The Absurd in Art

Sharan Apparao tells how an idea is formed by an artist and what lies in their deep perception behind each of their art forms when they execute it.

One often looks at art that puzzles. One begins to wonder what the artist is saying and why. Sometimes the message is shrouded in layers of symbols and images. At other times a viewer does not connect.
Recently a collection of Benitha Perciyal, a young talented artist’s work set me thinking of the line between the absurd and actual art.
In this exhibition she had enamel jewellery with images of dogs and squirrels.
She had a bracelet with something organic that turned out to be the teeth of a squirrel.
She had a miniature dress resembling a squirrel embroidered by none other than Jean Francois Lesage the renowned embroiderer for Chanel and many other famous French couture houses.
Was this absurd? What did this mean? Why was a renowned couturier indulging this artist?
Did she have a point?
What did she want to convey?
What was the meaning of these images?
What is her place in art?
What does she have in common with Marcel Duchamp and Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso or Robert Rauschenberg?
Did she? Or did she not?
Was she making a point somewhere?
Similarly why is this Subodh Gupta making waves? He was picking up vessels in bulk from Ratna Stores in Pondy Bazaar and welding them together!
What was he saying?
Who was Alexis Kersey and what was he saying?
Why did Dayanita’s room full of chairs move people?
Who was Pushpamala and what was she parading in different costumes?
What was this creation called princess pea?
Why was Vivek Vilasini dressing up ladies in burkhas and making them sit around a dining table?
Were all the above crazy? Were they absurd? Why were they relevant?
What was the point?
They made news sure, but did they go beyond that?
Yes, they made news and each of them crossed that like to make a point that was relevant in the layers of imagery they presented. They thought differently. Yes they were all differently baled in their thinking, they were on that line that could make or break their presentations. They all had a deep-rooted need to say something… and their defense catapulted them into art. Their narratives were so strong and perceptive it was hard not to be convinced.
Yes in some cases history will be the judge; in many cases society is too close for them to see the point immediately.
When Marcel Duchamp took a commode and signed it, he was not just being an enfant terrible. He was challenging the system. He was creating history. He believed art was in the hands of the maker and not in the craft. He believed the thinking had to change and thus was born Dadaism.
Robert Rauschenberg walked around the block near his home in New York and collected pieces from garbage dumps that he put into his artworks. When he did not find anything while walking around a block he walked another and if he did not find anything he did not create for that day. The point was his way of seeing! Someone’s garbage in his hands became what today are priceless assemblages that he had created in the 60’s/70’s when few knew what recycled was in terms of materials used in the artworks.
Picasso and Rothko both in different ways went against the grain of their time and created works on their own terms creating histories that the art world will never be able to erase.
Closer home, Subodh Gupta’s vessels spoke of symbols of migration to countless people whose histories visited the symbol and relevance stainless steel vessels held just as marble monuments held relevance to the Rajas of the past. They were and are icons of a time.
The narrative the artists conveyed in their works in their worlds, when defended moved them from one realm to another. They awakened in their expressions ideas that were relevant, histories that were waiting to be awakened and concepts that one day might activate a revolution in thinking.

Benitha had a pet squirrel that disappeared and this exhibition was not about Jerry, her pet but about the environment and its degradation. As a silent warrior, she was crying out loud at the devastation of nature. Her association with animals was the bond of life. It was not about a cute squirrel but about the frightening reality of a world that was being lost.
So going back to the line between the absurd and the real, most real artists see it. All courageous artists address this line. It is this line that eventually makes history.