As innovative is their mode of expression, even more intriguing goes the name. With interesting mediums such as hand-painted photography, video, installation and sound used to portray the diverse contemporary scenario that goes deeper than what appears at surface level, [Taxi] presents before art enthusiasts, an alternative depiction of ‘art’ as you don’t know it! Whereas their hand-painted photographs will entice you with their mysticism, the seemingly simplistic videos with underlying meanings will push you to think beyond the conventional peripheries. In a way, it jolts you out of your comfort zone into something completely unexpected.
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We caught up with Kolkata-based Suman Samajpati and Sourav Roy Chowdhury of [Taxi] to tell us about their work and more.
BongRong: What is art according to you?
Sourav: It is difficult to define art in that manner, because then we need to define what we mean by ‘non art’. I think Art is in what we see around us, or feel, or something we can’t achieve in daily life and maybe want to capture, or express through art. All of this put together, something of a dream, a journey or a space of your own.
BongRong: Why the name ‘Taxi’? I found the name very interesting.
Suman: Whenever you collaborate with someone, you either go by the name of the artists or give a name to the group. You don’t really have a control over what comes when to your mind, and the same was with ‘taxi’. The basic idea I believe was to compare our form of art to a taxi. There is movement involved, there is a journey, it moves from one place to another – if we look at the ideas that we have as passengers, then the way passengers change, new ideas form from different sources.
BongRong: What was the reason behind your collaboration? Was there any inspiration behind starting this project?
Sourav: We had it in mind for long. It wasn’t as sudden as you would think. We started it differently maybe from other artists who usually go to art colleges first, take a degree and then go about it. It didn’t happen that way for us because neither of us went to art colleges. He [Suman] started off from NIFT.
Suman: I was in graphic designing in Birla, and then from there I went to NIFT to pursue fashion designing and textile. We had a huge group from school, and most of them went to pursue engineering. But we were interested in Art, so we came together and formed a commercial unit at first. That was in the year 2000. From 2000-2007, we concentrated solely on commercial aspects like advertising. Then gradually, after being in the commercial field for so long, we started growing tired of it. We realized we were into something completely different from what we were initially supposed to do. During that time, we had it in mind to start something like this. In 2000, I did a few solo exhibitions. Thereafter, I did not pursue further with gallery art until 2007, after we collaborated. Our medium was photography, and we started working with photography at the outset. It had always been a part of our work, commercially, and so we had a sort of practice with that. So, we never got out of touch with photography or art.
Sourav: Actually, we were in a sort of practice since our school days. We were members of the Cine Club, and the environment we had around us was influenced by it, whether it be in our families or with our seniors at school. Because of that, somewhere, there was a latent influence in our minds that maybe we will pursue it further some day. Maybe that happened in a different way.
Suman: The other thing that we did was continuously attend art-related events, although we used to work on commercial projects. We even attended workshops. So in this way, we stayed in touch. Finally in 2005 we decided to collaborate and work together.
BongRong: I saw a couple of your videos, and I really liked the idea and the implementation of it as a form of art. But generally, people do not associate video with art since it is really offbeat. So what made you choose video as one of your key mediums?
Sourav: Since we had been members of the Cine Club from a very young age, we had an idea regarding what film is all about. When we were in college, we participated in a three-day art workshopby ZKM (Zentum fur Kunst and Medientechnologie) from where we got acquainted with the alternate side of video; the fact that video was not restricted to merely television or film, or that the mode of expression used in film wasn’t the only one and there could be an alternative to that. Because we did our schooling in the 90’s and college thereafter, there was still a technical difference between film and video. Nowadays, there isn’t much of a difference. We use the same camera for video recording as well as shooting films, but back then, video pertained to limited forms, like television or video recordings. So the fact that beyond it there could be an aesthetic angle to video and that it could strongly portray something artistic was realized after attending that workshop. Since the collaboration was German, most of what we saw was in German. Yet it was amazing. From there we got the idea of video art. We were already inclined towards filming, so after attending that workshop we decided that we would explore that form in our way.
Suman: And they helped us a lot. Even after the workshop was over, we maintained contact. So every year, they would inform us about the festivals that took place and share the contents and videos. In turn, we would write our questions to them, and they would answer, or if they could help us with certain references, they did. Back then, we did not have a lot of resources at hand. Also, video art was not very popular back then.
Sourav: The organization called ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, was one of the firsts to promote video art in the world. They also had a very good archive on video art from across the world. They would send us brochures, books and even DVDs so that we could study and learn about those artists. This was in 2002 when we had not started with art, but we thought that if we ever did, we would put this medium into use and explore it further.
BongRong: Did you have any specific themes in mind while starting off?
Sourav: We had started off with hand painted photography. There is a fascinating story behind this as well. When we were in the commercial line in Kolkata, we sometimes went walking through Wellington Street. There were these old black and white studios there, and we would see some people sitting outside on stools, hand painting black and white photographs with a sort of dry colour which was known as sauce colour. We would ask them what they were doing, and they would say that they were hand-painting the photographs. We found the medium very fascinating and later studied about it to know how it was perceived by artists. In the course of studying about that medium, we fell in love with it. We immensely liked the perspective and the opportunity it offered, leading us to select this medium at the outset.
Regarding the subject, when we initially started off, the environment around us and the people were greatly attracted to the gender movement. Gender groups, societies and magazines were coming up. Instinctively, the first work we did was therefore based on gender. We had a vast frame and people who were associated with such movements were forming societies, publishing magazines. We participated with them. Back then, we had not considered the medium of hand-painted photography. We first thought of doing a documentary with photographs and exploring the scenario through it. But when we started working with this medium, we decided to use it to create a fairytale-nessin our work.
BongRong: So when you started off, how was your initial work experience? How was your medium appreciated or acknowledged?
Sourav: Back then,the medium of hand painted photography was not very popular. And speaking historically, before us, Pushpamala N. had done a small photo series. After her, we didn’t find anyone as such in that field in India. However, there were similar artists outside India – in France, Netherlands, in the Middle East – but no one from India as such. There is the Alkazi Foundation in Delhi which has a vast collection of hand-painted photographs from 19th and early 20th Century India.
The reaction we got for our work was interesting. There were some who did not really understand the medium, whether or not there was any artistic approach to it. There was also a confusion regarding this being considered as art. There were some who obviously showed interest; else we could not have continued with our eventual art exhibitions. So we received a mixed reaction, which happens with almost every other medium. And since this is a rare medium to work with, unlike painting or sculpture or print making, there is always a challenge in presenting it in a certain way to make people understand that there is more than one way in which this medium can be explored, and the kind of potentiality it has.
BongRong: Any projects you are currently busy with?
Sourav: Currently, we are preparing for our next exhibition. We are planning a series in photography and in video. Recently we had done a project with Goethe Institut on migrated labours. It was a small 180 second project, and we want to turn it into a bigger project on the lines of a documentary. We have received a good feedback, and many have told us that they are expecting the longer version of the documentary from us.
Suman: We had started the photography series way back. The work is progressing slowly.
Sourav: We are slow in that respect. It takes us a considerable amount of time to prepare each series.
Suman: Basically, we need some time to think first and then proceed with it. Then we look into probable changes that we might want to make.
Sourav: It took us two years to prepare for our first series. We started it in 2005 and completed in 2007.
BongRong: I saw one of your works with a fish bowl, and it was very novel. How do you come up with ideas like that?
Suman: Immediate surroundings have a huge impact on our work. The contemporary scenarios, our lifestyle, surroundings, all of these reflect immensely on our works. Then there are certain works which reflect philosophic musings, which might not have been immediately conceived but come from certain felt emotions in that given moment.
Sourav: Actually the work with the fish bowl which goes by the name of ‘Swimming Around’ was in a way inspired by the American artist Edward Hopper. Both of us admire Hopper’s works immensely. He had worked extensively with the theme of the city and we had also wanted to explore the city like Hopper did. He was a Realist and hoping to explore his style in detail, we eventually adopted nuances from him and added our own elements to it. We had initially made a script inspired by Hopper’s paintings, but for some reason the work got stalled. When we got back to it after a year, we realized that we didn’t want to do it the way we had initially thought. We decided to deconstruct the idea further and see where it leads to.
BongRong: How do you see yourself progressing in the next couple of years?
Sourav: We like experimenting with our work. But there is a lot of risk involved and the chances of failure are equally present. There is a kind of uncertainty in this, but we enjoy that. Also, there is an artistic challenge involved since we do not like to work within the parameters of a secure artistic environment. This might be because we ourselves are going through a very uncertain age. For one, as human beings, we are encountering a degree of uncertainty and also the fact that since we are artists, we enjoy this uncertain practice of freedom. So what we intend to do, is continue with our experimentation. So in terms of progression, that would be it.
BongRong: Lastly, if not [Taxi], then what would you have been doing?
Suman: That is a very good question! Basically, both of us come from different academic backgrounds. So evidently, we would have gone our individual different ways.
Sourav: I was in Political Science.
Suman: And since I was in fashion designing, I would have probably ended up in a job pertaining to that. Or I would have stayed in the designing world and worked there. Although that is how I started initially, I could not take it forward and switched over to art.
BongRong: Thank you for the heartening interaction which leaves us enriched, and wishing [Taxi] the best for its future endeavors.
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