Philippe Calia: The Shape of Clouds

Philippe Calia

The Shape of Clouds (II):

Exercices de Style


9.10 minutes


In the manner of sketches, this highly experimental and amorphous video uncovers the artist’s process of making the artworks showcased as part of this exhibition : working from an open space during the monsoon, with clouds, rain-drops and Raga Malhar as visual and sonic backdrops.

Music Credits: Nirmalya Dey; Raga Miyaan Malhar; Copyright: Music Today

Artist’s Statement: “To me, musical composition has always constituted a benchmark for artistic expression. Back in 2015 I had attempted to pose some premises for this relationship between photography and music in an exhibition titled Études in Delhi. More recently, while working on this piece, I could vaguely remember taking a note of an analogy drawn by Benjamin in his Short History of Photography (1934), between the photograph and ‘a stroke on a piano’. Looking back at this text, I realised the analogy contained more and also brought another visual art into consideration : “The violinist,” [Camille Recht] wrote, “must form the tone himself, must seek it, find it quick as lightning; the pianist strikes the key: the tone resounds. An instrument is at the disposal of the painter as well as the photographer. The drawing and colouring of the painter correspond to the tone formation of the violin; the photographer shares with the pianist a mechanism which is subject to laws of limitation that the violinist is not. No Paderewski will ever earn the fame or work the almost legendary magic of a Paganini.” While trying to develop further a technique which consists in diluting / assembling a photograph “in time”, I became aware that my photographic gesture had become closer to the one of the violinist and less of the pianist. What interested me then in working with indian Classical music is that the ‘natural termed scale’ – where each swara is not absolutely fixed but is allowed to vary on a certain frequency range (swarakshetra) – espouses the life of those instable images, and their process of ‘taking shape’. It allowed for an expression which is less of a tangible assertion but more focused on the pursuit itself, towards the right tone and balance. This video is a trace of this process.”

At the crossroad of arts & sciences, this work is part of a research titled The Shape of Clouds which looks at visual representation of memory and oblivion in our current technological regime. In this piece, a photograph of the sky, taken from a plane in 2018 during a flight between Hyderabad and Bombay, was printed to be then diluted through a specific chemical handling technique. The process was alternatively filmed and photographed, sometimes at macro level, very close to the paper surface. Blurring our sense of scale, the result is a constellation of abstract images, of which details and shapes strangely echo with the more familiar medical imagery of biological cells, dendrites and synapses. Meanwhile the coordinates found in the digital photograph’s metadata drags us back to the physical reality of the place above which it was shot : the district of Sangareddy in Telangana.

Curator’s Statement: Undoubtedly, the Raga is one of the most mysterious and magical human inventions. Transcending its technical parameters, the Raga becomes an emotive state. The Malhar family of Ragas is inextricably linked with the Indian monsoon experience; and the confluence of the Raga experience and the seasonal awakenings amalgamate here to provide double magic. Out of all the Malhaars, Raga Miyaan Malhar is the most melancholic and full of gravitas. Calia takes a rendition of this melody, by Nirmalya Dey; as the background of his series of ‘cloudy’ explorations; and presents a delightful synesthetic experience. The clouds already present an amorphous spectacle and their multi-layered, diaphanous quality allows for creating a rich visual tapestry. The artist however adds more richness to this experience by a process of chemical treatment of the photographic material, which becomes the matter for the video exploration. If it is hard, if not impossible to describe the abstract experience of listening to a Malhar; then it is equally true that The Shape of Clouds does indeed represent the feeling in a very majestic manner. The back and forth of the chemical alteration of the photographs becomes a cogent metaphor of the luresome pull of the notes of the Malhar. Somehow, especially in those flash moments of discovery; one feels that the image captures the indescribable essence of the Malhar experience! While the images come close to success in depicting the unsaid musical experience, it must also be said that they also generate an abstract indescribable experience of their own, heightening the Rasa manifold.

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