A fellow artist at Jaaga, Tobias Rosenberger, said recently that the process of art creation should proceed intuitively, and not be manufactured from the outset. This idea resonated very soundly with me as my last two projects have been case studies which effectively prove his point.

Working on projects at Jaaga
Working on projects at Jaaga

Those experiences taught me a lot about creative process, which I'll come back to on another post. But on this current project, it's enough to say that I have purposefully avoided creating any kind of blueprint upfront. I have put anxieties over timing and achievement to one side and allowed the process to emerge naturally, even to the extent of what medium and which space to use.

On the one hand I have paid attention to what everyone else has been doing and saying, as there are several other artists preparing work for the final show. I have spent time in the space, and immersed myself in what is happening there - this is not hard to do at Jaaga. I have also explored potential media options - educating myself and experimenting with electronics, motors, and ambisonics.

Somehow along the way a general vision started emerge, and when I explored it, I found something I think could be right for the downstairs space.

Moving panels at Jaaga
Moving panels at Jaaga

Jaaga Is Immovable
In a nutshell, there are a lot of separate projects moving at once, involving movement, sensors, and interaction. many of the discussions have involved some grandiose concepts. It's a bit dizzying, being surrounded by a constant and powerful swirl of different creative ideas. Some of them are quite complex in terms of interaction and presentation. Many of them don't seem to relate to each other. And as discussed in a recent post, the change in the project context and an externally-imposed deadline have had their effects too. I found myself wanting to head for the centre - to the 'eye' of the whirlpool.

Suddenly I wanted to create something technically simple, visually and audibly simple, but by virtue of simplicity, something impactful. I wanted the pace slow, the essence emotional, the mood reflective. But in particular, in relation to the impending move of Jaaga, and all the uncertainty that surrounds - I wanted to create something explorably deep. Like dropping anchor, a huge weight to the ground, to say only one thing: "Right now, at this moment, WE ARE HERE, and it means something."

Film students co-working at Jaaga
Film students co-working at Jaaga

Jaaga is the kind of place where all kinds of ideas fly and many things are possible, but I feel only sad when I think that she is moving. I agree that she is by nature a movable environment, but I feel it's a little before her time. I think there was more potential for her to connect with her community, and to develop her character before being asked to change. And I wanted to create some little bit of space for reflection on that.

Despite my emphasis on simplicity, it's not an easy challenge. Master artists spend lifetimes searching for simplicity and depth, and almost immediately my thoughts turn to Rothko and the Seagram Murals.

Rothko - Not a Mystic
This statement was Rothko's response to people who asked him if he was a Zen Buddhist:

"I am not interested in any civilization except this one. The whole problem in art is how to establish human values in this specific civilization."

Rothko was very much in the here and now. Here he fiercely defends his ultimate intention, which is only to forge a connection between his audience and himself, via the physical body of his work.

"I'm not an abstractionist. I'm not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on."

"The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them"

Rothko was not religious. What he means by these statements is that he is solely interested in exploring human condition, psychological and emotional as it is. The important word here is solely. The Seagram murals contain nothing but these emotions, and each aspect of their construction - size, shape, colour, texture and composition - serves solely as a partial communicator of that condition.

Rothko's Seagram murals on display at Tate Modern, London
Rothko's Seagram murals on display at Tate Modern, London (credit: huizevondel)

In Rothko's earlier work, mythical and mystical symbols were sometimes depicted figuratively. This inclusion seems to have been based on the Jungian idea that the human psyche is "by nature religious". From this understanding, the evolution of the various religions of world history were driven in part by the need to fulfill certain purposes that the human psyche required. If Western culture were to continue on a non-religious path, it made sense to find secular ways to fulfill the needs of the psyche no longer attended to by religion. One of these needs was a sense of mystery, which Rothko and others thought could be satisfied by myth and folklore.

After the war, like many artists of the time, Rothko couldn't bring himself to paint figuratively any more because of the inadequacy of the figurative form to express the state of the world as he saw it. Or, in his own words: "It was with the utmost reluctance that I found the figure could not serve my purposes. But a time came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it."

Rothko Seagram Murals Tate Modern London
Rothko Seagram Murals Tate Modern London (credit: huizevondel)

It was this, along with tragic experiences in Rothko's personal life that lead the steady process toward an increasingly tragic oeuvre. But what interests me across the breadth of his career is more the attention to the human psyche, to the slow, subtle and ponderous attention to specific aspects of the psyche. And ofcourse, the notion, exemplified by the "people who weep" quote, of how intuition works in an artistic context. The idea goes that as an artist, your goal should not be to teach or preach, as though you have something to tell the world that it can't get somewhere else anyway. It's not about transcendental quasi-religious experiences as such (at least not for an unbeliever like me). It's about experiencing something yourself, and finding some way to put that something out there so that others who are minded to can share in that experience.

I don't want to delve too deeply into the nuances of Rothko's art. Rather I want to acknowledge him as a source of inspiration at the moment and return to intuition. I have begun a series of sketches on my computer which I intend to project when I get back to Bangalore on Wednesday. I want to see how the colours translate into projected light, and begin exploring a very fundamental question for me at the moment:

Just how deep can projected light go?