Mohit Kant interviews Paribartana Mohanty about his research, practice and thoughts on the position of politics in the making of art.
Mohit Kant: Trees are Stranger than the Aliens in the Movies, this is the name of your recent solo exhibition. Can you tell us about the show and how it comes to exist?
Paribartana Mohanty: The solo exhibition Trees are Stranger than the Aliens in the Moviesappears much later out of the process of thinking and making some body of works. In 2014, I started researching architectural photography, focusing on the motif of human-scale appearances on the surface of architectural photographs, after encountering Madan Mahatta’s set of photographs1of the iconic modern architecture in New Delhi. While visiting and documenting the sites, I was unaware of going in the direction of most common spectacles of our lives today – Destruction.
Later, I discovered the long intense discipline of Architectural Photography; the notion of scale in modernism and our philosophical or metaphysical claims as ‘humans’ on this planet, which took me to a different network of mythologies, histories, sciences across the world.
The works, conceived, connected and animated as fictions around human figures, present as scale on the surface of architectural photography. But the project was drastically challenged after the demolition of Hall of Nations in the April 2017. The building complex was made for international trade fairs in 1972 by architect Raj Rewal and engineer Mahendra Raj.
As an artist who migrated to Delhi merely 14 years back in 2004, you get scared of your own uncertain existence in the future. This apocalyptic nature of the present is political – it made me look at the idea of fall, demolition or destruction of humanity.
MK:In your practice you have been using diverse media, mostly video and performance. In your recent show you have used painting, video, and printed text. As artists generally identify themselves with a particular medium; is there any such kind for you?
PM:Artists identifying with media, techniques, styles or subject matters and being possessive with that, I think, is a ‘modern’ phenomenon. I mean, that is how modern artists become the master of their language. Art was very skill-oriented and ego-based practice. They saw themselves as genius, a solo representative or authority or a unique entity. I don’t, or try not to, and do not have the luxury to see myself as an author from that perspective.
My works are always referential, based on other practitioners’ thinking and work. People or stories can easily influence me. I address issues which already have been addressed by many artists. I don’t separate myself from the chain of thinking as humans, so borrowing or even stealing is not an issue in my creative practice.
I work with media or techniques which I find comforting or easy to grasp, like ‘storytelling; I enjoy the medium because I don’t need any setting, a stage or materials. With video the medium gives me possibility to document and to manipulate while editing, simultaneously painting places me in front of my canvas with limited movements, and text as a medium is for thinking – to chew, to digest. One can talk about the limits and possibilities of a particular medium in length, but I am interested in the distinctive nature of each medium, their effect and affect on human perception and thinking.
MK: As you say your practice is about storytelling; is it because you have more to talk about than the work?
PM: An artwork, which is displayed in the gallery, is always a small gesture, a tiny part of the research. But the body and the environment that surrounds and affects that small gesture is much bigger in appearance. So often the bigger story has more possibility. But, it’s also about personalities – I am talkative. My speech is the extension of my artwork. That’s my theory.
MK: Do you think your art is political? If yes, then does an artist have to assert his political points of view through the medium of art?
PM: Someone said ‘Art’ in its very core existence, as human expression is a ‘political’. I think the very act of ‘appreciating’ or ‘making’ or ‘thinking’ about ourselves, or the world, is political. But yes, we have a particular peculiar understanding of ‘political art’ in art history, which sometimes is not convincing at all. Our notion of the political is governed by these historical ideologies and perception.
Yes, I think my work is political. It is not hyper-reactionary the way my speech would be.
It’s artist’s personal choice, if s/he or a collective of artists want to assert their political opinion or views in their work, but I think, many times it is necessary and inevitable.
MK:Well, you seem to be very active on social media. There are Facebook posts of yours reacting to different happenings/events, especially talks. Are you trying to say something?
PM:Particularly Facebook where I am active as you are pointing to my Facebook posts and comments; I consider social media platforms as real as the real of the so-called ‘real’ world. I am equally active in the other real world, facilitating conversations, questions, comments, engagements and collaborations with fellow artists and communities. I think, in both realms of existence, the content, effect or intensity of a delivered speech remain the same; only they differ in their spread and the speed or duration, which makes both platforms unique. They are not the substitute of each other, rather compliments the reality where we, as humans, share our livings and thinking conditions.
Social media is not a place for my alter ego nor provides me a mask to hide. Rather, I use it strategically, inviting friends and initiating dialogues on art and life. If you have observed these conversations on Facebook, the people who participate are normally do not get access to the Art weather, which is a seminar or an exhibition opening. My intention behind writing on Facebook is to insert ideas, which I think are important and need to be discussed. But yes I am also scared at times the way debates happen on social media lot of chances are there that you will be misread.
MK: I happened to visit your blog and came across to your work Geometry Love Stories (2012)2. As I myself am writing a paper on love and till now it has been the subject of my graphic narratives; I wanted to know how you see that love is quantifiable? Though it sounds fascinating!
PM:Geometry Love Stories isa lecture performance, where I was articulating possible consequences of one love story where two lovers are captured in different landscapes of geometric shapes. I did not attempt to quantify the love, but I put geometric-conditions spatially or architecturally, which controls the movements of the lovers and the story started shifting. It produced laughter. There were many tragic or humorous consequences of a same love story.
MK:Would you like to share something about your next project?
PM:I choose to stay still for this moment on the same project and see how much we destroy our own morals, ethics and laws and destroy us as humans.
Paribartana Mohanty has received his Master in History of Art from National Museum, New Delhi 2006 and BFA (Print-making) from Dhoulli College of Arts, Orissa, India 2004. Mohanty is a storyteller. He uses diverse range of mediums such as video, still images, found materials to tell his stories. He is interested in combining the tradition of Oral Storytelling with Performance-Lecture formats. Audience or listener plays an important role in facilitating the story, which is exciting he says. His ambition is to travel with a laptop and projector, roaming from one place to another and telling stories in the old method of collecting stories and exchanging stories. He has recently made his second solo show ‘Trees are Stranger then Aliens in the Movies’ (Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2018).
Mohit Kant is a multidisciplinary artist and writer based in New Delhi. Kant makes drawings, sculptures, installations, photographs, performances, etc. He also makes literary works such as; poetry, scripts, and graphic narratives etc. Through his works he talks about the subjects like human desire, psychological phenomena, and distant futures.
Kant likes to engage in conversations with creative individuals. This has led him to write a series of interviews of artists, curators, writers and researchers.
All images courtesy of the owner
- Madan Mahatta’s photographs are part of Kiran Nadir Museum of Art’s permanent collection, were exhibited in ‘An Unfinished Portrait: Vignettes from the KNMA Collection’ (2014), a show curated by Roobina Karode and Akansha Rastogi at KNMA, Noida, where Paribatana Mohanty was part of a writing and research intensive program, coordinated by Akansha Rastogi.