Bank of No: Nicosia

Bank of No: Event Program: February 1, 2016 7:30 PM, at Leventis Gallery: Lecture and discussion about new artistic practices related to politics and activism from the streets to art galleries. 10:00 PM, at Point Centre for Contemporary Art Dance Party featuring an elixir from sounds of Goa, Santiago and Berlin and improvised spoken word in a visual installation. Deep within the cold night of Cypriot Austerity stands a bank. In front of this former headquarters of the financial crisis, now without visible brand or logo, a strange sculpture emerges from the ground. This is the debt spiral: its sharp point pierces the air. The 2013 crisis in Cyprus represents only one point of a new politics of inequality, which can be seen across the globe. Bank of No is a rebranding initiative for the banking crisis. We, a working group of artists from several countries, connect our political conditions to Cyprus, and propose a panoramic view. Against capitalistic envy we introduce the evil eye for protection and solidarity. Bank of No ends when the eye closes and we dance… Project by : Noah Fischer , Raúl Hott, Joulia Strauss , Csaba Nemes , Nurtane Karagil , twenty three #BankofNo

Random Randal

published in SalonIndus

The fact that I’m sitting in my apartment in New York City scribbling for an art publication out of New Delhi is just another bit of proof that the world is getting smaller.  Social circles are connecting, globalization is happening in the arts and across nearly every discipline.  As markets merge, we’re starting to see global scale problems: massive multi-nation financial collapse sparked by the Global boom of credit-based value.   And this pales in comparison to the meltdown of the planet’s climate.  I don’t want to impose US-style Armageddon thinking here, it’s true that my nation loves to consume disaster movies, but years into a historical economic crisis and weeks after Hurricane Sandy submerged the New York subway system for the first time, a distressed global future seems to have arrived.  This present-future necessarily becomes the backdrop for culture making, because art, though consciously historical, is always of its time.  I believe that artistic practice is sometimes finely calibrated and sometimes rather randomly, well suited to respond to change.  As an artist, it’s my job to explore these potentialities, pushing art toward greater relevance. How are the meaning, value, and authorship of art changing in the information age? Which art practices and historical models best respond to the unstably shifting world picture?

Random Randal was created in 2010 at the invitation of Anil Dayanand, professor at the RLV College of Art in Tripunithra, Kerala. With Anil’s invitation came a mission to connect my artistic practice into collaboration with a wide range of artists I had never met before.  The community at RLV College proved adept at cohering into a body that collectively designed and carried out a project of high complexity. Random Randal responded to a growing global need for sharing and trans-national community.

Ironically, I played the role of Neoliberal culture-colonizer when I was first introduced to the Indian art world in 2006. Fresh from my MFA degree at Columbia University, I was hired by a blue chip gallery in New York to make recommendations about which hot contemporary Indian artist they might include in their “stable” (group of gallery artists).  The sad fact is that I knew absolutely nothing about Indian art, had never travelled to India, didn’t even know many India Americans…nothing.  A prominent curator who also knew nothing about India had recommended me as a favor and this landed me the job. Airfare wasn’t part of the contract so I became an Internet traveller to the Subcontinent, feverishly googling “India” and “contemporary art” and occasionally picking up the phone and calling curators or critics or artists whose name would come up in searches. I accessed lists of artists included in Biennials or represented by German or Australian or US galleries, or selling at auction.  The finer grain, local networks of artists were invisible to me. More alarmingly, I had no real sense of the context or history of Indian art. I was operating at a speed that precluded an understanding of what I was looking at, hungering for highly visual images and easiest-to-digest concepts. In the end, the superficiality of this cultural foray was quite depressing: art converted to information more for the love of profit than culture. But through this research I met Anil Dayanand online, who at that time was writing for Matters of Art, an online publication out of New Delhi.

I made my first trip to India in 2009. This was after a rollercoaster ride when the market energy was buzzing in New York and I was exhibiting internationally. Then in 2008, the market fell off a cliff in the US. I had a solo show up at the time, collectors were walking around in shock and nothing sold. My gallery brought me to the 2008 art fair in Miami, and it felt discordant to attend luxury pool parties at a time when many Middle Class people were losing life savings. That was time for a change and I bought a ticket to India, a journey in which I would nearly circle the country. I stopped to visit some of the people I had met virtually.

The next year, I decided to return. I had been in a correspondence with Anil about a possible collaboration and the timing worked out just right: he was able to invite me as a participant in the “Trans-Trends Festival” hosted by the RLV college of art.  The festival had been conceived by the students and professors at RLV and given the theme of  “inter-visuality,” which was a passport to cross-pollination of traditional media and where new media such as video and online work took prominent place.  Anil and curator Bipin Balechandran had designed the festival for a constituency of art students from all over India for a program of critiques, studio visits, music and dance performances, parties, meals, and lecture-presentations by visiting luminaries such as Shivaji Pannikar and Gulam Muhammed Sheik. My presence in the festival was a bit of a wild card, but my previous work certainly fit well into the theme of inter-visuality.

I knew that I wanted to work primarily with human energy as a medium. At the time, I was interested in a kinetic experience that drew social and physical bodies together into a functional “human machine.” This concept developed from a previous body of mechanized installations, some quite complex such as Pop Ark (2008) employing lights/motors/soundtracks and running mechanically on their own. Parallel to this, I was also involved in experimental theater in Europe, which got me addicted me to the cathartic power of the “live moment.”  My first human machine was called Electrical Forest: made in Troy which was an assembly line in which hundreds of volunteer “workers” mass-produced artistic leaves in timed work-shifts.  We ended up with a huge production of leaves printed on film but the surprising by-product was a great amount of uplifting energy and a creative spirit of adult play.

Random Randal began with a cup of tea in a roadside tea shack near RLV College, followed by a meeting with Anil and Bipin and others in a small faculty room. I presented my skeleton of an idea about the human machine and it began to develop collectively in the room. Anil noted that languages from all over India were present for the conference and that this could be a resource and a theme.  Create some kind of language machine. How would this language be organized? “It has to be Random” said Bipin. At the time I was interested in the lantern as a symbol for truth, and sculpturally the light-emitting form was perfect for the “inter-visuality” theme. So the project would be called Random Randal (Randal means “lantern” in Malayalam). There would be two stages: the carving of language stamps to create a “random text library” and secondly, the fabrication of giant bamboo lanterns with thatched coconut roofs, like little traditional huts.  The lanterns would join with the text library in a hybrid festival/assembly-line, a big multi-media performance that resembled a 1960’s era art “happening,” and became a central moment in the whole festival. Finally, the completed and illuminated lanterns would be hung in the RLV main space, and wired for an electric light show. It was an ambitious project.

RLV is architecturally and pedagogically divided up into two halves: one side for contemporary visual arts, the other for more traditional Carnatic music and dance. These disciplines stayed separate as a rule. But as Random Randal gained steam in the already heightened context of the TransTrends festival, the lines began to blur, challenging the ingrained separation of disciplines. Musicians offered to drum at the center of the lantern-making festival and music became the motor that powered and modulated the event. Next, daring groups including students and instructors of traditional Carnatic dance volunteered to pitch in, choreographing movements in relation to the lantern-production. Their graceful fluidity through the space, dressed in matching orange and white, unlocked a physical capacity of all the participants, and the whole assembly line became a giant dance. Within the space of the performance itself, a “random” potential took shape and spontaneous things began to happen.  Anil Dayanand appeared, dressed in clean white and led by a pack of bell-ringing students. He offered himself up to be stamped on his chest, head, and back by the random language assembly-line.  As the performance went on, his skin and clothes blackened with a scrambled archive of words from multiple regions in India. Anil made an autonomous performance, which drew on and added to the collective energy of Random Randal.

The institutions that uphold Visual Art have long repeated the myth of the solitary artist.  From Fra Angelico’s monastic cell in early Renaissance Florence to Jackson Pollack’s barn (and in movies such as Basquiat and Dhobi Ghat) the genius-artist struggles alone until the great discovery arrives.  Certainly there is some truth to this myth; many artists do enjoy the interiority of creative space, and the mental quasi spiritual “zone” that becomes available after hours of focus.  But the myth of working alone can also be isolating and sets the conditions for art to act as a prison, shutting  artists off from the outside world.  And behind this myth of the triumphant individual sits an economic model as well. This was reflected in my online research into the Indian art world in 2006, which furnished me with a short-list of art-stars: Subbed Gupta, Bharti Ker and the like, totally ignoring most of the people who collectively create the thing we call “culture” through learning, teaching, sharing, supporting, and collaborative work.  Art stars can be wonderful artists, but economically, they are name brands that can be placed on a particular aesthetic, which can then circulate the globe at enormous profits.

Random Randal worked by a different logic. I arrived on the scene via a “random” friendship with Anil, unmediated by the chain of approval from gallery, museum, or other art institution that creates cultural capital and often prompts international invitations. Likewise, the participating students were ambitious: some very interested in entering the market, but they were above all eager to learn and the theme of the festival was boundary- blurring, which set the groundwork for spirited collaboration. Random Randal was collectively developed from the start, with Anil and Bipin and also with the input of the students involved and this collectivity moved it away from my authorship and toward a cultural experience that was widely shared and could be modulated into smaller autonomous projects like Anil’s performance. As the lanterns took shaped within an energetic process over the week, it came apparent that the art objects (lanterns) rather than commodities were mediating objects for connection, and information/experience sharing.  Their illumination stood for the temporary brightness of making new friends and sharing a heightened experience. The American artist Laurie Anderson speaks about art as an instrument for special sensorial experience: the transformation-possibility in seeing rather than a museum-quality object is her goal.  I would agree with her, but add the goal of social connection.

In the few years after Random Randal, though I have not travelled back to India, I have stayed in touch many of the student participants through Facebook.  Updates of designer Bibil Kumar, painters Sudipta Das and Eldho George and many others pop up on my wall, we chat and share work or random thoughts. This relatively new culture of algorithmic networking creates one big jumbled conversation of random thoughts, news headlines, ideas, and kinetic streams of more information that we are coming to accept as our culture. Perhaps this points to a future where culture is better understood as a collective project than it is today, and perhaps tools and models that acknowledge and support a broader cultural ecology are on their way. Random Randal was like an physical embodiment of an random online world: we danced, sweat, shared, and created together with our hands, challenging conventions as traditional music merged with an assembly line. The text library representing numerous Indian languages, numerous voices, was filtered into a dance.  It was a project about communication and sharing which included but surpassed words. Art is an ancient practice and a human necessity. Within it, there is much promise for a globalized future where “global” means merging differences, taking chances and supporting the roots of culture.

Revolutionary Timing


Revolutionary Timing is a performance by andcompany&Co., based on an improvisation at the first &Co.LAB in Amsterdam in May 2005 and performed in the lighting- and sculpture-setting of New York based artist Noah Fischer in the ground floor of the AT&T building in Manhattan in March 2006. The initial idea was to re-appropriate the revolutionary cutting technique of the filmmaker Sergej Eisenstein for the stage by the live-use of light and sound. The performers sit in a half circle between dummies and lamps with a light-bulb behind their head which enables them to switch themselves on and off individually. There are no theater-spotlights illuminating the stage from above, no use of playback-music from CD, but the light is controlled on stage as arrangement of lamps and light-projections created by Noah Fischer, while sound and music is performed live by Sascha Sulimma. Even the text is generated on the spot, based on a fragmentary structure created by Alexander Karschnia and Nicola Nord. Revolutionary Timing is an energetic performance between action and discourse. Here time becomes space: reflections on failed revolutions or the anticipation of the beginnings of one. This performance exists in the narrow gap between a pop-song and the philosophical discourse.


Random Randal


Random Randal: Made in Kerala is an installation and performance by New York artist Noah Fischer in collaboration with Elisa Soliven, Anil Dayanand and the Students of RLV College in Kerala, India.  Fischer was invited to RLV College by adjunct professor Anil Dayanand along with dean Sidharthan Kunjan and professor Bipin Balachandran who also curated conceptual dimensions of the project.  In Malayalam the native tongue of Kerala, ‘Randal’ means lantern.

Random Randal: Made in Kerala is an installation and performance by New York artist Noah Fischer in collaboration with Elisa Soliven, Anil Dayanand and the Students of RLV College in Kerala, India.  Fischer was invited to RLV College by adjunct professor Anil Dayanand along with dean Sidharthan Kunjan and professor Bipin Balachandran who also curated conceptual dimensions of the project.  In Malayalam the native tongue of Kerala, ‘Randal’ means lantern. For an intensive week-long workshop which coincided with the “Transtrends” pan.-Indian art forum,  students at the RLV College endeavor to construct ten large bamboo, cloth, and coconut-leaf lanterns. In fact, these light-emitting bodies functioned beyond the realm of sculptural objects as an envelope for performative social experiment.  Since students from many diverse linguistic regions of India  had gathered in Kerala for the Transtrends forum, curator Balachandran and Fischer decided upon language confusion as a central theme, and Fischer concocted text games with the students, generating a Tower of Babel-like multi-lingual archive which the students carefully transcribed into hundreds of potato stamps.  During Random Randal, the cities of Kochi and Tripunithra  converted to hunting grounds for lantern-making materials – revealing such treasures as weavable Malayalam celluloid films and bountiful fabric,  as well as the traditional bamboo and coconut leaves: used to re-imagine the lantern as thatched dwelling (and sparking intense debate about Colonial perceptions of Indian “primitivism”).  Amid a program of text games, discussions, expeditions and intense periods of labor, ten bamboo lantern skeletons emerged; vessels for the ensuing light and activity.


Random Randal peaked with a choreographed “Happening” involving hundreds of participants. Students in small teams circumabulated the large central space of the visual arts building at RLV College of Art, energetically stamping text  from the archive onto white cloth- all the while dancing, shouting, ringing bells and parading the bolts of cloth like ever more densely printed banners for a non-existent territory or political party. Simultaenously,  a group of traditional Carnatic musicians and dancers pulled gestures from the syntax of their traditional Kathakali  training to insert an overall elegant flowing movements into the experience.  In fact, this represented the first time that Carnatic music/dance students had collaborated with visual art students at RLV college; a school architecturally and culturally bisected into visual and performative arts.  Across between traditional folk festival, student bash, and one of Alan Kaprow’s Happenings,  this event also contained solo performances such as artist Anil Dayanand’s body-art contribution. Dressed in simple white clothes with his bald head clean and shining, Anil inserted himself into the ink stamping process; a human incarnation of language confusion, and by extension, taking his place alongside the lanterns-in-process as multi-textual light emitting body.  As Mr Dayanand slowly walked around the perimeter of the space, getting stamped all over face and clothes, he became a symbol for crossing visual and social boundaries; a magnetic planet orbiting within the overall experience.


For the final stage of Random Randal, the finished lanterns, now stretched with the printed fabric, thatched with coconut leaves and other found materials, were armed with powerful 220 volt light-bulbs and hooked up to a custom electrical switching system.  Thus, the cavernous multi-story central space (which was perhaps a main subject  in the  project) reconfigured into an interactive light-show-hall. The lanterns were hung randomly with the largest hut-like lantern hung low in the center.  Beneath this,  students placed a large spinning platform.  As lights flickered, disorienting the entire darkened space, students indulged in joy rides on the platform, underneath the majestic central Randal, woven from an old Malayalam film bought at a market junkshop.  As critic Shivaji Pannikar, watching the action  commented- “this kind of art can cure a lot of alienation and pain… this kind of art is  good for the society.”


Reflecting back on Random Randal, it is clear that the printed text in Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, English, and other languages stood for connection rather than confusion, perhaps even pointing to a universal language apart from the spoken or written word. This new idiom is defined by the syntax of collaborative effort, vocabulary of experimentation, and perhaps most of all by the grammar of play. Perhaps as well, in a current climate dominated by the emergence of online communities and cyber connections, Random Randal can be seen as a manifesto for human connection through physical collaboration, rhythm-based interaction and hands-on spirited activity. Random Randal, at heart, was an unmediated experience- a mirage of art, transnational camaraderie, play, and light.