Esaay by Johny ML

Prasad Raghavan qualifies himself as a ‘poster artist’. He sees his works akin to posters. There is no wonder why he calls himself so. For almost one and a half decade he worked as a creative director in some of the international advertising firms, which helped him to form, develop and articulate his visual sense and sensibility. As a film buff, who initiated an underground film screening movement in Delhi along with a fellow artist, Prasad not only understands the language of movies but also understands the physical spaces in which the people engage themselves with movies. The movement that he initiated was literally an underground movement as the mini theatre, complete with Dolby Sound System for film screenings was located in the basement of the apartment where he lived. One day a demolition squad led by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi arrived the place and asked him to bring down the theatre. It was against the city laws. Prasad asked the workers to strip the basement of its sophisticated furnishings. While they cannibalized the innards of an erstwhile mini theatre, Prasad recorded the whole action of the state as expressed in a micro form of stripping a theatre, in his video camera. He was making a movie, perhaps a piece of video art, which he called later, ‘The Hollow Men’.

The interventions of hollow men and hollow laws occur in personal and private spaces at every juncture of life. They take different shapes and make incursions into the consciousness of people. These incursions need not necessarily be offensive all the time. They could be as friendly as possible. They can create desires amongst the private individuals acting in the public realm and these desires would transforms into the tools of destruction. Prasad believes that the disasters are made by man himself. While succumbing to the allure of desires, they unknowingly produce machineries to reach out to those desires. These machines, which are manifested both in physical and virtual forms lead the human beings to unprecedented disasters. Hence, Prasad calls these desires and the desire machines as ‘false promises’ made by and for the human beings.

The interventions of hollow men and hollow laws occur in personal and private spaces at every juncture of life. They take different shapes and make incursions into the consciousness of people. These incursions need not necessarily be offensive all the time. They could be as friendly as possible. They can create desires amongst the private individuals acting in the public realm and these desires would transforms into the tools of destruction. Prasad believes that the disasters are made by man himself. While succumbing to the allure of desires, they unknowingly produce machineries to reach out to those desires. These machines, which are manifested both in physical and virtual forms lead the human beings to unprecedented disasters. Hence, Prasad calls these desires and the desire machines as ‘false promises’ made by and for the human beings.

The interventions of hollow men and hollow laws occur in personal and private spaces at every juncture of life. They take different shapes and make incursions into the consciousness of people. These incursions need not necessarily be offensive all the time. They could be as friendly as possible. They can create desires amongst the private individuals acting in the public realm and these desires would transforms into the tools of destruction. Prasad believes that the disasters are made by man himself. While succumbing to the allure of desires, they unknowingly produce machineries to reach out to those desires. These machines, which are manifested both in physical and virtual forms lead the human beings to unprecedented disasters. Hence, Prasad calls these desires and the desire machines as ‘false promises’ made by and for the human beings.

The interventions of hollow men and hollow laws occur in personal and private spaces at every juncture of life. They take different shapes and make incursions into the consciousness of people. These incursions need not necessarily be offensive all the time. They could be as friendly as possible. They can create desires amongst the private individuals acting in the public realm and these desires would transforms into the tools of destruction. Prasad believes that the disasters are made by man himself. While succumbing to the allure of desires, they unknowingly produce machineries to reach out to those desires. These machines, which are manifested both in physical and virtual forms lead the human beings to unprecedented disasters. Hence, Prasad calls these desires and the desire machines as ‘false promises’ made by and for the human beings.

The interventions of hollow men and hollow laws occur in personal and private spaces at every juncture of life. They take different shapes and make incursions into the consciousness of people. These incursions need not necessarily be offensive all the time. They could be as friendly as possible. They can create desires amongst the private individuals acting in the public realm and these desires would transforms into the tools of destruction. Prasad believes that the disasters are made by man himself. While succumbing to the allure of desires, they unknowingly produce machineries to reach out to those desires. These machines, which are manifested both in physical and virtual forms lead the human beings to unprecedented disasters. Hence, Prasad calls these desires and the desire machines as ‘false promises’ made by and for the human beings.

The interventions of hollow men and hollow laws occur in personal and private spaces at every juncture of life. They take different shapes and make incursions into the consciousness of people. These incursions need not necessarily be offensive all the time. They could be as friendly as possible. They can create desires amongst the private individuals acting in the public realm and these desires would transforms into the tools of destruction. Prasad believes that the disasters are made by man himself. While succumbing to the allure of desires, they unknowingly produce machineries to reach out to those desires. These machines, which are manifested both in physical and virtual forms lead the human beings to unprecedented disasters. Hence, Prasad calls these desires and the desire machines as ‘false promises’ made by and for the human beings.

Let us see the images in the Deccalogue: The Doctor, And the text is: And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves, For charity shall cover the multitude of sins. This biblical quote is not meant for the doctors alone. It is done for the common good of all people. But when it is read as a sub-title, the image becomes a narrative, like a cinema with all the good and bad deeds of contemporary doctors. The reading of this sub-text and the sub-title leads to the interpretation of the practice of medicine by doctors in our ‘given’ situations. The complimentary nature of the sub-title gives voice to the unspoken things about the image of a doctor, which is made alien in its articulation through the use of hood. The same reading is possible with the other images and sub-titles given to them.

Image 2: The Executive- Sub-title: Wealth makes many friends. Image 3: The Soldier- Sub-title: Great men are not always wise. Image 4: The Traffic Cop- Sub-title: For wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Image 5: The Lawyer- Sub-title: And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Image 6: The Blue Collar Worker- Sub-title: Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Image 7: The Scientist- Sub-title: For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. Image 8: The Politician- Sub-title: Stolen Waters are Sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. Image 9: The Policeman- Sub-title: Whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. Image 10: The Executive-Sub-Title: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

The sub-titles, instead of explaining the unspoken language, instead become a critical explanation of the images and the narratives that they contain within them. The deliberation in choosing the sub-titles, while adhering to the norms of the making of movies, ruptures the commonplace understanding and facilitates a reality in which each image is brought in for critical analysis. Prasad achieves this using the accidental and deliberate ironies embedded in the sub-titles, while he detaches the actor from the acted, sign from the signified and the intent from the intended.

Prasad reverses this process of Sub-titling into a sort of verbal jumbling in his video titled, (title). In this video, the same men are asked questions made out of biblical quotes, consciously removing the grandiloquence of the biblical speech. While the questions are audible and legible, the answers become garbled pieces of sounds. Each actor (the character) tries to explain his social role in the most sincere terms but we listen only garbled and squeezed out sounds. The reversal of the image-text correlation is quite palpable in this method and through this Prasad makes an internal link between the painted image and the uttered text. Also he intends the impossibility of actual communication through sub-titling, which could generate proximity but not the very similitude. In this video, the garbled text/sounds become the ‘audible image’ and the ‘acting’ of the actors becomes the sub-title, which create the same ironic critique as seen in the serigraphed Decalogue.

Prasad’s interest in Biblical quotes has to be seen in the context of his interest in European cinema. Also its roots are to be traced in the artist’s curiosity in analyzing the desires and desire machines amongst the consuming society and the constituent human beings. European cinema while reflecting the social psychology of the people depends on the ethical foundations laid for the European society by the Biblical statements. Based mainly on the notion of sin, Biblical thoughts function as the filter through which the human actions are seen, analyzed and judged. Prasad looks at the notion of sin and the variegated forms of it manifested through the stories of human lives as seen in the European classical movies and takes them as the point of departure to emblematize the false promises and desires generated by the society.

Hence, in the second work with the same title, ‘The Decalogue’, we see ten panels with digitized images directly related to a consumerist society. Seen in its totality, we see the large inscription ‘The Decalogue’ written on the image of Mount Sinai, carefully made out of the tonal gradations of the component images in the ten panels. These panels contain the images of urban architecture, cars, objects of consumption, garbage, pornography and so on. According to the artist, all these images represent a society, which is largely driven by the dynamics of desire generation. And the result is a sense of sin and resultant guilt. Though, Prasad subscribes to the images proliferated all over the world through digital mediums, his concentration is on the idea of desire as seen against the Mount Sinai, where the Moses received the vision on Ten Commandments, which in turn proved to be the foundation of Christian societies largely in the European countries and elsewhere.

This Decalogue too has the quality of the post-poster technique of Prasad Raghavan. Seen as a whole, we have an iconic mountain and an inscription. The image-text correlative that we see often in the posters, here while taking us directly to the mythical/historical narratives pertaining to the Ten Commandments, also deflects our attention towards the artistic intention of seeing the contemporary world of desire and its resultant sin and guilt vis-à-vis the images/products that generate them. Prasad, even while referring to the scriptural meanings of Mount Sinai, tends to deconstruct it through his post-poster technique. To my eyes, Prasad also brings in the possibility of reading it as ‘Mount Sin-ai’, which at once connotes the mountains of desirable objects and garbage as well as the mount of sin that we accumulate mentally/spiritually in due course of consumption.

Prasad makes a revisiting to the notion of artistic creativity (as a human endeavor) and its anti-thesis of man made disasters (again a human endeavor) within the discursive field of desire and sin. Here, Prasad comes up with two interesting paintings, which have the packaging techniques of consumer products as the predominant imagery. In one of the works, he uses colorful carry bags with textual inscriptions and in the other, glossy tetra packs are painted on with words that together make a statement. In both these works, Prasad quotes Andrei Tarkovsky (the legendary Russian film maker) and in a way he attributes the quality of Moses on to the film maker as someone who lays down the foundation for an ethical ‘film’ society.

In the tetra pack work, Prasad re-distributes a statement made by Tarkovsky on his film on a the icon maker Andrei Rublov. The text reads, ‘An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn`t exist, for the artist doesn`t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn`t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.’ Each word is extracted from the statement and written on each tetra pack one by one. As in the post-posters and the sub-titled films, the words complement the images by uttering the unspoken. The words at once remind the referred statement of artistic aspiration and take away the referential and posit it to the contemporary realm of desire. The world of desire as created by the desire machines and consumer objects is almost perfect, which debilitates the existence of the artist. But when the resultant sin and guilt/garbage are brought into the field of desire, it creates an ill-designed world where artists like Prasad could make critical interventions.

“Modern man is too preoccupied by his material development, by the pragmatic side of reality. He’s like a predatory animal that doesn’t know what to go after. Man’s interest in a transcendent world has disappeared. Don’ be surprised if one day the earth disappears because man has swallowed it all.” This is a statement made by Tarkovsky, which Prasad uses in his carry bag work. The painted carry bags are as alluring as the digitized images of consumerist objects, garbage and pornographic images in the work titled Decalogue- The Mount Sinai’. However, the artist helps us to assume that these carry bags are going to be the vehicles of self cannibalization, which would result into not only the decimation of the earth but the human beings themselves.

For Prasad, his doubts fall directly on to the false promises that the glittering world produces through billions of images. He understands that images and words together convey the essential to the people; but this essential is most often meant for the destruction of the human spirit. As an artist, Prasad critiques this essential by muting the images and words at regular intervals. He deflects the referent from its original intention by adding a new twist to its perception through his post-poster technique.

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