Art News & Views

Two Edged Blade


by Waswo X. Waswo

Waswo X. Waswo noted artist and writer approaches the whole discourse of cutting edge art cautiously and feels that at times nostalgia and sentimental stuff also could pave way to create cutting edge art. Besides, he says that being inclusive and sharing credit also should be the part of the cutting edge art practice. And he believes that cutting the old ground could also bring more edgy art out.

"Cutting edge" has lost its meaning largely because it is one of those terms bantered about much too indiscriminately. Anything cutting edge ought to cut, i.e., slice into new ground and reshape it. Cutting edge art should not be, as it often is, defined solely by media. Video, installation and performance art is what is most frequently referred to as cutting edge, even though these mediums have been around since the late 60's and early 70's. The term "cutting edge" also gets applied with great regularity to art that addresses various social concerns, such as sexual identity, which in fact in most secular societies, has become such an over-examined concern that art with this focus can hardly be experienced as cutting edge at all. It is good to remember that those who break (cut) new ground are sometimes those who first take the time to revisit old ground, digging about and shaping discoveries that have been overlooked. In such a way, a duo such as the Singh Twins or Saira Wasim may be considered cutting edge for the way they have cut out and shaped a newly contemporary/politicized spirit in miniature painting.

I am not sure if my own work is cutting edge, in fact, I am a bit shy of the term. To be labelled as cutting edge, of course, invites a kind of ephemeral recognition. What is cutting edge today is passé tomorrow. I don't think many artists consciously chase after this label, though they might find themselves delighted at having it applied to their work. One does not set off on a project with the idea of becoming cutting edge. Rather, it is through a purging of inherited convention and prevailing dogma that an artist finds his or herself to be on a socially perceived edge without having tried. So, if anything about the work that I do has become cutting edge, I would have to say it is due to a stubborn obstinance on my part to accept a lot of prevailing notions in the artworld.

For one thing I question the "words of dismissal" (as I call them) that are used to discredit art that does not adhere to the templates of accepted modernity/contemporaneity.  At times I have found myself defending the words "romantic", "nostalgic", and "sentimental" (the most powerful words of dismissal); not defending my work from accusations with these words, but defending the essence of romanticism, nostalgia and sentimentalism itself; arguing that these three are necessary mental/emotional exercises that allow humans to re-explore and revaluate what they think best in their past environments, thereby reimagining a sense of loss, as well as establishing gauges for the present and referential guides for any desired future. I am not saying that nostalgia and sentimentalism in and of themselves makes for good art (most often they do not) but what I am saying is that by too quickly dismissing these qualities as inherently bad we stymie a broad range of possibly relevant art explorations. In similar ways I have questioned the prevailing Said-ian belief that it is impossible for a westerner to make valid art in an "Oriental" context, that exoticization is a one way street running from west to east, and whether or not a desire to experience and eventually understand "the exotic" is perhaps a natural human craving irrespective of cultural background.

By now I must be sounding like a contrarian crank. But does the questioning briefly outlined above make my thinking cutting edge? Or reactionary? Can a knife slicing new ground cut both ways? Is piercing into ground that has been forgotten truly cutting new ground? Or a mistaken perception of cutting new ground? Can anything new be unearthed from this cutting of old ground? Is it possible to know these things without making explorations?

The work I have done in Udaipur in collaboration with the photo hand-colourist Rajesh Soni and the miniaturist R. Vijay has rather self-consciously stepped in and out of these various issues. I like to raise more questions than I answer and to that extent the work we have done has been successful. It has been suggested that giving artistic credit to Rajesh and Rakesh is itself a cutting-edge act in these days of art-star "conceptualizers" and anonymous "makers". Resisting the ease by which promotional machines can more manageably brand/market single-identity artists takes a bit of determination. But in all honesty I have not been consistent in giving credit where credit is due and a number of people who work on my projects still go unrecognized. As with beauty (another unpopular term that I will go out on a limb to defend) what is and is not cutting edge might well be in the eye/mind of the beholder.

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