Kiran Subbaiah :

"I always look forward to surprising myself with every new work I undertake"


   En ce printemps et cet été 2011, la France fait la part belle à la scène artistique indienne contemporaine, avec notamment une imposante manifestation à Paris (Beaubourg), mais aussi avec Indian Highway IV, que nous propose le Musée d'Art Contemporain de Lyon. C'est dans le cadre de ces deux expositions que l'on peut découvrir des créations du jeune artiste Kiran Subbaiah. Il a bien voulu répondre à nos questions...
   En partenariat avec La Nouvelle Revue de l'Inde.

Interview  -  Œuvres


  • IR: Kiran Subbaiah, could your first, please, introduce yourself to our readers?

KS: Generally when people who don’t know about me ask me what I do I like to tell them that I am a philosopher. This is partly true. But maybe I am a rogue philosopher, because I don’t really have any genuine philosophy of my own. I chance upon it in everyday occurrences, things and other peoples’ conversations. I kind of rescue these transient philosophic moments by taking notes and package them into works of Contemporary Art.

  • IR: You have been learning Arts in India and in Europe: but before that, what was your first step into artistic creation?

KS: The first step was taken with the intent of escape from work. Because till high school art was a hobby, not study. It wasn’t compulsory and therefore closer to play than work. The possibility to enter university to ‘study’ art seemed like a good escape route from a lifetime of work.

  • IR: What did your artistic studies bring to you ? Did you meet there any influences which decided on your personal way?

KS: I spent 7 years in art schools in India, and 5 years in art schools and residencies in Europe. I would go back to art school again if I get a chance. Although art-schools in India in my time were stuck with dated syllabi and were generally hostile to less conventional contemporary practices, we were given a thorough tour through the history of art, both in theory and in practice. Departments for the History of Art in India are in Art schools. Students of art history practice art and those wanting to be artists also study art history and its philosophies. Art schools in Europe lack this exchange because Art history in universities is mostly part of the Humanities department. Although the zeitgeist made its presence felt more in Europe and conferred my work its contemporary spirit, much from history still remains deep in there. More recent influences like Robert Fillou may be obvious in something I’ve made but the very same work could resonate lines from the Vedas or a Chinese poem from the 3rd century BC.         

  • IR: You express yourself in a wide variety of art forms: photography, texts, video, net art... what do they have in common in the way you create, and why do you like to go from a form to another one ?

KS: My authorship makes itself evident in attitude rather than form or choice of medium. I don’t try to maintain anything common in different works, but it cannot be avoided…. Upon retrospect I can see a host of common characteristics like tautology, inversion, prank, deadpan humor, irreverence… probably all these in every work. But I always look forward to surprising myself with every new work I undertake. I get bored of doing things as soon as I begin to master them. That’s more the reason why I explore different forms rather than for any specific artistic need. It also has a lot to do with what the time has to offer. Choices are taken intuitively rather than by analysis. When the video camera became affordable making movies was the most exciting thing I could imagine doing. Another time it was sheer euphoria to make art for the Internet.

  • IR: Aesthetics doesn't seem to be your main concern: it is, somehow, typical of contemporary art... What does it mean according to you?

KS: Aesthetics is not my main concern, its appearance in my work is incidental. To be specific, it is typical to the ‘tradition’ of the Avant-Garde within Contemporary Art. There does indeed exist a wide range of contemporary practices from painting to film making, where the concern is purely aesthetic. As a viewer that’s the kind of art that interests me the most, especially abstract painting, like those by Raoul de Keyser. The kind that most people don’t appreciate because ‘any child can do’.  I know, because I’ve tried and I’m hopeless at it.
Because I don’t deal with aesthetics par se my understanding of the term is basic: Aesthetics is about beauty and ugliness. I rely on the Bauhaus principle to achieve beauty: ‘anything designed to do its job well is bound to look beautiful’.

  • IR: One can find in your works a message about humans, objects, and relations between them... Is it a social message about consumer society? Something to do with the message we can find in Arte Povera? Something very different?

KS: There is indeed an affinity to Arte Povera because of the attitude of making do with what is immediately at hand. There is indeed something like a message, but not exactly - because it is not clear to me as to what exactly I mean to mean. I am only certain of the form the work of art takes and maybe its title, but I have no fixed meaning for it. I’m not specifically addressing the present socio-political context either. I like to fantasize my art being dug up by an archeologist from the future for whom it retains some kind of a meaning….  Barthes’ explains this quasi-message with eloquence in his writings on post-meaning. 

  • IR: I am also struck by a special kind of humor in your works, kind of nonsense, absurdity that you point out... Is it a right way to understand what you do?

KS: Humor is something I take seriously. As a spectator of other peoples work I am very picky with the kind of humor in it. Lenny Bruce is exemplary for my taste in humor because in the end the consequences weren’t funny at all. The standup comedian began being taken for a philosopher and the circumstances of reality he got entangled in came through as utterly absurd and consumed him.  My situation is fortunately not so serious or tragic...
   Although the absurd is a pasture ground that arouses my appetite for imagination, the making of work some how always involves logic and calculation. The nonsense gets engineered. The play between random-ness and order is quite similar to that of meaning and elusiveness. 

  • IR: Is this kind of humor a kind of pessimistic game of hide-and-seek between art and human reality?

KS: Pessimistic Humor? Ionesco has explained the not-so-obvious optimism of confronting the absurd. But it is indeed no more than a game between art and reality, where each aspires to bring about a change in the other. I’m not just hopeful but absolutely optimistic about this game. The brief history of human culture has surely influenced the evolution of the human genome.

  • IR: Can you tell us more about Suicide note, the video that can be seen in Lyon for Indian Highway IV?

KS: There’s a Bengali writer called Shibram Chakraborty who’s written many short stories about death that show the subject in a convincingly optimistic light. I badly wanted to be influenced by his work so I made ‘Suicide Note’ to invoke his spirit. I was also being accused of narcissism in my previous videos because its always I, myself and me in them; so I decided to plead guilty and indulge in myself more deeply in this video. As you might have noticed in the piece, a relationship with oneself doesn’t mean that it is going to be less difficult. 

  • IR: Do you consider yourself as representative of contemporary Indian art scene?

KS: That depends on what you wish to represent: what Indian art needs to be - or wants to be.

  • IR: Are you an Indian artist anyway?

KS: I was brought up in India. My accent is recognizably South Indian. I speak 5 Indian languages and can read three Indian scripts. My passport is Indian. I also live there and don’t plan on relocating anywhere abroad in the near future. But I’m not so patriotic, and I think the kind of art I practice - the one that has swindled the term ‘Contemporary’ with the capital ‘C’ for itself, that is definitely an European invention, and I’m proud of it.

  • IR: What are your plan for your future creations?

KS: My wife is expecting our first baby.

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Net Art


















Belly Ache (audio)

Rocking Horse (audio)

A Dream about You (texte)

The Genius's Regret (texte)



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