5 mins | silent | 2013
The video speculates a new landscape composed from the aquatints of India, made by the British landscape painters Thomas and William Daniells (1749-1837). All human and architectural elements seem to have escaped the perspectival gaze of the camera obscura with which the paintings were constructed. Similar to the technique of Anamorphosis in Renaissance painting, the digital skew frees the structures from time, gravity and the picture-plane.
Mochu is an experimental film-maker and artist based in India. He often works with text, drawings and video, combining ideas of techno-fiction, quasi-mythology and art history. His recent projects deal with specific instances in the history of visual art, with a focus on technological fictions and speculative imagery that are often embedded in them – some examples being the aquatints of the British landscape painters Thomas and William Daniells and the Indian painter K. Ramanujam. The ongoing project is a multi-platform science-fiction work on inorganic sentience, mystical collectives and techno-orientalism. He is currently on a fellowship at the Home Workspace Program at Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, and his work has been exhibited at various venues such as Transmediale BWPWAP, NGMA Bangalore, WEYA Nottingham, Collectif Jeune Cinema, Khoj International Artists Association and The Royal Academy of Arts.
Interview with Mochu by Charu Maithani
Charu Maithani [CM]// You describe ‘Who Believes the Lens?’ as a ‘collision of Orientalism and science fiction’. What are the forces at play between Orientalism and science fiction resulting in their ‘collision’?
Mochu// The phrase emerged out of some of my readings on the history of science fiction and its conceptual affinities to the colonial program. The construction of new ‘worlds’ in numerous science fiction stories and their appropriation of the notions of race, landscape and future, often mimicked the ideological mechanisms of the colonial state. The articulation of the Orient as a landscape of fantasy involved a similar procedure of projecting evolutionary theories and anthropological discourses that supported specific programs of military and economic conquest. The Daniells’ paintings, for example, developed exclusively for consumption in Britain and presented India as a primitive world of pre-technological charm. In my video, the distorted post-technological forms create ruptures in this pristine fantasy and form a new universe.
CM// In terms of technique, Thomas and William Daniell used Camera Obscura to convey a perspective to the aquatints. In ‘Who believes the Lens?’, you have skewed the perspective of the objects in the images, subverting the definition of ‘Orientalism’ as something that can be studied, depicted and reproduced. What do you think about this?
Mochu// The skewing of perspective points to the Early Renaissance technique of Anamorphosis, where certain elements within paintings were distorted systematically to afford a privileged viewing angle for the viewer to contemplate them. This was simultaneously a way of coding information as well as a device to propel the viewer out of the restrictive spatio-temporal framework of the perspectival gaze implicit in the paintings. This establishment of perspectival gaze and a fixed position for the viewer set the stage for maps and lens-based devices crucial to the conquest of new territories by colonising forces, whereas the anamorphic forms seem to slice through the ideology of such a vision. In ‘Who believes the Lens?’ I used the skewing and distorting tools in digital image-editing softwares to create a visual discontinuity that resembles this older technique. When imposed on the Daniells’ paintings that were made with the aid of a Camera Obscura, a device that realizes the most fundamental idea of lens-based optics, the digital distortions subvert the fixed gaze and liberates the viewer from its naturalistic arrest.
CM// You work in different mediums, video, drawing, writing, how do they influence the articulation of your thought and imagery. Are you tempted to use text in video or drawing in video?
Mochu// The relation between the word, the still and the moving image has been explored in various capacities in most of my works, including my recent film on the painter K. Ramanujam. I feel that imagination is activated most effectively when the synchrony between the word and image is constantly shifting.
CM// Science fiction seems to be a recurring theme in your work. Your earlier work ‘Wake’ presents the memories of a village where a time machine has crashed and your latest work on the painter K. Ramanujam also lays emphasis on the fantasy worlds created by him. In your drawing based and literary work also science fiction and fantastical images are seen. Could you comment on the science fiction imagery created by you, the influence of pop culture science fiction on it and the dystopian imagery of future?
Mochu// Science fiction has been a fascination since childhood. Over time though, as I started doing basic background reading while working on my own stories, scripts and ideas. The theories and ideas within science and art history started to seem more interesting than my narratives. This continues to remain so and because of that I tend to often develop highly conceptual science-fictional atmospheres that rely on abstract scientific and aesthetic concepts rather than naturalistic, dramatic plots. Many of these resist concrete images, so the struggle to develop an aesthetic for it is an interesting challenge that involves using words and images in varying combinations. However, the visual language in both my drawings and films retain some pop culture influences from music videos and mythological comic books among others. When juxtaposed with theoretical ideas, it produces a strange asynchrony that appeals to me.
CM// Can we talk a little bit about the usage of sound in your work. ‘Wake’ wonderfully presents the soundscape of the village and the time machine. The soundscape is a narrative element there. In ‘Who believes the Lens’ you do not use sound, is there a conceptual reason behind it?
Mochu// ‘Wake’ presents a highly fragmented dystopia and the sound was approached as a noise-narrative that leads to the time-machine-camel and the subsequent nostalgia for the village. The atmosphere of anxiety and panic in the film relies heavily on these noise particles to eventually compose the dystopia. In ‘Who Believes the Lens?’ though, I wanted to maintain the sense of time and volume implied in silent painted surfaces rather than add a new universe to it through sound.