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Shuddhabrata Sengupta
Q: What is, in the context of contemporary art, your vision of a future art?



A: I see making or doing art as an argument between desire and reality. This presupposes that I take the reality of my desires seriously. Desire is predicated on the future. One desires something "to happen", one desires "to become" someone, one desires "to have or hold on to" something, "to be" somewhere, or "to do" something. The "to happen", "to become", "to have or hold on to", "to be", and "to do" parts of this sentence mean that the thing or situation desired is always just beyond the reach of the present moment.

Art, which we might call the process by which desire, and its corollary, imagination encounter the real, is at present held hostage to a framework of institutional practices, canons and histories. These serve primarily to separate art, or the domain of the aesthetic from the ethical, from the everyday, from the domain of dealing with the day to day fact of making meaning in difficult times. The future of art will depend on how far those who work with art are prepared to go in terms of restoring to art its function of being that which involves a desire "to do" something with life, and the world.

The ransom (which might free art) involves a transaction by which we give up the indices of our attachments to the sensible, rational ways of dealing with an insane world that we inhabit at present, for the sake of the slim chances of the transformation of the terms of everyday life in the future.

To my mind, this is a wager worth taking up for consideration, and any person who makes art, or lives with art, or has visions, epileptic fits, nightmares and hangovers about art has to place bets, cut deals and count their chances along these lines. To do this is to say "yes, in a world where terror is the breath of the real, I will imagine that it is still possible to participate in the creation or transmission of objects and situations of relentless and unforgiving beauty, by the clarity or confusion with which they change the way I look at life, that by their very force, will bring to bear another reality upon the world".

This is the reason for art to be what it can be, and this reason comes to us from the territories of imagined futures. Which, if not better, are desired as being markedly different from the world of the present.

Art can speak to us and state that the ”here and now” of this world (war, terror, lies, money, power) can be something other than what it is. That when our circumstances are imprisoned by the reason for things to continue to be what they are, for the future to be "more" of the present, it becomes all the more necessary to claim another future in and through art for ourselves. Art can then be the restlessness of the desire for the future to be 'present' in the present. It is the insertion of the desired future into the present, of locating an empty space and filling that with meaning. Even by absence, art invokes the necessary reality of utopia.

It is as if the spray paint of potential experience were to mark the walls of the city of the present, enabling life to teach passers-by, the citizens of the present, the grammar and the lexicon of a new language for talking about the everyday-ness of the future.

It is to say – "here, take your passport, your newspaper, your identity card, your work permit, your electoral register, your health record, your social security number, your x-ray, your bank statement, your doctors prescription, your inheritance, your insurance, your wage bill, your shopping list, your debt, your balance sheet, your inventory, your fear, your anxiety, your boredom, your humiliation – and see what happens if you were to wet them, make them into paste and fashion a papier maché object out of them, like you did once with waste paper in primary school. Recall, for once the joy of watching certainties being mashed into pulp. Watch how the glistening laminate of the passport cover can run and melt when torched, see the figures in the bank statement and the wage bill dance, watch the decimals explode, witness fear dissolving ..."

To make art for the future is to add substance to this speculation. To enact it, to perform it, as one would a rite, is to change reality by making another reality occur. To be a witness to that art is to listen to whispers from the future, to decode signed and unsigned messages. These messages can be laments, prophecies, or calls for celebration, or puzzles and enigmas, but they will all ask us to turn away from the present moment on to some unmapped and immediate tomorrow, which is not merely an "accumulation of todays".

All revolutionaries must learn to be artists, even if all artists need not be revolutionaries.

What kind of artists can prepare us for the future. Artists who are willing to hold in abeyance the barriers between work and world, who can say "there is no boundary behind which my work needs to be, of authorship, or patronage, or curatorial frames within which it needs to be protected in order to survive". Artists who are willing to be generous with themselves and be demanding of life – artists who will give away their work, share their work, collaborate and quarrel with others in the making of work and who will freely take from life and form culture from whatever is up for grabs. Artists who are not bothered by either the pressure to be original or by the need to belong, artists whose daily lives may be works in progress, and who can create ways of being and working with others that are pleasurable and provocative. Artists for whom there is no need to fetishize style, or manner, or technologies, or practices, even while they evolve styles, take on manners, push the borders of technologies and transform practices. Artists who, even if they sell in the marketplace, know that the market only measures the vanity of the buyer, not the value of the artwork.

Such people, whether or not they are recognized as artists, or choose to call themselves such, may choose to be nameless, may be comfortable in ensembles and coalitions, might perform different identities for different purposes, and find themselves more often in a fairground, on the street, in a picket line, or on a web site than they might be in a gallery, a museum or a studio.

For me, the future of art, and the art of the future, hinges on the recognition of these realities, and on artists, on all those who work with art, choosing to create those ways in which they can work in the present that anticipate imagined futures.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
New Delhi, October 2001