November 07, 2012


Feature by Rahul Bhattacharya

What is the language of silence and purity? Can these two concept metaphors be understood/expressed in visuals created and seen in the contemporary world? How does one express in a visual language and yet keep the magic of silence and purity intact? These questions form the very basis of the philosophical/artistic journey Deepak Tandon embarked upon as he began to weave together this body of untitled digitaly manipulated photographic prints, and videos that form the body of One Rock. Right from the very beginning, Tandon’s journey has been about undertsanding life and living through the essence of nature and having art as the medium through which this understanding linkes him to the universe.  Its been a long journey, a beautiful journey…yet bringing him to a point wherein he needed to re- understand language, form and expression for his art to be able to dance in tandem with his soul.

In vedantic worldview philosophy has never existed as a separate disipline, and (maybe) that’s why physical and spiritual realities have never been in conflict with each other. Possibly the artist’s  love for metaphysical thought comes from this cultural commonsense that does not understand the spirituality/science divide.  In Euro American scientific thought, ‘One’ is seen as the opposite of ‘zero’, and by extension ‘presence’ is seen as the opposite of ‘absence’. However when ‘One’ is understood, as ‘oneness’ and ‘absence’ understood as ‘void’, it bypasses the dualist restrictions and brings us to the understanding of eternity. It is an expression and understanding that has power to take us beyond the understanding the world of black/white or the good/evil making us realize that everything flows into each other. It is this coming together of eternity as ‘oneness’ that forms the basis of One Rock.

For the artist the practice of making and viewing abstraction has been a long journey in search of the potential of art to take us beyond the cultural materiality. Tandon is not just a child of Indian philosophic thought, he is also a child of post colonial India, its journey to reimaging the world, define for itself a notion of progress, growth and happiness. As an individual who is deeply invested in society, metaphysical imagination for the artist has been important in being able to imagine the world and society outside the colonial commonsense. To be able to break away from the language+commonsence nexus, over the years Deepak Tandon has been developing a language that seeks to embody this Vedantic concept of Oneness and eternity.

The contestation over the semantic and philosophical implication of the infinite is crucial to opening up new horizons of understanding life, existence, development and history. This is important as a window that helps us imagine the world outside a linear idea of progress and development. Deepak Tandon’s work begins to take special cultural value in the realms of imaginations outside neo liberalism, and gives us entry into an alternative globalised aesthetics, giving us approaches to Humanism from a framework which is outside Euro American modernism.  The quietness that One Rock creates implodes the meaning of an image.  In a spell of wisdom, it gives the power of the image to generate moments, which challenges the basic tenets of human behavior, succeeding to replace desire with love, confusion with tranquility and lust with union.

In traditional Indian thought, perception (both as a concept and a metophor) is not only limited to the act of seeing . It opens up multiple ways of perceiving the world and does not allow an easy fixing of definitions. The digitally manipulated and transformed photographic prints contain within them the essence of the solid, liquid and ethereal: each transforming/ flowing/merging into each other as  we shift our gaze across the pictorial surface. The hues modulate with the suttle changes in the viewing angle. The soft gurgling sound of water that floats across the rom creates an ambience  for perceiving this work taking it beyond the act of viewing.

Through juxtaposition and mirroring, the artist gives us glimpses of forms evoking unison, depth, and merger of elements. Nonetheless the forms are there to melt away as one gets lost in the joy of rich tactile silence. This is the quaint silence of a tranquil mind; a soul letting go of its ego…thereby understanding that nature cannot be understood…can only be experiences and witnessed. One rock brings forward the tranquility of void and infinity that the soul can feel only through the complete understanding of the merging of elements, and the constant flow of energies between the earth and the sky. In this body of works water emerges as the metaphor for the merging, as it is through water that the earth and the sky flow into each other. The works seem to balance between them the referential and the formless. To achieve this the artist works with the compositional divisions of space and the flow of color tones. These become the tools with which the artist hides and yet reveals .One may see endless depth in the deep wine browns, interspersed with pale neon blues or one may simply change the gaze and get engrossed in the formal harmonies, the deliberate noise, deep hieroglyphic scratching melting into thin delicate lines, all within the drama of an earthy neon chiaroscuro.

There are only two works that the artist chooses to title. Here, the purpose of the titles is not to fixate meaning, but rather to open up multiple interpretations, using tangents to tug our minds into the core of multiplicity that is central to the abstract imagination for Tandon.  A silent mirrored and looped video is titled watER wHole, semantically opening up possibilities of reading/understanding the work in its first literal sense as water being the key merger, thus symbolizing the ‘whole’, or reading it as ER wHOLE referring to the female as an embodiment of completion and birth, or even at a more commonsensical level of the water hole being the center of life in a desert. Another video is titled shuddh I hinting towards the process of shuddhi (purification). However when one sees the pristine rock layered with fresh mountain water and the pure gurgling sound, it seems that the work is announcing shuddh I = "I am pure".            

We tend to think of eternity as an endless’ duration of time. But if it is some duration of time, however long, it cannot be eternity- just the same way as we cannot think of an infinitely large number. What is eternity then?  One Rock takes us away from this trap by evoking timelessness: the absence of time, reminding us that the world and our experience of it exist in endless shades of colours. The visual and sound create an aura that capture the present and eternity in the same moment. This merger of present and eternity becomes the metaphor for the eternal linking us back to the vedantic conception of oneness where individuals merge into the whole and the illusions of material existence loose their meaning. The zone of encounter with the eternity is the zone of tranquility and silence, thus silence is not that comes from elimination of the world, but from a complete embracing of it.

(One Rock by Deepak Tandon is currently on view at Open Secret Studios, 401 N Racine Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60642

till December 1, 2012. For more information, click