A for Arple
F-213-C, Lado Sarai, 110030 New Delhi, India
December 8, 2011 – December 31, 2011
On the conveyor-belt of mainstream pedagogic practice all of us who have had the opportunity to go to school have learnt through the rote method, with a sharp and vicious stick looming at a dangerously close distance to our bottoms, that ‘A is for Apple’ and apple alone. The possibility of aberrations, alternatives, or permutations was foreclosed in what was a single answer system. For decades our language textbooks have retained the same content and technique where A corresponds to a red-coloured fruit, B is a spherical body used in games, C a purring carnivorous mammal. M L Johny points out that the letter ‘A’ also bears correspondence to the word ‘Art’ as it does to a nonsense word ‘Arple,’ a misspelt version of the red fruit. He commits this deliberate error to mock our notions about language as existing in two water-tight compartments of right and wrong.
What this traditional style of learning overlooks is that language posits its own dynamism that cannot be contained by a fixed text. With technology becoming part of our daily lived and cultural existences, our meaning-making processes alter themselves to include the pacing up of our lives. SMS and chat are an example of such a dialogue between language and technology that has altered a pre-existing language structure to create its own system of signs and meaning.
Ravi Kashi, the other chart, 20 x 24 inches; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Ragini.
M L Johny presents a profusion of images in a small space, creating an impression of an overlap, a syntax error. He jams together thirty-odd artists to create various textures and tones. They make references to theme and form from popular parlance, kitsch, employing SMS and other short-hand language to create multiple meanings. Reading Karl Antao’s message written in the form of a Snellen eye chart makes one feel that one is at a doctor’s clinic doing a vision test. As the test progresses, one realises there is an encrypted nonsense message embedded in the eye test. Ravi Kashi prescribes a vocabulary that is an alternative to the ‘A for Apple’ routine. In his alphabet chart he pictorially represents one word starting with each alphabet – A for Artist, C for Critic (a pen) and G for Gallery (represented by a white-coloured cube). This is the place where an eye test becomes a nonsense message and an alphabet chart makes us rethink our word associations.
Vaibhav Sharma paints portraits of illustrious men and writes their famous quotes under their pictures. There is an element of farce — they are all sucking their thumbs, a metaphoric reference to their immaturity. However, while taking a dig at Bill Gates, Sigmund Freud, Marcel Duchamp and the others, the artist has a good-sport laugh at himself. He paints his own portrait in the same pose with a blank under his picture. The artist’s sense of humour shines through in his comment on his own silence, without any anecdotes on life to share with the world. Gigi Scaria pays an ode to Surrealist artist Rene Magritte in his painting of a pipe exhaling multi-storied buildings instead of smoke.
Manmeet, Absences II, 24 x 16, print on archival paper; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Ragini
Manmeet evokes the idea of the ‘absent presence’ in her photographs taken with a slow shutter speed. The people in motion in the picture seem like a ghostly, faded presence, almost not there, yet present due to their absence. M L Johny’s inclusion of this work in his exhibition helps one to think of such a situation with respect to words – words in their absence are sometimes pregnant with the unsaid and sometimes articulate the unsaid better than it would be possible in words.
Rene Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of an Image’ (1928) was a picture of the pipe with ‘This is not a pipe’ written below it. The artist implied that what one is looking at on the canvas was merely a representation of the pipe, and not the pipe itself. The same can be said of language — it is a mode of representation, a system of signs and symbols. It has no meaning in itself. It carries the importance and meaning we accord it. M L Johny’s exhibition prompts one to unlearn the alphabet and look for new meanings and associations for things around us which will help us to create new perspectives on language.
(Note: This article was first published @ArtSlant.com)