During yesterday’s (28 October 2020) dialogue “Showcasing TechArt”, the presenter, founder of Eyemyth, India, Avinash Kumar provided with a very interesting perspective on “TechArt” when he lamented that a proliferation of “High Tech (Media) Arts” in India is out of context as there is little exposure to and interest in these works. One wonders what is “High” in terms of making a hierarchy of technological affordances and usage.
When it comes to making a taxonomy and nomenclature of what is termed “TechArt” – one may ponder over the archeology of what is understood as “Technology” – which is often a Western concept of linear progression, and in essence is a modernist tool. If we take a historical perspective, in South Asia, the transfer and transmission of modernist technologies took place as a colonialist and imperialist strategy of control, quantify, and exploit the resources of the Global South: South Asia, Africa, Middle East and the Latin Americas. In South Asia, invent of such technologies happened through colonial models of development, benefiting mostly the imperial powers. Early western modernist technologies, such as recording, photography, radio and cinema: all contributed to this vision. It is only the colonial subjects, who gradually hacked into these technologies and reclaimed, as well as appropriated them to produce new hybrid kinds of post-modern aesthetic practices.
In this same line of technological transmission and transfer, transistors, electronic circuits, digital and computing technologies were also brought from the West to the East, and from Global North to the Global South, but not the other way round. Global North’s condescending approach towards the colonised South didn’t allow much equal distribution of power, knowledge and aesthetic understanding. However, South Asia (and the Global South) has been the house of some oldest and time-tested cultural practices, in visual, literary and sonic realm. There was no reason to make a hierarchy of knowledge and culture, if we listen to some of pre-modern aesthetic practices where a pre-modern concept of technology existed, and which was as intricate as its global counterparts, however, ignored.
One such technical achievement is classical instruments, such as Rudra Veena (picture above). If we look closely at the instrument, which usually performed within the Dhrupad tradition, the ancient-most sonic practice in South Asia, we will be astonished at the intricacy with which an aesthetic object was conceived and built in South Asia. The pre-modern technology was as effective as the technology we know today from a Western modernist and colonialist understanding of it.
Therefore, it makes no sense to adhere to the hierarchy of “high tech” and “low tech”, and define “TechArt” from a Western taxonomy, represented often by large-scale, immersive media arts proliferated in European and American TechArt festivals such as Ars Electronica. Given the rich examples of artistic practices using pre-modern technology in South Asia, I propose to redefine what “TechArt” is and decolonise the term to give long due credits to artists and artisans from the Global South.