PRELUDES I by Rahee Punyashloka

1.40 min | silent | 2013

Flashes of images that emerge from a moving haze composition in the dark room. The composition of the video forces the audience to look for images in wavelike motion, which stimulates the unexpected memory.

Rahee Punyashloka (1993, India) is a visual artist and filmmaker. He processes analogue techniques in digital media and is inspired by the work of Hollis Frampton and Pat O’Neill. His works have been exhibited in various festivals around the world including Rotterdam, Tribeca (New York), Athens and Jakarta. He is closely associated with Lightcube Film Society (Delhi) and projectorhead, a film criticism magazine, for whom he curates and writes.

Interview with Rahee Punyashloka by Charu Maithani

Charu Maithani [CM]// To start with, tell us about your current obsessions and concerns as a filmmaker.

Rahee Punyashloka [RP]// Well, speaking strictly from within the ambit of film-history genericizations, I would get pitted as an “experimental” filmmaker. My most prominent influences (at least, to restrict it within this “experimental” ‘genre’) would be Hollis Frampton, Pat O’Neill, James Benning, and David Gatten. I primarily work with various ‘camera-less’ techniques within the digital medium. In the beginning, I started off from within the clichéd restriction of trying to make “independent” films with limited resources, further stratifying onto a probable “pure minimalism”, thereby dispensing with “actors” as well as the camera altogether. This happened primarily due to two factors: firstly, due to a gradual film literacy which made me aware of very abundant traditions of experimental cinema, and secondly because the sheer complexity of making a film, or what would be classified as a “normal” film; with its infinite combinatorics genuinely terrified me. So working in this genre made it possible to both obtain the self-sustaining model of filmmaking that I had aspired for, as well as giving me some vague sense of “creative control”.

I insist upon the “digital” again, firstly, because it was convenient (the whole “digital democratizes” stuff), and secondly, because much of the experimental possibilities of the image are yet to be expanded or, at the least transposed onto “the digital” as much of experimental film history — as with any “film” history — is on film. This kind of simple transposition, i.e. digital as a cheap substitute is precisely how it has been seen. This is true especially within the relatively smaller “experimental” community, wherein with the proliferation of digital and the looming threat regarding “end of film”, a real possibility exists that the very act of making something ‘on film’ qualifies it as “experimental”. Consequently a rigid “film purism” exists in experimental filmmakers, which I find deeply reductive and problematic simply because I find the pre-occupations of the digital- visual to be far more different than just being this cheap substitute. I think this classifies mine as a minor opinion, and in that sense so much work remains to be done towards this.

CM// In Preludes I, the blurry images are like waves crashing on the beach, and every wave brings with it images. It is upon the viewer to make sense of the images, maybe together as a story or just as singular events. Either ways, it exists in the afterthought, deriving from the memories and personal experiences. Were you thinking about this while making the work?

RP// I really like the wave metaphor, even though I hadn’t explicitly thought of it as such while making the work. In any case the primary concern in the work is a “fluidization” of the seemingly stable image, a deconstruction of its seemingly stable “frame” and “foundation”, and as a consequence, the sequentiality of the viewer’s memory of thought of the image. Although, in retrospect, this in itself would probably sound as a clichéd trope onto itself, as a major chunk of experimental cinema is dedicated toward this end. Perhaps, one should do a detailed history of “fluid dynamics in experimental cinema”.

CM// Could you talk a little bit about your technique and aesthetics. Most of your films like Noise Reduction II, use cinematic techniques and effects on digital video. I want to take up questions of materiality with respect to cinema and video. By this I do not mean only the physical material, but also the materiality of the image which becomes an integral part of your work. In your practice, is the cinematic experience irrespective of the medium?

RP// As I said earlier, my aesthetics tend to be shaped around the conviction that the pre-occupation and limits of the digital image needs to be sought elsewhere; least of all in seeing it as a mere replacement for the celluloid image. With Noise Reduction II: Chinatown, I sought to merely juxtapose – or if I were to be seen as being “less serious” –  “pastiche”, even “parody” this theme of arche-materiality of the celluloid image by transferring its material-textural values onto the “Media Offline” image that our digital editing softwares often come up with. Of course, undercutting this whole “image-dialectics” is the narrative of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, and its attempt at faux-Orientalism. In many senses the “narrative” of Noise Reduction II is that of a detective story; one that is derived or symptomatic of Chinatown, “the most perfect Hollywood screenplay”.

Regarding the “cinematic experience”, since I am working strictly with the digital medium, and I insist therein, I am really not sure whether to pronounce any judgement. Rather, would you, for example, consider the experience of watching Noise Reduction II as “cinematic”?

CM// I also want to talk about the ontological image in celluloid and digital medium. Cinema is no longer the cultural dominant. Moreover, the methods of its production and reception have transformed. The larger question remains if the image is cinematic or a new media object? What is your take on it and the treatment of image in your work?

RP// This is a very interesting proposition, in response to which I would posit yet another continuity, but, an obverse one – somewhere in the history of the image, the moving image, the “cinematic image” perhaps emerges more as an “aberration”, an “anomaly”. However discursively dominant it might subsequently go on to become and/or how much ever radical its capacity to critique/alter the image’s ontological status might be (have been?). It may be noted that I am in fact conceding, despite having sounded like a digital-fanatic before, that the cinematic image does indeed have that “unique” critical ontology. But to me, at a very preliminary level, the “digital ontology” of an image (or, as you call it, a ‘media object’; but even here I do not see a pure split between the two terms, a mutual incommensurability to have ever arisen) has a very sustained parallel (if not older and/or more originary) status or history which might have gotten briefly ‘side-tracked’ due to the ‘birth of cinema’. Even within a very topical understanding of what is “digital”, we must concede that digital as a computing process, even as a generative grammar pre-dates the arrival of the train at La Ciotat, its visual component, albeit, being far more recent. This move to always already “ontologize” the cinematic image as a ‘state of exception’ perhaps sound ridiculous. In any case, I sense that we are entering rather dense philosophical terrains which would need much longer discussions and different avenues to figure out with any fruition. I would conclude here by saying that this splitting off of the image into a ‘new’, into a media-object-that-is-no-more-an-image is, for me, an extremely interesting, even revolutionary prospect which is futural, and yet to come.

April 2016