Mother, who will weave now? attempts to sample and reflect the great tapestry of Indian textile tradition and history by interweaving snippets of Indian fabric on a table board, using the poetic meters of classic Indian literature sewn with the words and motifs of the weaver-saint Kabir.
Mother, who will weave now? is the sixth and final episode of Amit Dutta’s filmsa selection of films programmed by Iman Issa as the tenth cycle of Artist cinemasa series of long-running online film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.
Amit Dutta’s Films takes place in six weekly episodes from March 7 to April 18, 2022 and features six Amit Dutta films accompanied by a six-part conversation between Amit Dutta and Iman Issa, released in text form. A new movie and part of the conversation comes out every Monday. Each film is shown for one week.
The program concludes on the final day, Monday, April 18, with a repeat of all six films airing until Tuesday noon EST.
Amit Dutta in conversation with Iman Issa
Continuation of parts I, II and III, IV and V
In a previous conversation, you mentioned to me the urgent feeling of the need to look to the past. I was struck by this assertion because I believe myself to have said it verbatim. At the same time, your approach to this past is unusual, as you seem to take great leeway in the way you deal with existing material, be it historical accounts, works of art or even systems they created. As viewers, we rarely have access to this material, only pieces that are rearranged and modified in countless ways. We also feel that the material itself is not significant; that it is used to point to other things. It is quite different from someone who approaches a tradition as a coherent system of knowledge that must be applied according to its own rules. In your case, these traditions are no more sealed than anything in the present. They are equally open and ripe for the possibilities. Moreover, it does not seem that the work is concerned with revealing the hidden essences of these traditions or the material that emanates from them, but rather aims to activate them. I very much identify with this approach, but I was curious if you could talk more about your relationship with these historical sources. For some, this may seem like an irreverent relationship. Although I’d say it’s the exact opposite, because by refusing to treat your sources as knowable systems whose fate has been sealed is to extend respect to them to keep them alive or perhaps bring them back to life. Perhaps you can describe in your own words what this relation to the sources can be?
I totally resonate with your train of thought and attempt further investigation. As we were discussing during the video call, why the past and not the future? Why aren’t we interested in the future, let’s say science fiction, but only in the past? (Although lately I’ve started writing some sci-fi stories for children). Nevertheless, I think it is the duty of any artist who comes from a colonized country to get in touch with their instincts. The idea is not to interpret or celebrate the tradition but to use it to get in touch with our reflexes, the inner layers of our own mind that are made up of it all. It is very important to clarify that this is not and should not be a regressive project. Of course, not everything old is good or bad. They had different ways of organizing their societies, and each type of organization will give rise to different types of genius. By clinging only to the necessary human need for harmony and beauty, we must remember that what could be achieved at some time cannot be achieved in another structure. Not everyone can commit to this project; it’s tiring and full of potholes. You have to be like a mythical swan separating milk from water. You have to have a very balanced and calm mind to deal with this.
And as you say, we cannot assume or force full entry into a system of thought or material culture by its fragments alone, however carefully gleaned. As an extension, I feel that even the present is only accessible to us in fragments. It is perhaps this layered and fragmented coexistence of multiple times and spaces within us that intrigues me. In a present moment of heightened attention, they provide a rich glow or insight into human perception that challenges subjective assumptions. Recently I was looking at a work by Japanese artist Aki Inomata, who experimented with a similar idea on an evolutionary/biological level. Like its bagworms gleaning bits of modern clothing to make their primordial cocoon, or the octopus immediately finding its home in a 3D-printed fossil shell, perhaps subconscious layers of cultural memory are activating in ways unexpected in us when we access poignant remains. of the history of mankind. It is indeed delicate and double-edged, a fine balance between organic reflex and consciousness.
I’m curious to hear you talk more about your attraction to the different traditions of organizing the world. For my part, I was actually not so interested in the story itself. In fact, having grown up in Egypt where many artists there and in the region worked with the idea of history, I was very resistant to it. Even when I ran into him, I kept referring to my work in terms of the structures it was about, such as saying, “I work on existing monuments and not on the history that they claim to record”, and it wasn’t until eight or nine years ago that that changed. I don’t have a clear reason why but part of me thinks the 2011 uprising was somehow responsible. Perhaps it was due to the feelings it aroused that the systems one operates in are nothing like they were thought to be and need to be studied from their very origins. ; that with our failing systems, it wasn’t just a corrupt application, but the whole model was outdated. I’m curious to know if your attraction to different traditions is also based on a search for different systems of understanding, organization and action in the world? I should also maybe revisit my use of the term ‘past’, as I really liked how you refer to these traditions in terms of the coexistence of different times and spaces. That actually lines up more with what I meant, because they’re not really in the past at all, are they?
It’s so fascinating to know your background. I watched your work carefully as we talked and I’m really impressed with your Book of Facts: A Proposal (2018). I also find there this cleverly composed coexistence of the past and the present, an invitation to imagine a scenario through fragments of information that is too much and too little, too deep and too trivial at the same time.
To me, this is actually a very difficult contrast to resolve – the contrast between a grand, complicated civilizational narrative spanning continents and millennia, and personal stories spanning a few defining incidents that have shaped and shaken us as individuals and communities. I felt this very vividly while studying the art and life of Jangarh Singh Shyam (1962-2001), a modern painter from an isolated tribal village in central India. Whether he was a tribal artist or a modern artist who happened to be tribal was never determined, but he was successfully negotiating his place in the “mainstream” world. At the peak of a spectacular career after migrating to the city, he suddenly committed suicide in a Japanese museum. I couldn’t consider his trip as just a personal story; the explanation I was looking for could only be found in larger themes of our country’s history and its history of art, education and leading concepts, in the recent and distant past. I identify a lot with the career of this artist, because what for me is an organic subjective tendency has always been considered as “alternative” in a certain way, let’s say experimental or parallel. This has always made me question our data, whether through formal education, news, or history. What we perceive naturally is generally expected to be formulated in a definite way to be valid in a given context, no matter how specialized. Somehow I tend to remain uneducated about these established mannerisms, and often only learn about them after I say or do something.
In that sense, while I’d be hesitant to say I’m looking for an alternative system, I can probably say I’m eventually finding them. [alternative systems] everywhere, even in me. As Lao Tzu said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and does not intend to arrive.”
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