Reviving the retinal

Kathleen Wyma

1 February – 1 March, 2014

“It looks beautiful,” he said. “It is beautiful,” Soraya replied, “if beauty is what you are looking for.” Down there you will find rare alligators and giant woodpeckers and scented cypress trees and carnivorous sundew plants.  But you will also lose your way, and indeed yourself, for it is in the nature of the Great Stagnation to capture all who stray into it by inducing a sleepy laziness, a desire to remain there forever to ignore your true purpose and simply lie down under a tree and rest.


The proposed exhibition entitled Reviving the Retinal is the first part of a two-fold project that seeks to consider the relationship between the aesthetic and the appalling, or more plainly said the beautiful and the ugly.  Beauty was a causality of the 20th century; however, as we stand with our feet firmly planted in the 21st century it has enjoyed a renewed interest both in terms of artistic practice and theoretical considerations.  This exhibition seeks to visually contribute to that ever widening discourse as well as catalyse the advance of new theoretical frames that mirror our historical moment rather than relying on those of the past.

I open with a quote from Salmon Rushdie’s latest novel, Luka and the Fire of Life to set the stage for my narrative, which seeks to briefly inventory beauty’s fall from grace in the last century. Rushdie’s words lyrically underscore the idea that beauty is potentially dangerous.  Indeed, the beautiful has the uncanny ability to bait us and to lull us into a deep, complacent, if not deadly, sleep.  Beauty, like the song of the mythical sirens, draws us away from our true purpose and thus should be avoided at all costs.

That beauty in all things should be met with suspicion has both a historical and artistic correspondence.  History tells us that beauty was once linked to transcendence but with the dawn of the modern that connection was tainted by the promise of a technological sublime wrought by the age of industrial development.   A deep cynicism arose when these advances did not move us toward a more beautifully ethical or egalitarian world; they did not lead to a political utopia.  Instead, the promise of a new world led to the catastrophic reality of two world wars, the atomic bomb, and the ensuing ideological war of positions.  Surveying the span of the 20th century, it was easy to find beauty lying broken in wake of Benjamin’s angel of progress.[i]

Art, in its function as a social mirror, reflected the nihilism of the past century.  For hundreds of years bearded, noble philosophers struggled to find a conclusive, if not universal, definition for beauty, but this impossible (and now seemingly ludicrous) pursuit was arrested by the advance of early 20th century avant-gardism.  In 1909, F.T. Marinetti set the terms of the debate with beauty when he declared, “There is no more beauty except in struggle.  No masterpiece without the stamp of aggressiveness.  Poetry should be a violent assault against unknown forces to summon then to lie down at the feet of man.”[ii]  It seems fitting that a few years later Marcel Duchamp conclusively demonstrated that art need not be retinal to good –  it need not be aesthetically pleasing to be valid – its only requisite was to be interesting [iii]  Following the savagery of the First World War the world was pictured as a ruin, there was no space for beauty and, as the century progressed, it soon became critically important to not only deskill the artist through a focus on material and process but to also to radically destroy visual pleasure as a means by which to escape the bounds of a patriarchal world.[i]

The question remains, how do we understand the recuperation of beauty at this moment in time and how do we come up with the necessary theoretical rubrics to speak of it as a deliberate artistic strategy?  To be sure beauty is subjectively determined and perhaps too historically fraught, but for the purposes of this exhibition it will be held as a concept that may shed light on new ideas and new avenues of exploration

[1] Salmon Rushdie, Luka and the Fire of Life (New York: Random House, 2010), 104.
[1] Here I refer to Benjamin’s ninth thesis on history in which he notes:
A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating.  His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.  This is how one pictures the angel of history.  His face is turned toward the past.  Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
“Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed., Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 257-8.
[1] “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism, 1908,” originally published in Le Figaro, 20 February 1909, reprinted in Herschel B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A Sourcebook by Artists and Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 286.
[1] Duchamp observed, “Since Corbet it has been believed that painting is addressed to the retina.  That was everyone’s error.  The retinal shudder.  Before, painting had other functions: it could be religious, philosophical, moral.”  Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, trans. Ron Padgett, (New York: Da Capo Press, 1987), 43.
[1] For more on this see, John Roberts, The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art After the Readymade (London, Verso, 2007) and Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989),16.


New media projects and Installation

  • 2012 – Variable operatives- Duo show with media artist PrayasAbhinav – Video installation and lenticular prints. The Guild  gallery, Mumbai
  • 2009 – Syncytium / Cosmopolis Installation – Living off The Grid  curated By MeeraMenezez – Anant Art Gallery,New Delhi,
  • 2009 – Arpeggio for Abbe Faria, Photo – InstallationRetrieval Systems Curated by RanjitHoskote – Art Alive Gallery new Delhi
  • 2008 – RORSCHACH BREATH – Dual Channel Video ( Mechanisms of Motion) Anant Art Gallery, New Delhi, ( Third life) Bombay Art Gallery Mumbai
  • 2007 – LIQUID MEMORY new media Installation – Christian Hosp Galleries, Nassereith, Austria
  • 2005 – NRLA – Live Art Festival , Midland, Perth – Australia
  • 2004 – FLOW – Instant Karma Algorithm-Interactive video data projection, New moves, International Live Art Festival, Glasgow – UK
  • 2004 – Zoom ! Art in Contemporary India, Culturgest, Lisbon, Portugal2004 – Along the X axis: video art from India and Pakistan, Apeejay Media Gallery, New Delhi
  • 2003 – FEED – What You See Is What You Get-Interactive video data projection – Khoj, International artists camp, Bangalore, India
  • 2002 – Diary of the Inner Cyborg, Interactive projection, ‘CODE’ Interactive Digital installation – Under Construction – exhibition of Asian Contemporaray art, Organised by Japan Foundation, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2002 – Necessary Illusions with 24 cups of coffee – Interactive projection, New moves International Live Art Festival, Glasgow-UK
  • 2002 – Diary of the Inner Cyborg, Interactive projection, Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Greenwich, London
  • 2002 – “CODE” Interactive Digital installation ‘Kapital and Karma’, Kunsthalle Wien, Austria
  • 2001 – Video Installation – “Leap Into and Across” – Collaborative workwith a Particle physicist. Venue Tata Theatre, Mumbai
  • 2001 – Interactive Digital Installation “Asystole” – A Diary of the Inner Cyborg Version – 0.1 The Fine Art Company Gallery, Mumbai
  • 2000 – Interactive Digital Installation ‘Necessary Illusions With 24 Cups of Coffee’ at Lakeeren Contemporary Art Gallery, Mumbai.
  • 2000 – Interactive Digital Installation “CODE” at National Gallery of Modern Art Mumbai.
  • 2000 – Site specific installation “THE CROSSING” at Army – Navy Building foyer, Kalaghoda Art District, Mumbai.
  • 1999 – Interactive Digital Installation “BRAHMA”S HOMEPAGE at Lakeeren Contemporary Art Gallery, Mumbai

Selected shows

  • 2011 – “INDIA!” at the Centro Cultural BancodoBrasil (CCBB), Rio de Janeiro.
  • 2010 – Go see India – Vasa Konsthall, Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • 2010 – The 11th Hour – Tang contemporary art gallery, Beijing, China
  • 2009 – Indian Contemporary – Benedictine Museum, Fecamp, France
  • 2009 – Beyond Globalization –  Pan Asian contemporary show, Beyond Art Space, Beijing, China
  • 2008 – Ghost of Souza – Aicon Gallery, New York
  • 2008 – Everywhere is war, Bodhi Gallery,Mumbai
  • 2008 – 101 Contemporary, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2007 – Rant+Liquid Memory – Vadehra Art gallery, N. Delhi
  • 2007 – Aparanta – Contemporary Art In Goa, Panjim
  • 2006 – Altered Realities(ShibuNateshan, BaijuParthan, ChiotrovanuMajumdar – Arts India New York
  • 2005 – “KAAM” Gallery Artsindia New York
  • 2005 – “Alchemy” ( BaijuParthan, JitishKallat, ShibuNateshan, ChitrovanuMajumdar)
  • 2005 – Paths of Progression – Bodhi, Singapore2005 – Arad biennale , Romania
  • 2003 – Art on Paper – Royal College of Art London
  • 2002 – Alchemy – Contemporay Indian and British art – Stephen Lawrence Gallery, London
  • 2001 – Indian Contemporary Art – California , USA, organised by and Apparao Galleries
  • 2000 – Sotheby’s Artist of the Year Awardshow – National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai
  • 2000 – Exileand Longing, Artists from Kerala, Lakeeren Contemporary art Gallery, Mumbai
  • 2000 – Art and Technology “The magazine show” National gallery of Modern Art Mumbai
  • 2000 – Icons of the Millennium – Nehru center Mumbai organized by Lakeeren Contemporary Art Gallery, Mumbai
  • Gallery Mumbai 1999 – 9th Asian Biennale, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • 1999 – “Images and Ideas” National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai 1997 – 50 Years of Indian Contemporary Art Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai
  • 1998 – Exhibition of Indian contemporary art GegenwartskunstausIndien’ (The Harsh Goenka collection), Leverkusen, Germany
  • 1996 – “Within the Frame”, Indian Contemporary Art, Visual Arts Center, HongKong
  • 1996 – “Chamatkara”, Indian Contemporary Art, Whiteley’s Gallery, London
  • 1996 – Four Visions, The Gallery, Hong Kong
  • 1995 – Duo show – Sarina Tang Gallery, New York

Solo exhibitions

  • 2011 – Displacement – Mill Junction part 2 – Paintings and Photoworks . AICON gallery, London
  • 2010 – Mill Junction – Paintings and Photoworks. AICON gallery New York
  • 2007 – Liquid memory + Rant – Inter – media show Vadehra Gallery New Delhi
  • 2006 – Source Code – Large Format paintings – Museum Gallery, Art Musings Gallery, Mumbai
  • 2005 – New media prints – The Guild Gallery – Mumbai
  • 2002 – Espace Gallery – New Delhi
  • 2002 – Fine Art Company – Mumbai
  • 2000 – Lakeeren Contemporary Art gallery
  • 1999 – Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore.
  • 1997 – Apparao Galleries, Madras.
  • 1996 – Chaze Gallery, Goa.
  • 1995 – Sophia Duchesne Gallery, Mumbai.
  • 1993 – Sophia Duchesne Gallery, Mumbai
  • 1992 – Masterpiece Gallery, N.Delhi.
  • 1992 – Sophia Duchesne Gallery, Mumbai.
  • Abir karmakar
  • Abul hisham
  • Aji vn
  • Akshata
  • Arun kumar
  • Gurusiddappa
  • Mahesh Baliga
  • Minal damani
  • Priti vadakkath
  • Rajan krishnan
  • S Sujith
  • Sharmistha
  • Subrat behera