding to photography-based advertising cut-outs of cinematic and political heroes that are familiar in street culture, painted mildly hyper-realistic portraits of the guardians-servants of our urban insecurity in order to, in subversive punning as well as empathy, return individuality to the faces on their uniforms. The Decalogue of Prasad Raghavan, in a subtly general reference to Kieslowski’s film and to ethics, spread out frontal surfaces densely packed with multiplied photographs of used up objects of consumption, conjuring a veritable rubbish dump of the indulgency and greed civilization which had filled the physical surroundings and the entire horizon. “The liberty image” could be found in the defiant, imaginative, individual streak among black youths from the slums whose cockiness, however, only covered up their vulnerability and hopelessness.
The open, realistically expressive portraits by Attila Richard Lukacs involved the wood grain of the ground to enhance the feel of raw authenticity along with the premonition of wasted lives lying ahead. The conclusion, Wait came as anticipation of the inevitable and self-generated doom. Ravikumar Kashi saw it in the erosion and confused twisting of moral values. His prints had a plastic, bazaar statuette of Gandhi lost and insignificant when confronting his own bewilderment in a hall of mirrors, the work having been triggered by the memory of a Bruce Lee film scene. A truly apocalyptic vision of natural forces dislodged and unleashed by man now engulfing the world was created by Charly Nijensohn. The calm, coolly aesthetic flow of the videos had a chilling effect as it conjured images of deluge waters indifferent to the figures of suited human survivors shakily floating on vestiges of support. One should appreciate the excellent display which not only presented the contributions but conjured an almost artwork-like environment of the whole. The gallery painted a grey of pessimism and of black and white celluloid, had been restructured to provide an architectural interior for two small cinema hall-evoking spaces and to frame-display the rest of the exhibits frequently in unusual and suggestive configurations. The comparatively narrow passage along the main cubicle in the centre allowed the spectator to watch the works with an awareness of the compact presence of the other images. While the display was balanced, with enough, even plenty of distance between individual pieces, that awareness brought a tinge of oppressiveness, so reflecting the dark views, the anger and the disgust of the artists who cared too much and observed too sharply for their affirmation of life to prevail over their disappointment and distress. One’s only reservation concerned Merali’s essay which, considering the reference to cinema verite and its non-cerebral rawness, should have perhaps explained itself better in a less arcane vocabulary.
Cinema Verite Redux, curated by Shaheen Merali, 18 June – 30 July, 2010, Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore