Feast of the five senses – Sensorium


By Jugneeta Sudan
Encoded metaphors in literature, photography, music and cinema stand reflected and mirrored in each other at Sensorium, the aptly named festival of arts, literature and ideas at Sunaparanta. It embodies a stimulating interplay of photographers, writers, artists, musicians and cinematographers engaged in a creative dialogue.Sensorium, a highly researched theory by Marshall McLuhan in the 20thcentury relates to senses as “constituting a kind of synaesthetic system, a ‘five sense sensorium’ (1961), in which individual senses are in intricate interplay”. McLuhan often speaks of the impressions on one sense being translated readily into another, of “sight translated into sound and sound translated into movement, and taste and smell. The effects of media on the senses are manifest through the response of an interdependent group or an interconnected system of the senses. The stimulus of one sense causes a perception by another, seemingly unrelated sense, as in musicians who can taste the intervals between notes, or artists who can smell colors.” When we read, our mind’s eye creates visual images and we hear sounds of a storm, taste the smell of wet mud…
A brainwave of the Delhi Photo Festival founder Prashant Pinjar and director Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi, Sensorium becomes a celebration of photography in connection with literature and other arts. Occupying centre stage is the work of Italian photo journalist Fausto Giaccone. When he became bewitched by the literature of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he spent a long space of time, walking and photographing the streets and locales in Marquez’s books, especially Macondo (a fictionalised town as real as RK Narayan’s Malgudi or Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha). His book – ‘Macondo The World of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’  published by Postcart is a visual reproduction of the entire kaleidoscopic imagery of Aracataca, and the Colombian region where Marquez lived and wove his experiential first-hand very own synaesthetic system (the five sense sensorium) into  literature. Giaccone’s endeavour to convey the smell, sound, taste and feel of the magical reality of the milieu, as it was then, with annotated text from Hundred Years of Solitude makes the fare on display at Sunaparanta a treat to one’s sensorium.
“Marquez has risen to become stardust, a flashing literary comet”, but Giaccone’s work takes us on a nostalgic rewind, into a magical world rooted in a reality that once was and is immortalized through such endeavours. “The most wildest and tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end…little by little studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory – he realised that the day might come when things would be recognised by their inscriptions but no one would remember their use… when people want to refer to nations as places slow to develop – held back by oppression, imperialism, they may shrug their shoulders and sigh ‘Macondo’.”
The caption Photo Poetry in the next room photographically interprets the poetry of Octavio Paz, the great Mexican poet, writer and diplomat. It is a spectacular insight into a poet’s work who unseeingly sees the glory and grandeur of decaying palaces through the ravages of time. Photographers inspired by the poems make a free translation through their lenses. Poetic expressions like The Balcony, The Mausoleum of Humayun, the Tomb of Amir Khusru which Paz wrote in the 1960s, when he was the Mexican ambassador to India; exploring the cohesion between poetry, silence and time is expressively transfigured in frozen black and white shots by Adil Hasan, Subrata Biswas and Sudeep Sen. “A palette, exposing photographic plates-bromide undulations of an untold story- a narrative to be matted and mounted – a frame freeing open its borders to dream.”
In line with it are select photo pictures of Dayanita Singh’s oeuvre in photography, in sync with book titles – Difficult Loves, Shadow lines, A Room of One’s Own……But the exhibit is called Offset, photography counterbalancing complete literature works.
The front lawn is house to an installation by the Magnum nominee, Sohrab Hura, excerpts from his forthcoming book, Life is Elsewhere. The teeming crowds of Raghu Rai and colour and sound of Raghuvir Singh morph into an eerie wilderness. Unrelenting anguish sweeps across the frames (text and photos) mounted on lecterns, lit by a light peering from under a scalloped seashell. A disturbing true-to-life reality, which sears one to the core. You read on and somewhere towards the end, colour starts seeping into the frames, healing the scarred emotions of the artist and the viewer.
Gopika Chowfla’s ‘Flesh’ UV prints on film in a darkroom are accompanied by the text: “In my exploration, the term flesh becomes a non-specific entity. Blurring the lines between the real and imagined, the images of flesh, animal human and vegetable are created to provoke a sensory and corporeal reaction.” His exhibition, an echo of Edward Weston’s photography, exposes the texture of skin of fruits and vegetables, and slicing of animal flesh to recreate a sexual and visceral experience. Watching cleaved, palpable exposed flesh, completely removed from its context imbues a pleasurable feeling of sensuality and beauty in the viewer.
The courtyard flanked by the cafe is witness to blow-ups of Jazz musicians in concert by Farrokh Chothia. He spent more than a decade with jazz musicians and when other photographers would move away after taking their shots for the newspaper, he would stay behind and then he felt as if the musicians performed for him, redirecting and aligning their energies to him or his art and he caught them in sublime poses. Music, Indian classical and Jazz has been a soundtrack of his life. Salman Rushdie’s comments in bold on the wall alongside read: “blurring the distinction between composer and performer…improvising within a formal framework, allowing for passages of virtuosic brilliance amid moments of sadder, deeper restraint”. He further reteirates: “Don’t look at these pictures in silence. They ask for music to be played”.
The hand-crafted photo books in the library are special and enchanting in an old world manner. Regina Maria Anzenberger, the curator ‘leads us to the discovery of the  joy of personalising visual narratives with handmade books.’ The Archivist by Nony Singh, Go Away Closer in a series by Dayanita Singh…black and white photography gives way to colour to digitization – joy of photography parlays into intellectual perspective to abstraction and sometimes an absence. Whole lives and generations are chronicled, sorted, filtered and made legendary. Landscape confluencing metaphorical text evolves spirally vertical to higher realms.
The idea of a confluence of the arts is a masterstroke. As Farrokh Chothia says, “That’s a great way of pulling in whole groups of other worlds – it is just exponentially opening up to all kinds of other things. This gives me a context too about why I would be there. This gives a much broader sense to the whole idea of taking pictures. You are not just looking at photography but also looking at how it interacts with other aspects.” Some festivals are more than a party indeed!


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