Sunday, 19 July 2015

To Say Something According To My Conscience- by Premjish Achari

The fifth voyage of Sinbad the Sailor is important for us. It is in the fifth voyage that he encounters the wicked ‘Old Man of the Sea’. The rest as we know is a tale of Sinbad bearing the burden of the physicality of viciousness. But finally he tricks the old man to drink and kills him in an inebriated state; not only to escape but also to end that burden forever. This tale from Arabian Nights was narrated here to illustrate two points – one is to highlight the incidents which follow after Sinbad listens to his conscience and second to point out the structural similarity in the way Sinbad carries the old man and K.S. Radhakrishnan’s Musui carries Maiya in his latest works. Sinbad follows his conscience and rescues the old man but later on the old man sitting on his shoulders become his conscience. He controls Sinbad but the execution of the old man redeems Sinbad from that perpetual agony; hence this struggle of Sinbad is symbolic of the tussles to overcome external influences and set norms of the society. Visible here is an inherent tension between control and autonomy. The comparison drawn here, as I mentioned earlier, was done for structural similarities because Maiya sitting on the shoulders of Musui is not conceived as a burden. She rather impersonates his conscience to guide him. He is seduced by her, influenced and moved by her.
K.S. Radhakrishnan
Like the benevolent Happy Prince of Oscar Wilde who gives away the golden leaves that cover him to end the misery of many and finally sacrificing his eyes made of precious stones; like the mythical Arjuna from Mahabharata halt himself in the moments of self-doubt and guilt, only to be enlightened by the reception of a new philosophy from his friend and charioteer the Lord Krishna; like the turbulent Hamlet who ponders painfully about the options between death and vengeance, the human mind perpetually is motivated by the principles, is guided by the conscience, and at times is also in a battle with the conscience to do what he wants to do.

K.S. Radhakrishnan’s latest works are an example of his intellectual versatility, dynamic imagination and also a willingness to experiment with newer themes without compromising on his craft. In one of his latest exhibition Radhakrishnan has presented us with the idea of ‘Terrafly’. These are air bound sculptures first exhibited in Shantiniketan presents us with philosophical thesis executed in sculptures on the themes of conscience, control and actions. Terrafly is the guiding light, like a lighthouse standing atop a tall pillar Radhakrishnan’s ‘Terrafly’ stands on a pillar made of tiny figures crawling on them. Musui and Maiya are the Terrafly above us. They are watching us and are a figure that have an aerial view on our lives. Way back in 2008 Radhakrishnan executed a sculpture with the similar theme titled ‘Terrafly on the Human Square’ which was displayed in Lalit Kala Akademi, depicted the ‘Terrafly’ in its full glory. He was placed above a pillar and there were many figures on the square platform moving towards and away from the pillar. The sculpture resembles the Biblical Sermon on the Mount. With a prophetic demeanour Terrafly encounters the multitude holding the pillar like an acrobat displaying his physical flexibility. Terrafly reminded me of Jesus Christ as if he is in an act of delivering a sermon, narrating a parable or inviting children towards him. Like all prophet’s he too gets the attention of some and faces the ignoring of others. The ‘Terrafly’ is imagined both as Maiya and Musui. These live size sculptures signify the larger than life presence of Terrafly in our lives. His style is lucidly classical. These sculptures characterise Radhakrishnan’s ability in showing how one can make profound philosophical statements while executing a sculpture. What remains central to his repertoire is the way he has used a host of ideas to convert into sculptures. He invites us to congregate in the presence of this shamanic figure. The invitation is for a mysterious ritual to witness the power of this figure. Hence, the Terrafly is also a totem. The experience is spiritual. As Freud had observed:
K.S. Radhakrishnan’s latest works
“In the first place, the totem is the common ancestor of the clan; at the same time it is their guardian spirit and helper, which sends them oracles and, if dangerous to others, recognises and spares its own children.” (Totem and Taboo).

Therefore it is this figure’s extreme excess and its gratuity that make it totemic. Its physical manifestation does not disturb us. They exist as an emblem which has symbolic value in them. Terrafly is the tower of power. It is not a Foucauldian panopticon which is there to torment the soul and monitor the prisoners. It is not the technology of surveillance. Terrafly is the centre of power rooted to its ground. In a way Terrafly is Radhakrishnan’s own idealistic conception about power where we a guiding light is needed but it should stand for the people. It should be accountable to its citizens. It is the vision for a foreseeable future of a utopian democratic global state without a hegemonic institution to control all of us.

The exquisitely smooth yet somewhat porous surfaces of Radhakrishnan’s sculptures exudes a sensuous pleasure and are telling imitations of extra-ordinary bodily shapes. These monumental figures are often complicated by a sequential movement, a strategically placed arm or leg or twisted body movements. In Radhakrishnan’s imagination his Musui and Maiya floats above this world; watching it all and experiencing it all.  

Radhakrishnan’s works speaks loudly and persuasively about the redemptive qualities of sculpting. He is an influential sculptor and, at the same time, an influential analyst of sculpting. Few sculptors are as willing to adopt the role of commentator of their craft. He has done his best to dismantle the conventions by which the art world has lived for many years. Terrafly stands for the entire humanity. It shines atop and watches over the individual to society.

In another group of sculptures we see Maiya in various positions above the head of Musui. They are again live size sculptures. The movement of Maiya is varied. She is sitting, standing, and sometimes seen in acrobatic actions.  I would like to bring in Freud again on the issues of conscience. The visual similarity between the Sinbad story and these sculptures is remarkable but the conceptual contrast is also magnificent. Here Musui is not burdened by the presence of Maiya. He is calm and serene. There is stillness in his face acknowledging his surrender to his conscience. The lure of its charm is erotic. But it is not tense. It is tranquil.
K.S. Radhakrishnan’s latest works
Again I would like to begin with some strong Freudian ideas to ruminate on the psychological dealings of the conscience. According to him ‘conscience is closely associated with a sense of guilt, in that we feel guilty if we go against our conscience. This was of particular interest to Freud, who sought to give a psychological explanation for it. He argued that, through our early upbringing, we learn values that continue to influence our moral awareness and our conscience later in life. He distinguished between three elements in the mind - the ego, the id and the super-ego. At its simplest level, the ego is the rational self, the id is the self at the level of its physical and emotional needs, and the super-ego is the controlling, restraining self. Clearly, conscience is an aspect of the operation of the super-ego. For our purposes, the importance of this view is that it challenges the role of the conscience, and also raises questions about our freedom.’ (Mel Thompson)

Here Radhakrishnan tries to represent this dilemma which Freud is also baffling with. Is conscience innate or acquired? Though we cannot dismiss the role of the social in our lives but we also have to assume that we have a mental faculty which allows deducing and processing our actions. It is always alert. How much socially constructed it is and guided by the principles of society it also allows the individual to overcome it. If Acquinas argues for the functionality of conscience as an agent to decide between right and wrong, Joseph Butler ascribes conscience, superiority in hierarchy which could over-rule the impulses. Maiya here represents this hierarchy in their relationship. Radhakrishnan has been successful in burrowing after the deeper emotional realities in their relationship. He tries to break a Kafkaesque aphorism, “The inner world can only be lived, not described.” Radhakrishnan’s works abound in these narratives where imagination will not be denied. He executes the portrait of their world by portraying the interiority of human mind itself. One must not forget the value of thinking as observed by the Jewish scholar Hannah Arendt, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” The movement of Maiya is the movement of the conscience and the stillness of Musui is the stillness of introspection like Oscar Wilde has observed, “He who stands most remote from his age is he who mirrors it best."

Apart from these works there are five seated figures with tilted movements. They have the facial expression as if they are punished or questioned by their own conscience. The tilted position is the final surrender before the conscience. They are Durga like images conceived to project this superiority of conscience over us. Its superiority, the god like nature, the totemic relevance and the mythic connotations are projected in them.

‘Terrafly’ is Radhakrishnan’s most intellectually ambitious endeavour where he explores the role of conscience in human life through the language of sculpture. It has admirably, resulted in works of unique brilliance and beauty. Sensuously rendered this exhibition is a significant achievement by one of the greatest sculptors of our time. While engaging with philosophy, he decorated his propositions as sculptures which are strenuous and unconventional. 

Premjish Achari
by  Premjish Achari is an independent curator, writer ad translator based in Delhi. Previously he has been a Contributing Editor for Art and Deal magazine. He has written extensively on modern and  contemporary art for Art and Deal, Art Etc., Lalit Kala Akademi, etc. His catalogue essays on Akbar Padamsee, KS Radhakrishnan, Vanita Gupta, Devraj Dhakoji, etc. has featured in the exhibitions of Art Heritage Gallery and Akar Prakar.

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Thanks for comment JK