Ever found yourself waiting for an important file/image/video to download and, just when it’s on the brink of completion, lo and behold! your Internet ‘connection’ goes haywire and the download glitches? A fairly commonplace occurrence in the virtual world – and one of the many accepted blights of our twenty-first century existence. No matter how ‘connected’ we may feel, it only takes a snap of the fingers (or wires) to shatter that illusion. But maybe those fleeting, dejected flashes are opportunities to pause and reflect on the anomalies of the Internet – and those of life as well. Because very rarely do realizations come with a successful ‘file download’. Things must glitch to transcend.
‘Download Errors’ (2012–present) is a celebration of this phenomenon, a satirical attempt to highlight the plights of the so-called ‘Internet Age’ and its intrinsic ephemerality. The series also throws light on the deleterious impact of digitalization on personal and cultural identity. I remember being surrounded by photographs and portraits as a kid. They were very personal to me – more personal than any of my present day belongings. What we own these days – the things we buy, the stuff we consume, the spaces we dwell in – they do not really have any identity of their own. Our lifestyles and sartorial patterns have become so generic or ‘global’ that the indigenous aspects of culture are diminishing.
It’s been a long, tumultuous journey from the vintage photographs and paintings I grew up with to the run-of-the-mill images now accessible at the click of a button. There has been a paradigm shift in the way we perceive the importance or ‘value’ of images. And an ironical shift it has been, too – a stock image that fails to download takes precedence over the treasured photographs of a bygone era. Kind of like the old-school values that we are all too eager to discard to prove we are ‘twenty-first-century individuals’ – citizens of the world, with unrestrained access to all that’s out there. We make up (or Google) our own rules as we go along. As a result, a gradual abridgment of tenets has arisen – a real time ‘download error’, you might call it. These glitched-up vintage photographs serve as an apposite allegory of fast-spreading acculturation, the nasty flip side of digitalization.
The images in this series are predominantly Rajasthani simply because of my own cultural background: my grandfather was a prominent studio photographer in Jaipur! Which is not to say that he has a direct role to play in this series – but the fact that I have not been able to come to terms with the different, cosmopolitan individual that I have become seems to organically trickle down into my art. It is not even a conscious effort on my part. The moment I see these portraits, my first thought is: ‘This image has been rendered redundant. Let’s make it for suitable for the twenty-first century.’ In a way, the glitched-up portraits feel like self-portraits.
Found photographs, sourced from pawnshops and vintage stores all over the country, served as raw materials for this series. They were then impaired – vandalized – in a typical ‘digital glitch’ fashion, complete with pixelation and error message boxes, to express their loss of relevance in our era. They become a metaphor for things of the past, the traditional culture and the roots slowly being shirked in favour of the new.