Print Edition - 2017-12-16  |  On Saturday

Marriage of tech and art, almost

  • The sixth instalment of Yantra, an art-tech exhibition brought forth an intriguing collaboration of artists and engineers
- Sandesh Ghimire
In one stroke, our developments swept away what nature produced after millions of years of evolution—this chilling thought was countered by the floor piano, where one could play by walking on the keys

Dec 16, 2017-There has been an assumption that technological innovation is reserved for dexterous engineers and art for the hoity-toity ones. The supposition that engagement in technology is necessary for development, whereas art is a luxurious practice and as such a dispensable one, is rigidly held in several strata of the society. Nonetheless, there are many who don’t consider either of the two (engagement in producing art or technology) as disposable, but continue to regard the process of painting on canvas, and building a robot as two distinct entities—the early thinkers would, however, disagree with the compartmentalisation that modernity has so aptly devised. 

The word ‘technology’ has its etymological foundation in the ancient Greek word, techne, which incorporated the act of tool making as well as painting or sculpting. In Sanskrit, the closest translation of technology is Yantra, which literally means machine, but also has other connotations, one of them being the mystical geometric diagram used in various tantric tradition of the Himalayas. 

With the historically ongoing process of division of labour, the etymological connection between art and technology has been lost, but the recently-concluded art-tech exhibition Yantra 6.0 attempted to explore the disappearing connection between art and technology. 

Held at the front lawn of Nepal Communitere, the exhibition was aptly designed for a wanderer who might stumble into the exhibition to encounter whispers of emotions and thoughts from the installation pieces. 

Walking in, I realised that the organisers had remained faithful to the popular Hindu tradition of starting with a homage to the god Ganesh. At the entrance, a side of a bush was loosely cut in the shape of an elephant’s trunk to invoke the image of the deity. Designed by Akash Shrestha and Binod Pangeni, Ganesh in a bush was also reflective of the Nepali belief that one can encounter god anywhere. 

A few steps away from the bush, there was a series of Mithila paintings hanging on a string, like articles of clothing hung to be dried in the sun. The paintings paralleled the Ganesh and there was another Mithila art that portrayed life of people during the floods that engulfed the Tarai earlier this year. Following the string of paintings, one inevitably took a turn around a tree, and to one’s surprise, the tree started talking. Conceptualised by Akash Shrestha and developed by Utsab Shrestha, the talking tree used a very simple mechanism: A sensor triggered a pre-recorded message when somebody walked around the tree. The voice of the tree was deep and a striking reminiscent of Ents, the giant trees first conceived by JRR Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and later popularised by Sir Peter Jackson through the Oscar-winning films. The tree spoke of death and lamented at the sweeping technological advancements that has been the cause of the rapid disappearance of its friends and family. In one stroke, our developments swept away what nature produced after millions of years of evolution––this chilling thought was countered by the floor piano, developed by Binod Pangeni and Niraj Pradhan, where one could play by walking on the keys. Many were struggling to play nursery rhymes by walking on it and Rajesh Das, an attendee at the event, happily remarked the difficulty of playing an instrument by foot. And then, the visitors marveled at the hologram made by Anand Shrestha and Niraj Pradhan which showed the life of the solar system and Mithila patterns, and afterwards wondered at the earthly delights of different airplane models made out of paper. 

On the way out, the visitors soaked in the magnanimity of two 32 feet long paintings by Ranju Yadav that depicted the life in the Mithila region. One chronicled the life cycle in a traditional community, and the other showed the unchanging lives of women in a patriarchal society. The painting was awe inspiring for its sheer breadth of scope, and there were several other Mithila art pieces that were being showcased at the exhibition. One work that caught my attention was a Mithila depiction of goddess Bagwati inspired by Thanka paintings—the convergence of cultures signified the attempt at living in harmony with thoughts and people that are different than one’s own culture. Nonetheless, the beautiful paintings did not contribute to the theme of combining art with tech, and since the exhibition was done at night time, the visitors could not enjoy the beauty of the rich Mithila art. Many were even forced to use flash lights to view the paintings. 

There has been a tradition of holding exhibitions during the day, but the organiser’s choice of holding the exhibition at night did serve a purpose as the hologram display was more vivid in the darkness and the horror of listening to the giant tree was more keenly felt in the silence of the night. But poor lighting near the paintings meant the audience were not able to fully appreciate the rigor of the paintings on display. 

The organisers had initially explained the purpose of Yantra was to converge the meaning of art and technology, and remind the audience that art and technology are not different entities, and many installation provided a sense of that union. 

The exhibition, now in its sixth year, however, did not give a feeling of a carefully curated cohesive whole. In spite of the few hiccups, Yantra was a joyous occasion for the art and tech enthusiasts of the Valley. The pieces were simple yet intriguing and the installation pieces did not have original concepts, but it marked collaboration between artists and engineers: something that is not seen often enough in Nepal. Hopefully, in the upcoming reiterations of the festival, the organisers shall be able to host a larger exhibition with more installations which refine the collaborative process between people from different educational backgrounds. 

Published: 16-12-2017 09:06

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