Posts tagged history
Venice Biennale

20% of reasons not to be here - I found this list on a huge wall at the Giardini in Venice and it introduced me to the world of art and its politics in a whole new way. Visiting an art exhibition was a once in six months thing for me (before my MA). Most of my art knowledge comes from western books and the beautiful internet. So the Venice Biennale was an explosion in my head, and to represent it I choose the image below:

Its also interesting to look at the history of the event.

A Short History of the Shadow

In this book the author explains the history and meaning behind the shadow in western art. Beginning with the shadow's role in the origin of painting, Victor I.Stoichita covers its symbolic significance across history, from Renaissance painters to Picasso, Warhol and even Piaget's child psychology. Over time he explains how the shadow came to represent negativity, or how the shadow was demonized. The excerpt below is from the first chapter which deals with the earliest representations of the shadow, infused with magical properties, and at times representing the soul.

"...As Maspero reminds us in his classic study, the shadow was how the Egyptians first visualized the soul (ka). In this case it was a 'clear shadow, a colored projection, but aerial to the individual, reproducing every one of his features'. And the black shadow (khaibit), having been regarded in even earlier times as the very soul of man, was subsequently considered to be his double." [pg 19]

An interesting point brought up was the difference between a shadow in sunlight and a shadow at night. He says "..a shadow in sunlight denotes a moment in time and no more than that, but a nocturnal shadow is removed from the natural order of time, it halts the flow of progress." This is relevant because day versus night is a recurring theme in my work since October last year. It also reminded me of the work Tobari no Akari, which to me signified stillness and a frozen moment in time due to the use of nocturnal shadows.

The author's comparison of specular representations with the shadow is also relevant to my work. For example mirrors and reflections in water represent a double (mimesis or likeness) of the real object or person, whereas the shadow can represent the other: "The frontal relationship with the mirror is a relationship with the same, just as the relationship with the profile was a relationship with the other." Giorgio Vasari, The Origin of Painting, 1573, fresco Casa Vasari, Florence.[pg.41]

The book lead me to question the role and significance of the shadow in my work. I've used the shadow in my first installation as a negative symbol to represent the darker hidden city. Whereas in collaborative work such as Tobari no Akari and concept work Beedi Leaf the significance is contextual and at times open to interpretation. Similarly the author underlines the changing meaning of the shadow, "...we could say that to Lippi the shadow as a symbol, is an interminably interpretable symbol." [pg.82]

Although my study of the shadow as a signifier will continue, I cannot find much information about the history of the shadow in Indian or Eastern Art. Besides brief excerpts on shadow puppetry I've discovered only limited information on the significance behind this ancient tradition.

Update: More on the significance of the shadow in the east here.


Stoichita,V (1997). A Short History of the Shadow. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Turner,C and Stoichita,V (2007). A Short History of the Shadow: Interview with Victor I. Stoichita. Cabinet Magazine Issue 24 [online] Available from [Accessed 26th April 2011].

Warner, M (2007). Darkness Visible Cabinet Magazine Issue 24. [online] Available from [Accessed 26th April 2011]



During my tutorial with Ronnie Inglis we spoke about the meaning behind the autobiographical trend in my work and further topics of study, especially in relation to place-making. We discussed my previous areas of interest such as the city and fantasy, collective versus personal urban memories, place-making in relation to site-specific art, use of the shadow, and representing extremes. He directed me towards the book History of the Shadow which greatly influenced my work in the following weeks. The topic of Genius loci is relevant because I am interested in shooting my projections in outdoor locations. According to Thompson (2003, p.67) 'the Romans believed that places, like people, had inner spirits that determined their essences,' and similarly I was interested in this essence of Mumbai. Thompson also mentions that for genius loci to be useful rather than a mere magical notion it should be a combination of 'character, local distinctiveness and ecosystem' (2003, p.69). This lead to the idea of representing the city as a fictionalized creation, in the same way a writer creates a fictional character.

And a thing's character changes and develops over time. This can happen slowly or through abrupt events. The reading made me realize that Mumbai has not developed slowly or without trauma. It has grown in bursts and starts. Several traumatic events such as the '93 bombings and the more recent 26/11 Taliban attack have affected the city. We could argue however, that despite these severe shocks the essence of the city remains the same. According to Norberg-Schulz (cited in Thompson, 2003, p.70) "places can change, sometimes rapidly, but this does not necessarily mean that the genius loci changes or gets lost."

LaPaDu Panorama 2010-10-03

An excellent example of the genius loci being kept intact by an architect is the above landscape park Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord by Peter Latz. The place was 'traumatized by industrialization and deindustrialization' and the architect built upon 'its existing character, creating fern gardens in ore bunkers and making their mass concrete walls into facilities for rock climbers' (Thompson, 2003, p.72). This connects to my idea of using appropriate objects, materials and sites that are relevant to the trauma and violence of the city.

Kaka tells story

^Cotton 56, Polyester 84 is a play about how the failed Mumbai Mills are getting converted into malls and entertainment complexes. Citizen's groups demand that the land should be converted into open parks and low cost housing, but slowly and surely all mill land will be sold to builders (Shanbag, 2006).

Madhusudan mills parel

^Another abandoned Mumbai Mill.

As sites these are beautiful and tragic places that express this violent and crushing conflict between the here and the elsewhere, the undesirable and the desired. I can only pursue this direction further once I am back in India. At the same time it brings me to question my interest in these places, since my knowledge of these events is purely historical, through media reports and local people's opinions. At this point in my practice I would prefer to express issues and places that I have personally and directly experienced.

Another important aspect of place is memory, which is in turn closely related to history. Historical buildings such as the mills compounds and their replacements are part of a general history of the city. Individual memories have a completely different flavour. In the book City of Collective Memory the author underlines this difference by proposing that history and memory are bipolar attributes because history is linear and memory non-linear (Boyer, 2001, p.67). Collective memory is 'a current of continuous thought still moving in the present, still part of a group's active life, and these memories are multiple and dispersed, spectacular and ephemeral, not recollected and written down in one unified story' (Boyer, p.67).

Another fascinating point is that this urban memory is 'an antimuseum and not localizable' (Boyer, p.68). This means that my earlier work using popular landscapes and landmarks was a reference to history, a revision of a recognizable historical reality. It is also a reference to memory since I have taken various historical elements and placed them in a contemporary context. Now that I am using scenes that are not famous or instantly recognizable such as the Thane landscape I am removing "historical" elements from the work.

The next topic is framing. We frame the place or city 'by travel, in the theater, at the museum, from the cinema, through its architectural compositions' (Boyer, p.70). The panorama as a framed image is questionable - the city of the panorama is criticized for its 'rational scientific methods,' 'describable pasts' and 'predictable futures' (Boyer, p.68). The author criticizes common recycled views of the city saying 'We have learned to gaze upon the city as artifact through illustrated portfolios and architectural guidebooks that have their own procedures for characterizing place and tradition' (Boyer, p.69).

And finally I'll quote Victor Burgin (1996, p.7) who says that 'we cannot know a 'city', only those of its places we come to frequent.'


Boyer, C (2001). The City of Collective Memory, Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments. MIT Press.

Burgin, V. (1996). Some Cities. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Thompson, I. (2003). What use is the genius loci? In: Menin, S.(eds). Constructing Place, Mind and Matter. London: Routledge. pp.66-76.

Pile, S. and Thrift, N. (2000). City A-Z. London: Routledge

Wikipedia. (2011). Urbanism [online] Available from [Accessed 23rd April 2011].


The museum in Vishrambagwada is temporarily closed due to restoration work, but I managed to look at a few exhibits. The courtyard was littered with exhibits: models of famous wada's and historical buildings from Pune's history. It's ironic that these tiny models with cheap plastic figures are stored inside an actual wada, which by contrast is beautiful and original.

See more posts on Pune.