Linda A. Day
In A Passage to India E.M. Forster describes the echo reverberating within the fictional Marabar Caves as “ou-boum,” evoking a terror in which “Everything exists, nothing has value,” the inevitable result when all things come together as one and, in the case of Forster’s novel, when an English tourist becomes engulfed by the contradictions of India.
A long anticipated visit to Rajasthan last year brought to mind Forster’s image. Having never traveled to the Far East I was instantly challenged by my own cultural experience (raised in New England I am at heart a puritan and practical to the bone) and the sensate experience that is India. Almost immediately I found myself thrust pell-mell through a narrow meandering bazaar amidst carts, bicycles, mopeds, unable to pause, surrounded by sounds and smells I couldn’t identify. Color was everywhere – and burned even brighter against the New Delhi smog. And not unlike the character in Forster’s novel, I found myself growing rapidly claustrophobic and racing for any exit onto the open thoroughfare and out of the sensual overload of the bazaar. This experience was the catalyst for my new work at Another Year in LA.
Which takes us back to “ou-boum.” I have begun to see Forster’s “ou-boum” as touching upon the sublime. The aesthetics of the sublime has been investigated historically - from the Greeks, to the philosophers Edmund Burke, Kant, Hegel, and the more contemporary Lyotard. To simplify, the sublime is largely experiential and the result of an overwhelming event in which we, as participants, are physically and emotionally engulfed. Unable to define our own boundaries within the experience, we are at once filled with pleasure and terror. The Romantics identified NATURE with the sublime. For example, here is an experience with which we are all familiar: standing high on the edge of a cliff, ocean surf crashing below, filled with the sheer pleasure of the salty spray surrounding us as well as consumed by the fear of falling. Perhaps a bit theatrical, but you know the feeling.
I would suggest cultures that are perceived as non-western or“other” might also evoke the sublime experience – and in a postcolonial culture we are surrounded by a multitude of visual stimuli that has challenged and invigorated the traditional formal structures of western art. This is not merely an interest in the exotic – but an embrace of new and increasingly complex hybrid relationships in art and the culture at large. And in this contemporary world we as global – often virtual - travelers have access to it all.
Aside from the obvious vibrant sensate experiences of India, from my first moments landing in Delhi I was impressed by a very different notion of time: there seemed to be no clear distinctions between old and new and everything seemed to be absorbed immediately by a sense of entropy. This is my no means a critique of Indian construction or architecture, but rather my observation in comparison to my western notions of order – and, in particular, public order and classifications. In the west, shiny bright and new is highly valued and preserved at all costs whereas in India I had a sense that the contemporary is simply a moment in a larger continuum.
My work goes through periods of refinement followed by those of disintegration in which I re-examine and dismantle. Although there are certainly areas of overlap between the PULSE series and this new work, my experience in India provided me with the impetus – and the inspiration – to begin again within the framework of the past.