Art Strategies: Final Prototype Proposal

We see processed hair around us all the time. Be it in the form of wigs/extensions, or models sporting the hair in sprawling advertisements or commercials. However, the roots of the hair industry are seldom known to people who use this hair.

model-with-hair-extension-008    hair-extensions

The hair stems from religious rituals from various countries that practice Hinduism and Buddhism. India is the largest producer of raw hair, which is then used to produce wigs and hair extensions. In Hinduism, it is a religious ritual to sacrifice one’s hair in the hope for a good fortune. This ritual is predominant in the southern part of India. People travel to the popular temples situated in the cities Tirupati and Tirutanni to get their heads shaved, and get the lord’s blessings. The belief is that to letting go one’s ego, and sacrificing it to God, results in a consequent better luck in the future. Therefore, majority of the people who travel to these temples tend to be impoverished or facing hard times, looking for hope and/or luck through this process. The temples collect the hair and sell it to bidders, who then get it processed into wigs. India’s hair exports evaluates to an earning of approximately 60 million USD, majority of which comes from these temples. The temple of Tirumala itself earned around 22 million USD through collection and selling of the sacrificed hair. There is a problem though. Most of  the women who give away their hair are oblivious of the monetary aspect of it. The women using this hair are unaware of the roots too. The women in India who participate in this ritual are not from wealthy families and are paid nothing in return for this profitable business. The large scale advertisements and promotions of straight wavy lead to false understanding of beautiful hair, especially amidst the African American community.

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women-at-work-in-a-hair-p-008  39807b0a00000578-3849708-image-a-11_1476831308831


I worked with Mint to create an installation that asks questions around religion, ritual and consumerism. The accumulation of profit through advertising hope and luck. The installation is centered around a Banyan tree, which is considered sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism. The design of the enclosure is based around money donation boxes found in Hindu and Buddhist temples. The installation is a participatory one, in the sense that the viewers can cut off strands of their hair and donate it to the piece.


Links for reference : Dailymail , TheGuardian, NYTimes .

Strategy Prototype: Conceptual and Performance Art

Art Strategies / Week 6 and 7 / Conceptual and Performance Art

Two conceptual art works that resonated with me were Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines and Tracey Emin’s My Bed. Below, I’ll try to articulate how these art pieces particularly struck with me. Rauschenberg’s paintings such as Monogram and Black Market translate to me ideas such as disorder, chaos and anti-consumerism. For me, chaos has been been central to the way I draw. Messy line strokes in monochrome with unfilled spaces and noise, is how I like my pencil/ink drawings. Below are a couple of examples:
(The first sketch was done for a independent short film based on a story by Saadat Hasan Manto. The second sketch was a representation of my monochromatic experiences in the uber-corporate corners of Hyderabad, India.)

5-colder-than-ice   20-cosmopolis

Although I’ve tried to mess with the strokes, my work has been organized and neat, when I look at it again. Rauschenberg’s work is inspiring in the sense that he completely disregards order, and tries to represent his inner chaos in a way that breaks the limitations of two dimensions. Tracey Emin’s work is similar. Works such as Exorcism of the Last Painting I Made and My Bed, while being very abstract, tell a story effectively. The story can be different for each person, it’s very subjective. Not to mention, I also love her recent pencil drawings.

01517a0c0291c49a3dbb4b841f7c2864   emin-my-bed

Conceptual Strategy Prototype

My proposition for a conceptual prototype was the breaking of two dimensions to represent objects of daily use. Laundry bag, cigarette boxes, plastic forks, half-written stories, Unread books, bedsheets, contents of my bag, et all. My idea deals with drawing on a large paper first and then exaggerating that drawing by placing such objects of daily use over the canvas. My idea is to represent anxiety by using daily objects as the medium of expression.


Performance Strategy Prototype

I also had an idea for a performance piece ( more inclined towards being participatory ) which revolved around smokers and how they react to attention. The idea involves two performers ( a man and a woman ) silently holding ashtrays for smokers to throw their cigarettes in. I wanted to execute this outside the doors at NYU Tisch, in the corner where students generally smoke. It’s interesting to see how different people react to this experiment, how inclined they are towards contributing their cigarette buds to the woman or the man. This performance is heavily inspired from Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s work. Their work is fascinating to me because on one hand it not only challenges the performers but also the participants. And also because their work tries to explore people reacting to different genders during a confrontation (link). Eventually the piece would end with the accumulation and presentation of the collected cigarette buds (sorted in order of size, color or performer).

Erased De Kooning, of Rauschenberg and Kosuth

Wikipedia describes conceptual art as is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. Kosuth puts this idea forth by simply saying:

“We don’t work with forms and colors. We work with meaning. How you make the work is far less important than why you make it.”
– Joseph Kosuth (link)

I’m not sure though, if I understand this completely or if I can agree with it. Because although concept artists prioritized meaning over material, I have often seen concept artists using forms that are different, radical and meant to catch attention. For instance, consider Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (which used a shark suspended in formaldehyde), or Joseph Kosuth’s Four Colors Four Words (which used striking lights), or Doris Selcado’s untitled sculpture made out of chairs in an empty space.

Form was indeed an important aspect of concept art, just that the form was not traditional and conventional challenged art practice. In fact most of Kosuth’s work revolved around the literal interpretation of words into form. Consider Glass Words Material Described or One and Three Chairs or Five Words in Orange Neon, as examples. Therefore, form was not irrelevant to concept art (just that the use of form had to be synchronous with the meaning). I see conceptual art more as a marriage between form and meaning, rather than meaning over form.

  glass-words-material-described  one-and-three-chairs  five-words-in-orange-neon

That said, It’s time to move to the art piece that I’m going to write a response to. Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning. Most of what is to be known about this brilliant piece is spoken by Rauschenberg himself in this video (as was shared in class). Erased de Kooning was made at a point in time when Willem De Kooning was highly revered, and Rauschenberg was still struggling to gain recognition in the art community.

“They didn’t take my work seriously, which would make me even friendlier, as far as they were concerned. Because I, in no way, could be considered a competitor. So, I was not a threat.”
– Robert Rauschenberg

This clearly explains how Rauschenberg consciously stood out from traditional art practice, and was trying to make an identity through his work. Rauschenberg wanted to create something in off white, and had been erasing his own work. However, he soon realized that it meant nothing more than an erased Rauschenberg, which would have been insignificant at the time. He was looking for meaning in erasing. Which led him to erase a painting by one of the most venerated painters of the time.


It was a strong statement, indeed. And it was, by no means, easy. The original contained pencil, charcoal, paint and crayon (if Rauschenberg is to be believed). He spent an entire month erasing it (if Rauschenberg is to be believed). But regardless, I find the painting highly effective in terms of delivering a message, violation of art practice, and deskilling of art. This particular piece is conceptual in the sense, that the meaning takes precedence over the form. And the superseding of form can’t be more blatant than an erased painting.

canyon  monogram  the-broad

Drawing a comparison to Rauschenberg’s other works, this piece is unique. The artist generally worked with paint over newspaper/magazine cutouts, and added third dimensional elements to it (Combines). However, all his work is highly conceptual. It compels the viewer to contemplate over the meaning through the means of a concept. The concept can be a goat enclosed within a tyre, it can be a sack hanging from a painting or it can be an erased painting. Most of his work is highly chaotic, and is reflective of his own self.

“I only consider myself successful when I do something that resembles the lack of order that I sense.”
– Robert Rauschenberg (link)

Kosuth said the prioritization of meaning over form, and most of his work was about literal translations of words through form. Rauschenberg’s related his own success in the reflection of his inner chaos, and consequently most of his work is chaotic, to the extent that it breaks the two dimensional space. Perhaps, I can also associate Joseph Beuys to this list.

The History of Depression

Art Strategies / Week 5 / Systems, Ethnographic and Infrastructural

During the past two weeks, I had gone through multiple readings on systems thinking, and was introduced to many artists working with a systems/ethnographic approach. Two particular artists that really resonated with me were Beth Campbell and William Powhida. Beth Campbell’s work stems from a condition of indecision. Indecision is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time, and the possibility of using indecision and exaggerated analysis of situations to create art was something that I had never contemplated about before.

On the other hand, William Powhida’s work is representative of strong cultural or political statements. The form used is simplistic and easy to interpret. What personally struck with me was the use of illustrations to intertwine many different themes/systems into one piece. On first glance, although, the message/idea might seem singular, but in actuality his work talks about how many different systems lead to or are affected by that one singular idea. Some similarities between both artists was simplistic presentation and the use of illustrations (or cartoons).

Inspired from the two artists, I’m looking forward to using my own illustrations to portray the history of depression. I will be attempting to research depression through the last two centuries, artists who have dealt with major depression, how nihilism relates to depression, how nihilism also presents a remedy to depression, and perhaps how psychoanalysis can be associated with the dissection of this medical condition ( is it a medical condition or a state of being? ). Some of the authors/artists that I will be looking up will be Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Freidrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, and perhaps Sigmund Freud.

The Presidential Campaign, as seen by William Powhida

Art Strategies / Week 4 / Systems, Ethnographic and Infrastructural

For a long time, my interests have lied in caricatural illustrations, and black and white. Which is why, from a visual perspective, William Powhida’s work appealed to me. Most of Powhida’s work is a critique of the society, the art culture specifically. Many of his diagrams and illustrations offer direct statements on art collectors, critiques, galleries and the art-making process. Pieces such as The Critique and Artist’s Statement are relevant examples.


His words are simple, his presentation cluttered and convoluted. But everything is on the surface. His work, instead of being allegorical, is very apparent in understanding. This is another aspect which I appreciate. Simplicity has a certain allure for me. But in this blogpost, rather than talking about his earlier work, I’ll be reflecting on something that is culturally relevant at this point of time, as the 2016 election draws closer. His series of drawings on the Trump vs Clinton presidential bout (collectively presented as Grayscale at Postmasters Gallery) present a clear statement on what his political inclinations are ( after all, one of the titles says “The Republicans are not people. Fuck them All!” ). So, it’s quite clear what the artist is trying to achieve here.




However, what’s interesting is the strategy being employed to present the message. Powhida makes use of systems thinking when implementing his ideas. His sketches are not only a commentary on what the candidates stand for, or what their policies are, or how diabolic they are. His work also interrelates biological stereotypes, political ideologies, social structures, and psychological constructs with the presidential candidates. As can be seen from the Clinton vs Trump and Bernie vs Clinton comparisons, terms such as liberal idealism, progressive revolution, moderate pragmatism, scopophilia, traditional masculinity/femininity, machismo, suburbia, identity chaos are thrown in the mix.

The campaign is exhibited as a system, consisting of parts – biological, psychological, cultural and personal, all of them used in a political context. Although each sub-system isn’t elaborately presented, the idea is right there, easy to interpret. The entire collection of drawings is certainly meaningful and effective. The message couldn’t be more blatant than the rendition of Donald Trump as a monster ( as seen above ), or perhaps the lewd piece humbly called Some Names for Drumpf.

His earlier was generally about the art culture and consumerism ( The LA Makeover Chart, for instance ). This time round, he is exploring political territories, not his first political venture though ( Griftopia, 2011 ). But no matter which system his work explores, the common theme is relevance with the time. His work is a commentary on the present, be it in a political, artistic or capitalist context.

Spontaneous Haiku

Art Strategies / Week 3 / Procedural, Aleatory and Instructional

Spontaneous haiku is an instructional set for creating a haiku. The procedure is highly dependent on chance, and the consequent end result might mean something to the reader, or perhaps it might mean nothing at all. And that’s the beauty of it.

Last week, I studied how Tristan Tzara’s instruction set on Dadaist poetry had given birth to the cut-up technique. The technique heavily influenced William S Burroughs who implemented a similar set into the audio format. Burroughs was a Beat author, through and through. Many Beat authors, most notably Gary Snyder, were inspired by Zen Buddhism and the Japanese way of living. They used to produce haikus on a regular basis. Haikus by the Beat generation were crude, spontaneous and mostly ambiguous in meaning. Through the following instruction set, I have tried to emulate a technique to create haikus that are Beat in nature, yet heavily reliant on chance.


George Orwell. Animal Farm. Penguin Books. Page 27.

Thomas Pynchon. Inherent Vice. Penguin Books. Page 150.

Jack Kerouac. The Dharma Bums. Penguin Modern Classics. Page 52.

Tristan Tzara and The Cut-up Technique

Art Strategies / Week 2 / Procedural, Aleatory and Instructional

Dadaists and Surrealists have been commonly associated with lack of meaning. Abolishing common-sense, they operated in the territories of weird, grotesque and disorder. Tristan Tzara is known to be one of the founding members of the Dada movement. He was a leader of sorts. despite his dismissal of authority. His statements were contradictions, and his life was immersed in ambiguities. And all of this very interesting when I try to figure out the Dada movement, and the ideals behind it (or the lack of it).

The Dada Manifesto was built using contradictory and ambiguous statements, and was reflective of Tzara’s tendencies. Tristan Tzara, in the Dada manifesto talks about how he is against principles. Yet, he was a determined Communist, which is a political philosophy residing on certain principles. William Burroughs had accused Tzara of consuming his creative energies into becoming a Communist Party bureaucrat (link).

Using disorder, meaninglessness and ambiguity, Tzara had created an instruction set for writing a Dada poem. Underneath, I have posted Tzara’s instruction set, and results when I applied the set to a quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.



I believe that instruction sets can be highly instrumental when the purpose is to propagate something. The intent is to spread the instructions, let people indulge, be inclusive, and produce the desired art in multitude. The Dadaists and Surrealists, whatever form they used, were not representing art/ideas for the elite or the bourgeoisie. Hence, incomprehensible pieces of art that defied the traditional practice. Their art was meant to be distributed and to be misunderstood. Hence, the manifestos and theatrical appearances.

And similarly this instruction set by Tzara was meant for people to replicate the Dadaists ideals of inclusivity and challenging the bourgeoisie by mocking them. Through replication, the art/idea gained popularity and the Surrealists/Dadaists gained prominence. Over the years, did they turn into elitists themselves as Burroughs accuses? Or did they not?

A few decades later, Sol Lewitt was using instructional strategy for a similar purpose. To develop a unique style and create it in abundance. Around the same time, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin took Tzara’s instruction set and applied it to the audio format. Unlike Tzara, for Burroughs, this was an experiment and not an instrument in a movement. He derived understandings around the present and the future.

“When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”
– William. S. Burroughs (link)


Challenging Established Practices

Art Strategies / Week 1 / Comparison of Three Modern Artworks

The following post presents a case study of three modern artworks, of how they challenge conventional practices, and how they are separated in time but interlocked in ideas. The study also derives from the critique presented in the Introduction, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of A Very Short Introduction to Modern Art by David Cottington.

– Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, by Vincent Van Gogh (winter 85-86)
– The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, by Damien Hirst (1991)
– Self, by Marc Quinn (1991-present)


Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in the winter of 1885-1886. The painter was presumably attending classes at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts (source), where skeletons were used to study anatomy. The general understanding is that this painting was a quip at the conventional practices that were employed at art schools. Another theory says that the painting alludes to Vincent’s poor health ( stomach ailments and rotting teeth) and his defiance in physical suffering (source).

Taking both interpretations into consideration, while the painting challenges conventional practices, it does not venture outside the methods of the time (craft as art, as Cottington notes in the book). The painter also raises questions around existence, and paints a picture which presents life in death. Interestingly, Van Gogh smoked a pipe as he lay on the hospital bed after shooting himself (the injury subsequently led to his death).


Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, is a thought-provoking piece when combined with the title. Hirst clearly represents the inevitability of death and the impossibility of comprehension of death by someone living. However, what’s interesting is that instead of creating a painting or a sculpture, he uses a dead 13-feet shark suspended in formaldehyde to exhibit his idea. He challenges the conventional methods, and at the same time succeeds in engaging the audience ( through disgust, fear or philosophical contemplation).

The shark eventually decayed, and had to be replaced by a different shark.


Marc Quinn’s Self is an ongoing project, wherein he sculpts his own portrait in his own frozen blood. The technique is morbid, sure. However through the use of blood, Marc questions existence and longevity. His idea behind sculpting a new piece every five years or so was to record countenance and aging ( inevitable, same as death ). The Scientific American quotes “By crafting these heads out of his own blood, Quinn reconnects us to the the fact that in the fullness of time, no artist’s attempt at immortality through self-portraiture will prevail. And of course the series will presumably end in the course of the artist’s life, so the artwork’s time-dimension has a death of sorts as well.”

It is an established idea that art outlives us. Whereas, here are two artists (Hirst and Quinn) who have created installations that challenge this idea. And then, there is the use of a dead shark and blood as the medium. In an age that is defined by pop culture and mass media, shock value is instrumental in garnering the desired level of attention. And besides the underlying philosophy, shock value explains the use of these mediums.

The three artworks present some form of life in death. Through the use of morbid themes, they emphasize the inevitability of death and/or question the durability of art.