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Threads, Trails, Travels: Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Artistic Research

How can travel experiences and everyday life inspire artistic creation? How did artists record their observations through photo-documentation? This mini course introduces the Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive, illuminating how artists engage with and draw inspiration from new locations, and how these become embedded in their artistic practice.

The content of this series of short videos is derived from Educators Open House 2023 | Session One: Threads, Trails, Travels: Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Artistic Research, talk by Noopur Desai and Samira Bose.

Content: Noopur Desai and Samira Bose, Asia Art Archive in India
Voice Over: Helena Halim
Language: English
Total Length: 24 minutes

Part One: About Mrinalini Mukherjee

Length: 7 minutes

  • Keywords
    Travels, Photography, Unconventional Materials, Art School, Archive, Sculptural Practice 

  • Exercise
    1. Visit a museum or gallery exhibit that is accessible for you. After going through the works, prepare a list of the various materials that you find “unconventional.” What makes you think so?

    2. The materials in Mrinalini Mukherjee’s archive have an internal logic for why they have been kept, and are retrievable for specific purposes. While there is a tendency to keep family albums and memorabilia, do you keep a collection of materials that exceeds nostalgic purposes? 

Part Two: Living Traditions and Student Day Travels

Length: 5 minutes

  • Keywords
    Living Traditions, Craft Practices, Documentation, Pedagogy

  • Exercise
    1. This is an inter-generational exercise. Try to find an older family member, friend, or associate with a collection of analogue photographs from their travels. Scan or photograph these, and reproduce them.
    a) Conduct research on the site/place, and annotate the materials. 
    b) Ask the person to relive their memories or knowledge of that location. Layer that with your research to create a more complex picture of how we encounter sites during our travels.

    2. There will be some who were not able to keep records from their travels, or lost their photographs. Ask them about a holiday or trip they took that was transformative for them. Ask them to describe it in vivid detail. Render it for them in a sketch, piece of writing, poetry, or constructed photograph. Create a tangible record of their precious memory for them. 

Part Three: Indigenous Practices 

Length: 5 minutes

  • Keywords
    Indigenous Practices, Aboriginal Art, Metal Casting, Rope-making, Textile, Tapestry, Crafts Markets, Museums

  • Exercise
    1. Locate a marketplace with organic or sustainable materials that are used for craft practices. Often, indigenous craft practices have a historical significance.

    2. Choose a simple utilitarian object like a jute sack or an intricately embroidered textile. Take a photo of it, and using a Miro Board or an analogue pin-board, place it at the centre.

    3. This is the object of your research. With the marketplace as your starting point, find out about how the object was made, by whom, and its history. If those you speak to are comfortable, document the processes that you learn about. Surround your object/image with this information.

    4. Ask: Is this art form facing erasure, or has it managed to transform itself to stay continuously relevant? Not all forms “die out” and need saving, and creatively mutate to suit changing times.  

Part Four: A Sustained Interest in Architecture and Archaeology 

Length: 4 minutes

  • Keywords
    Architecture, Historical Ruins, Armature, Artefacts, Arches, Temples

  • Exercise
    1. a) Visit (or re-visit) a historical monument close to you. What are its shapes, curves, edges? Render these in any format that you like, using sketches, cut-out collages, or written descriptions.
        b) Try to identify the architectural features or styles of this historical site. Add these to your renditions to supplement the above observations. These constitute your own kind of artistic research.
    2. Search the web for photographs from the last few historical sites you visited, and find patterns in what you documented—do you have a preoccupation? Try this activity in a group with your friends or peers, and set up a gathering to share the pursuits that you all notice. The acknowledgement and stating of these will encourage you to pursue these further.

Part Five: The “Body” in Sculpture and Live Performance 

Length: 3 minutes

  • Keywords
    Sculpture, Theatre, Dance, Costume, Artifice, Mythology

  • Creative Questions
    From the Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive:
    The archive contains an album titled “Visual References from Art Historical and Cultural Sites. These photographs capture many kinds of bodies in movement, ranging from stone sculptures to live performances, and includes snapshots from the pages of books. Trace motifs that you are able to find across the images. Use them as starting points or as an “armature” to make your own sketch.

    By yourself:
    1. Explore a new performing art. On YouTube, try to find a video documenting a traditional or vernacular performing art from a part of the world you’re unfamiliar with. The lyrics of the music, if any, are in a language that you do not understand. This can include dance, theatre, or puppetry.  

    2. Carefully follow the gestures in the video. Are you able to recognise the forms the movements are referencing? Are these mountains, rivers, animals? How is an unfamiliar form made legible for you? How did the performance make you feel? 

    3. Try to search further to understand the intended meaning or stories behind the performance, if you are able to. Mark what stood out to you, then what was intended, and the back-and-forth between them.  

  • References
    1. Lecture Note by Mrinalini Mukherjee, Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive.

    2. Lecture Note by Mrinalini Mukherjee, Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive.

    3. Lecture Note for Seminar on Art & Life in India since Independence, 1998. Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive.

    4. Ahuja, Naman P. Indian Roots for a Universal Idiom. In Mrinalini Mukherjee, edited by Shanay Jhaveri. Mumbai, India: The Shoestring Publisher, 2019.

All images are from the Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive, AAA Collections. Courtesy of the Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation.

The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.

Publishing date: 22 December 2023

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