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The Prophet as Artist. -  Meaning: In Search of Significance.
The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
Perennial discontent is the determinant characteristic of human nature. Our aversion to satisfaction is what keeps us eternally curious, always searching for something more meaningful around the next corner. We peck through the unraveling entrails of our past for prophecies of the future, chase recurring motifs to root out their significance, and search for signs in the banal backdrop of everyday life.
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By Manjari Kaul, Issue 25, Meaning: In Search of Significance.
In the everyday experience of the artist there is no foretelling the impetus of inspiration. Often at unlikely junctures, in slumber land or trite situations, there is a flash of lightening, lyrical illusion or poetic vision that joins the dots between past and present, projecting itself onto the future like a prophecy. The artist is soothsayer, tying different realms and layers of meaning together to make a prediction of what is to be through the art she creates. A multi-media artist, Sukanya Ghosh talks about how the visual of spilt haldi can move from dreamscape to inspiration to art. For her, what similarly aligns an artist’s vision and a soothsayer’s prediction is that its manifestation is seen only in the future. In a utopic cry for the artist and her work, Ghosh wishes that art itself be the prophet, the meaning of whose words can only be found in the future.


The Fuschia Tree: Have you ever dreamt an artwork into extistence?

Sukanya Ghosh: Yes, I dream often of artwork that I want to do and usually these dreams occupy that slim space between wakefulness and deep sleep. I think that somewhere this is similar to the nature of how I work. I work best at night when it’s silent and after the saturation of all the activity of the day. What ends up happening is a kind of distillation of all the sensory interjections of the day – things seen, felt, held, eaten and spoken of. The random headline in a newspaper, the array of fish in the market, the sudden image of spilt haldi, the sharp sense of a loved one missed, the ubiquitous conversation with a rickshawallah – the quotidian, the sometimes banal and ordinary and momentary delight. For me, all this crystallizes in the silence of sleep.


TFT: Was the work similar to the dream?

SG: I have, on many occasions, lost the sense of what I dreamed, so I began waking up in the morning and scribbling down some idea of it. Sometimes I’ve been left with an image, and these often find their way into my work. For instance, I was left with an image of a door opening and a sliver of light, and I used this to create a video collage called ‘Flicker’. Sometimes I have been able to realize the whole dream, and this is true in the case of the X-ray lightbox I created called ‘Detritus’, where I literally visualized the whole thing in a dream! Of course, there is an eventual gap in the final realization, which is obvious given that once I begin working on something it changes in ways even I cannot predict.


TFT: What is the similarity/difference between a clairvoyant and an artist?

SG: Clairvoyance suggests the ability to perceive things that can be. In that sense, an artist is similar when it comes to beginning the work process. The Imagined is not always a predictive quality, although imagination lends itself to various trajectories of things that may be. In my case, I often begin with an idea or a projection of a thought, and progress through it where my fancy takes me. Sometimes the decisions one makes while creating a work of art are purely instinctual and a physical response to the created work. But on hindsight, viewing works that are finished, I find connections and ideas that are very much part of my mindspace. There is an almost subliminal understanding of where I’m heading, which is not apparent in a conscious way when I work. Can one call this clairvoyance? I don’t know. But yes, in the sense that both the artist and the clairvoyant inhabit spaces that are not immediately intelligible and make sense only later, I might agree that there is a definite similarity. Having said that, I must assert that there is no one method to make art, and while I describe what seems to be my process, I wouldn’t insist that it’s a norm in all artistic practice.


TFT: What is the role that the past exerts on an artist's vision?

SG: I suffer from an incurable malaise – that of extreme nostalgia. I am haunted by what was and, as a natural corollary, what will be. We are all creatures shaped by our past. Whether through individual experience or a larger shape of things, we cannot avoid where we come from and how it has moulded us. For an artist, as someone who expresses a sensory view of things, I think that there is no escaping the past. In saying that, some amount of our past embraces and extends the nature of things that will be. I would imagine that this would be an extremely subjective and individual reaction from artist to artist. Here, the ‘past’ becomes both an individual, experiential thing as well as a historical and sociological entity. Where an artist chooses to posit themselves is peculiar only to the individual.


TFT: How does the past influence the future?

SG: Speaking for myself, I imagine myself with so many pasts: my own life, the curve it has followed, and all it has brought along the way; the inherited legacy of familial history; the weight of a cultural and sociological ambiguity. The future, as an imagined, uncharted terrain, is open to everything. But as players in the small dramas of our lives, we walk towards and create towards a certain kind of utopia that is only a reaction to our past. When it comes to making art and reaching through those amorphous strings that constitute a past, the future is uncertain. It is only as predictable as the breathless and slightly anxious waiting for rain.


TFT: If you had to predict the future through an artwork, what would it look like?

SG: I would imagine an artwork that attempts to break through the barriers of various media – one that spills across as a whole through the physical spaces of sculptural form, moving image and the drawn/painted form. The future must be imagined as a space for reconfiguration, redefining of terms and rubric. The artistic impetus has to be thus reconfigured to create a textural fabric in new definitions. I imagine a space where the artwork becomes an enveloping and experiential experience in a way that can scale dimensions. One that envelopes the senses. One that is perhaps free of designated spaces. One that is available yet holds its own as a work of art.


TFT: What do you predict for the future of art?

SG: This is a tricky question. I could answer this in two voices. I could answer in the voice that echoes the pessimistic gloom and predicts how art will fall in line with the inevitable consumerist practices of the world. And perhaps it will. Or in the other voice, in which the romantic in me imagines an explosion of material and medium and ideas...where art and artists would have pushed themselves through to a place where only the future, not the past or the present, would play a part.


As told to Manjari Kaul, an actor and art writer based in Delhi.

Sukanya Ghosh lives and works between Calcutta and Delhi, spending most of her time trying to blur the boundaries between all kinds of strange things.

Also in this issue

  • Meaning is sought in the voice of childhood curiosity, flowing like a stream of question following question. The search for meaning is nurtured in its childhood googly-eyed enthusiasm, but that search predictably falls into the rigmarole of the existential during adulthood. Like a jaded question looming over us, we begin to think of meaning within the abstractions of what the word conjures in our preconditioned, tainted minds.
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  • Meaning rarely makes itself apparent with any degree of clarity. More often it takes on frustratingly insidious forms that are incongruous and, at times, downright inappropriate. Different artists explore different mediums to convey their truths.
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  • Like the characters of her work-in-progress, The Sum Of All My Parts, author Andaleeb Wajid crochets intricate patterns with words, weaving through layers to arrive at the meaning at the center of her characters’ lives. Having decided to be a writer at the tender age of ten,
    Read More

Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.