¶ Between the Sky and the World Under the Ground
Conversations on Sound in Art with Meena Vari.
M. You have been working with sound for a long time, even though your training has been very varied. I remember seeing your work in your grandmother's house which was a sound piece in a telephone booth, I think it was 1996, since then have you experimented a lot with sound as a medium or used it as part of your films only. Do share your journey.
I was first introduced to "Sound in Art" in New York, as I was to "Text in Art". Conceptual art had discovered the easy crossover that artists of earlier generations had made, without the self consciousness of either being a painter or a sculptor or a musician. This was very attractive to me, as I had always either wanted to write or to draw and paint or to make ceramic pots or films. I was some kind of a dilletante, and what art school in those days, offered was incompatible to a dilletanet's interests. Such amateur dilletantism was frowned upon, infact! It was precisely this that made me want to use sound in my work, as well as other media including words.
Ofcourse, the discourse was connected to the fatigue that was experienced with the Visual in the Visual arts, and a philosophical critique of the privileging of sight, at the expense of all other senses. Finding media that alerted the other senses; be it smell, touch, the acoustic, became equally important for artists, if not more so, and this burgeoned into a very eclectic and interdisciplinary scene.
For me, the grandmothers house set the stage for an exploration of the everyday, and the mundane, within an inner circle of art viewers. The frame of a house and the transition it was undergoing, from being a functional household to a pile of rubble, meant that an intervention could make possible a subtle shift in perception. The phone thus became the form for a sound piece titled " Calling the Nation", which was a recording of recordings audible when a wrong number was dialled. Such recordings made via the telephone across the many states of the country, would be heard in multiple languages. While I had hoped to collate more than 10 languages, what I successfully got other than the engaged tone, was closer to 8.This then becomes the base for a digital musical composition, remixed along with musician Konarak Reddy. While the ITI black phone where the sound work was located within, looked like a phone of the era, the grandmothers storeroom contained reframed photographs from the rusted trunk that contained the history of her families 19th century conversion to christanity (...Looks the Other way). And so on...damp walls with water infused bulges became more bulbous bursting out of the skin of the wall. The children's room; filled with multiple plaster casts of quasi westernized dolls.
A site could then embody the many media and approaches towards making such art installations. A single style fragments into a multiplicity of forms, generating not one way of making of doing something, but many. As also new ways of looking and listening. That is how I see my amateur foray into "sound".
M. Your work which is in the area of experimental film oscillates between the 'now' and the 'archive',. How important is it for you to create a form which justifies the material you have used and what are the challenges in bringing out the aesthetics in this practice?
The archive has provided me with a rich resource to look back onto the past, and the present is a lens to conjure up or refract this past. It is both the enchantment of the past as image, burnt on the surface of the film, and the medium of film itself as obsolete technology and material, that becomes fascinating for me. Different sets of footage speak differently to me, as I view it in the darkness of my studio. Sometimes documentary is what will illuminate or annotate the footage, and at other times, it is pure abstraction and the surface texture of the footage that provides the poetic context for the reworking of the found footage. I like to be able to arrange different forms, different voices or sounds and temporalities. Often one film and its extended footage can be reworked in more than one way. The sound track or recording of my short film "One Way", locked into that folder in a hard disk since 2006, can find its way out again, many years later, and become audible again It makes its way, as in the sound piece now, for the project Whispers and is titled "Between the sky and the world under the ground".
This process is a stimulating way for me to work, as what I may have seen or heard a few years ago, speaks to me differently today. There is, thus, a more immediate past and present too, that informs my work.