'City Without End'

Solo Show at Aicon Gallery, Palo Alto, U.S.A.

Real and Virtual Addresses: A Response to Ravi Kumar Kashi’s 'City without End'

- Ranjit Hoskote

In the course of an artistic career that now spans 16 years, Ravi Kumar Kashi has proceeded by a breathtaking series of disconnects, as though no single medium or approach to image-making could hold his restless energy. He has worked in graphics, painted on glass and on canvas, addressed the figure and explored abstraction; he has cherished the collage principle, devoted himself to moulded-paper sculpture, mobilised assemblages, extended the painterly mandate to the social signalling devices of the T-shirt and the mask; he has engaged in photography and made digital art-works as well as art-works that are inspired by digital-media processes. The solitary self, in the richness of its anxieties and indecisions and ecstasies, has often been the locus of Kashi’s art, but he has also attended to the communicative demands of sociality. He has, for many years, acted as co-editor of the Kannada art journal, Sanchaya, and has contributed art criticism to newspapers and magazines.

Not surprisingly, Kashi has cultivated a long-term interest in the legibility of collage, conceived as a whole composed from fragments, its effects accomplished by means of adroit editing patterns and a symphonics of surprise. He interprets the collage principle, not only in its early modernist sense of a patchwork of heterogeneous materials pasted together on a pictorial surface to challenge the homogeneity of paint and painting, but also to include sculptural assemblages or quasi-sculptural combines. Accordingly, Kashi has used architectural elements such as doors, as well as readymades such as chess pieces, stencil templates, toy cars, rocking horses and neon tubing, in some of his works. He has also activated papier-mâché to considerable effect, as in the 2003 ‘Paper Armour’ series of armour suits and helmets cast in cotton-fibre pulp, presented with ‘Pause’, a suite of silent weapons, cast in pulp made from cotton and banana fibre. He has crafted paper-pulp sculptures in the form of books, blazoned T-shirt moulds with messages in the installation, ‘Chatter’ (2005), and assembled a set of tabletop photographs, with images of torsos, hands, jars and other ensembles of elements that rub together to generate a friction between the everyday and the bizarre. Kashi’s key recurrent motifs are the book, seemingly solidly crafted but vulnerable to historical and climatic violence; and the torso, whether naked or protected by armour, or presented as a mould, the armature of absence.

Kashi may well have secured permission for this versatility in the course of his nomadic education, which was garnered in various schools, cities and disciplines. The artist earned a BFA in painting from the College of Fine Arts, Bangalore, in 1988, and was nurtured by the very different emphases of the two Bangalore institutions that socialised him into the domain of the visual arts: the Ken School of Art, an informally run, perennially precarious but superbly vibrant local Bauhaus with a flexible syllabus and an accent on improvisation, and the Chithra Kala Parishath, a formal, State-funded academic institution animated by a sense of the composure and grandeur of the artistic mission. Kashi then took an MFA in print-making at the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda (1990), and found the time, while working to establish himself as an artist, to read for an MA in English Literature at the Mysore University (1995). The natural subject for such a sensibility would be that kaleidoscope of possibilities which is the modern city, the “city without end” that features in the title of the present exhibition. The city without end is everywhere: it fashions itself as the environment that we occupy; it secretes itself in the imagination; it lays down the rules of habitation and movement; it decides how we may communicate with each other, and also becomes the ground note of our communication. At once aspiration and ambience, metaphor and reality, the city without end demands ever-renewed acts of testimony.

Kashi is a connoisseur of urban signs. His interest in the structures and layouts of the metropolis was nourished during the 12 years that he taught at an architecture school in Bangalore. The presence of the city has haunted even the scintillating near-abstract paintings that he orchestrated through the mid-1990s. Houses and streets, pylons and hanging electric wires, bridges and staircases: all were invoked, as glimpses and snatches rather than as solid entities, in a play of the visible motif and the manoeuvre of eclipse. Kashi preserved the residues of form even as he knit together tapestries of dissolving interiors and notational cityscapes. In his paintings of the last few years, Kashi invokes the city, not directly, but indexically: pointing to its everywhereness, so to speak, through the spectacular pictoriality and dayglo sensuousness of advertising images drawn from billboards and glossies, and from the popular religious art of the street. He embraces digital images and graffiti; he enlists maps of cities; he inserts into his paintings, night scenes from the anthology of surprises and incidents that is the big city. These images are combined with fragments of text, which Kashi incorporates as an element in his pictorial configuration: like the announcements and updates that run in seamless straps along television screens, the artist often has text running at the bottom of his picture surfaces, or across them.

Like many of his contemporaries who use mediatic imagery, Kashi maintains a growing archive of references: folders bursting with newspaper and magazine advertisements, alongside which are set his ‘image diaries’, journals loaded with beginnings and observations, the germs and seed-crystals of ideas. Sifting through these, we come upon playful remix operations, sometimes involving a fourth- or fifth-generation riff on an image; the artist points out, for instance, to his deployment of a Ford advertisement that uses the detail of Gandhi’s foot and the tip of his staff, a visual quotation from D P Roy Chowdhury’s canonical sculpture of the Mahatma, itself developed from a photographic representation. The folk hero of popular culture and the action hero of the comics are given a new lease in Kashi’s art: falling or floating figures, figures captured in the act of running or leaping, inhabit his paintings, and put us in mind of Sisyphus or Icarus. And the artist’s optimistic belief in the sovereignty of the imagination over circumstance is always underscored. Design, as the mode by which the imagination conveys an architecture of desires and discoveries into being, is also assigned a primary value in his recent paintings: flights of stairs, variously combined and permuted into stepped blocks, ziggurats and devices of ascension, signpost the interplay of optical and mediatic reality. Kashi also fingerprints his paintings with several varieties of code, including sign language: articulated as a strap-line of stylised hand gestures, it reminds us that a painting does not surrender its meaning easily to the viewer’s delectation, and demands decipherment. The ancient, the unfamiliar and the epic achieve an intriguing afterlife in Kashi’s paintings, recovered as persistences and registered in the archive of everyday image and phrase.

We transit, with Ravi Kumar Kashi, between asphalt and cyberspace; between the brushiness of a painted surface and the cool electronic glow of the monitor screen that is implied. Where shall we call on the artist-self, we find ourselves asking, given the choice of real and virtual addresses. Where, in these fluid and turbulent times, shall we locate the interventions of this artist-self?

'Any Moment Now'

Solo Show at Air Gallery, London.

Sannidhi - The art of Proximity

- Savita Apte

Ravikumar Kashi’s work is emblematic of what has been termed post-modern. Artists who allied themselves to modernism were unabashedly self reflexive, Ravikumar, on the other hand, like other post-modern artists, seeks transcendence in a fragmented material world. In this quest, he has taken the device of pastiche, which is central to modern art, and made it both the form and content of his work.

The artist, like many of his generation has turned to found images as an inspiration for much of his rich visual vocabulary. In appropriating scenes from advertising, design and popular culture Ravikumar Kashi creates an assemblage of mixed cultural references. These are often Eurocentric or rather Americentric cultural icons as the world of popular Indian culture is now dominated by Americanisms and visual and vocal slang. The appropriation from a medium which itself is known for appropriation is what creates and maintains the tension in his work

Ravikumar’s art reflects the ongoing modern urban preoccupation with the problem of reconciling one's individuality with the constant onslaught of images and ideas from the outside, media-dominated world. In this exhibition, of nine cast paper works and eleven paintings entitled Any Moment Now, Ravikumar draws from this world, using the very same cinematic techniques that are employed in the making of advertisements: quick edits and the surprises of super-imposition. His deliberate juxtapositions create another milieu, in which the original contexts of the images and styles recede, often becoming mere palimpsests and the resultant images appear to float in a world of simultaneity and equilibrium Although his work is a testament to the rapidly changing urban landscape of his native Bangalore, it does more than passively record social realities; rather it gives them meaning through a recognition of the differences between signs. These new meanings cause an important change of perspective. The series in Any Moment Now captures this perspective: of creating and managing the expectations of desire; the attitude of rejecting a dissatisfying present existence in favour of a better, imagined future just round the corner…any moment now.

Ravikumar Kashi’s deconstruction of familiar images demands the rethinking of representation. It further stresses the ambivalence or hybridity that characterises the site of juxtaposition: a liminal space in which different meanings are articulated and may also take on imagined constructions. In fact meaning is formed in between or in excess of the sum of its parts. In this sense the boundary becomes the place where something new begins. In Ravikumar Kashi’s work it becomes the place that mediates relative meanings and a site where new meanings come into existence Ravikumar’s primary concern has always been the production of meaning and the ways in which images become imbued with meanings. The series of paintings exhibited highlights the difference between communication, which is a more or less straightforward process and interpretation, which is dependent on each viewer’s pre-conceptions, experience and knowledge and deliberate artistic intervention and manipulation.

The images for these works come from a variety of sources including magazines, stock photographs and internet text and visuals. Ravikumar puts these images together in a painting the way another artist might create a collage using scraps of paper. His paintings comprise what appear to be randomly juxtaposed images, or images painted on top of each other. His subject matter tends toward the popular and the gratuitous but at no point can he be referred to as cold or cynical . Some of the visual images are collaborative for example Bite and Think, where the apple half appears to have been cut by the knife in canvas on the right. Others are openly conflictual as in Pinnacle, or Any Moment Now. At all times there is a deliberately ambiguous combination of original and appropriated imagery. The juxtapositions of these vignettes evoke filmic montage in which visual elements are arranged to produce meanings not otherwise present in individual images. Subverting the recognizable, and allowing the familiar to become strange through odd juxtapositions, details and illogical compositions as for instance in Wish, Kashi’s compositions present certain directions but ultimately leave the viewer to develop meaning out of the layered images and disjunctions.

Although the images he uses are disparate, there are several concerns that manifest themselves repeatedly through his works. Prime among them is the notion of power and control in urban Indian society and alongside it, the politics of gender. There is a sexual undercurrent which runs through most of his works and the tension between male and female is explored openly in works like You Know You Want It where allusions to the linga and yoni are obvious and more obliquely in Feel the Power and Bite and Think.In these paintings, the narrative conventions which have been the mainstay of Indian art through the ages are subverted and indeed, any narrative that exists arises from chance hybrid interactions and juxtapositions. Further, recognising that narratives lose their origins in the myths of time, Ravikumar has employed certain icons which he hopes will date the works as he predicts that in the future these icons may disappear from use or be used to signify something completely different. Thus hyper links, sand timers and forward and backward movement arrows are introduced in unexpected locations so that fragments of the painting appear to be directly appropriated from the internet and await artistic manipulation.

Although he appeared on the art scene in the nineties, Ravikumar has been exploring this present strategy since 2000. A short stint in Glasgow in 2002 sharpened his perception and interest in visual imagery and what happens with images and it was post Glasgow that the manipulation of the visual language and its uses become acute. In addition, Glasgow afforded him the paper making techniques which he uses in his cast paper works. The cast paper books build a layered narrative in a diary format where the text is digressional and tangential and the choice of image and text highlighted owes as much to chance as deliberate intervention. Ravikumar himself has always kept a diary and like many urban diaries it has always been written in English; a testament to the displacement of the vernacular. However, looked at from another angle, urban Indian English which is in itself a hybrid has become a vernacular. It becomes the perfect vehicle to address the aspirations of an urban middle class.

The choice of this hybrid language is matched by the medium of cast paper. Paper which in and of itself has a fragile quality is perfectly nuanced to deal with the relationships between two people. Is that You? for instance is about two people who meet after a long time. Who have that sense of knowing each other and not knowing. It is this slippage between knowing and not knowing that Ravikumar explores and extrapolates. An intimacy of historical knowing combined with the strangeness of the unknown, of the here and now. He exposes the sentimentality of an archival connection which is juxtaposed with the non connection of the present. Above all Ravikumar is a pictorial conversationalist, exploring the intangible relationships between subjects and their depictions. Finally, his paintings and cast paper books are visual events that privilege the primacy of seeing and with it the art of communication and interpretation in our ever changing fast paced modern world.

'Any Moment Now'

Solo Show at ShContemporary 07, Shanghai, China.

Any Moment Now

- Ravikumar Kashi

Having been born and brought up in Bangalore, city has been my life line. The experinece of change in the city is also engrained as I have seen Bangalore changing from sleepy public sector town to a global land mark. The glitter and glamour of the business district, steel and chrome surfaces, the rising of glitzy shopping malls, multiplexes is something that is very recent to Bangalore. Naturally these experiences have surfaced in my work. As an artist I see myself as a witness to my times. But I don’t remain at being a passive witness but move on to a level where what is being seen / experienced is critically evaluated and engaged.

I filter the deluge of images emnating from dramatic advertisements, 24 / 7 TV, news papers, magzines, bill board hoardings and tiny pamplets struck in ones hand while passing by. A typical urban experience where the words jumble up with the visual constantly is also reflected in my work. But whatever may be the means the crux of these advertisements is almost always desire. Desire to be somebody else, to walk in some other shoes, to be somewhere else. I harp upon this building up of expectations and how it is presented. The prersent as it is made insufficient / dissatisfying and a gloden tommrow, a promising land is constantly dangled. The heaviness of the present exchanged for a non existent lighter moment. ‘Any moment now’ the doors will open up and reveal a fantastic vision. Any monent now the man climbing up the ladder will get to the next stage and reach heaven. Any moment now this man here will escape gravity / everyday humdrum and float lightly. Any moment now dreams and wishes will become solid reality.

Alongwith images I have used several graphic symbols see in the computer and VCd players. The hyper links, sand clocks and backward / forward movement arrows to suggest control out side the picture frame. As if the paintings can be altered and taken to a different level by clicking any of the markers; where the present painting beomes only a stage among many possible ones. One of the main concerns of the work is also how meaning emerges when images and text come together. I am interested in how these images loose some of their original identity, get altered and gain new meanings when combined with other images and text. The source of these images is the constantly growing collection of ads I have gathered and photographs I have shot and the collection of text from the media and Internet. Normally I start by noting ideas for a work in a notebook as well as sifting through hundreds of images. At this stage no idea is rejected. Later I start choosing and make deliberate efforts to develop alternatives and improvisations. In between I also work in the computer mainly in Photoshop to alter images and quickly visualize several versions. Finally it comes on to canvas where again changes are made until a satisfactory stage is reached. Unlike canvases paper books are not structured. From an ambient idea whole work is developed. Because of the diary format it can accommodate text, drawing, pictures, doodling and graphics.