Artist Budhaditya Chattopadhyay met researcher Budhaditya Chattopadhyay at a dimply-lit café in Copenhagen. The afternoon glow of a dying winter sun was already dazed and diffused when they started talking; during their conversation the city was getting a fresh coat of snow, and the streetlights were melting in the warmth of intimacy. Following are the snippets of the ensuing intraaudition as it was recorded.
-- Do you like this winter season?
-- I like the smell of the air in this particular season. I was born in a winter afternoon; perhaps all afternoons like this are a call to start from nothingness.
-- What about the city where you are currently living? Do you have any impression?
-- Of all the cities and numerous places I have encountered so far, the current city is the easiest to navigate; nobody talks to me, so do I – being outside of a society keeps me constantly off the margin. I enjoy the lack of public attention except for the few intolerant eyes on the street and the occasionally awkward glances that (as if) demand explanation how on earth a non-European entity survives in this revered landscape quite well dressed like everyone, and contributes to a collective knowledge production. My sheer corporal presence is an act of resistance in such contexts.
-- You were neither trained as an artist nor a composer; what do you consider yourself?
-- I am none. I am just being myself. And as intensely I experience my being, this is getting clearer to me that whatever you call yourself, artistic practice is a condition that you surrender to, you cannot help.
--Why do you go through the process of creation? Why do you do art?
-- For me it’s nothing but an attempt to transcend pain and sorrow; to rise above angst that is generated from a neurosis – born out of constant migration, of perpetual forgetting, and an invariable feeling of incompleteness.
-- Don’t you feel connected to a certain place, may be a certain land?
-- The impermanence of each and every inhabited site does not allow me to seek a land to stand upon and feel at home. What we call locative reality is highly contested at this point of time, sensitized by augmented spaces of hyper-connectedness to other places through ubiquitously mediated and manufactured presences; I feel that my awareness of the immediate place-based reality is merged with the invisible but felt virtual presence of many other places experienced at once, making each situation volatile and ephemeral.
-- I was asking about a certain place…
-- The place I was born, that is where I feel perpetually connected to, and in love with. This place comes back to me often in my dreams. But this association is challenged by the fact that I am also trying to get rid of that sense of love by repeated exposure of the place in my works; some of my artworks stem out of field recordings made in that region over many years; and these exposures are nothing but efforts to cope with forgetting, to re-arrange memory associations, to fit into the contemporary; however, these efforts remain vague and questionable in their methodology and outcome.
-- Do you have anything to say about love?
-- For me, love has been a transitory feeling of intense momentary cognition of the other. Strong may be, it never really has sustained itself. In the long run I would like to consider love as a form of collective and mutual compassion, but then the intensity needs to be compromised.
-- Any one-liner cliché?
-- Post-intercourse affection is love.
-- Who is your hero?
-- Bond, James Bond.
-- For exemplifying a capacity to ruthlessly execute cherished plans.
-- But Bond is a figure of unabashed male-chauvinism and misogyny!
-- I wish to see Bond settling down, have a family and push a perambulator on the busy street. He could also consider taking his newborn at his lap and sing a lullaby.
-- What is your comment on the current state of affairs, namely dismantling of Europe, refugee crisis in the West, proliferation of suspicion and terror in the public life, socio-political crisis in the middle East, religious fundamentalism, rising autocracy and hyper-protectionism in the US etc., let alone the pervasive climate crisis?
-- Superiority complex is an incurable disease and deformity of the Western thinking. From imperialism to colonialism to unwanted attention and intervention in the middle East, the West and its allies (the US) have historically undermined the “other” – the non-West. The West lacked adequate respect for whoever they considered coming from outside of its territory, and not looking/listening alike. In the name of imperialism, the West has set out to intimidate, exploit, torture, and damage large parts of Asia and Africa to get uncontrolled access to natural and human resources; there was no evidence of repentance. The deep ignorance and sectarian attitudes led the West to formulate terms such as “third world” considering the non-West as a lesser land to make their colony. The current crisis is the consequences of all the atrocities the West has been performing over the non-West. This celebration of a make–believe self-importance, historic (hysteric) arrogance and a stupendous lack of conscience is gradually accumulating towards a grand opening for a great (moral) fall.
-- Are you that enraged?
-- Yes, I am angry.
-- There are instances of collective resistance; what do you think of them?
-- These resistances are primarily rhetorical; actual resistances need to be put in place. Until and unless the Western society learns to respect the “others”, and nurture tolerance towards the people they call “foreigners” in their habitual land, these resistances will not have any substantial impact. Ask the people on the street taking a collective protest march – whether he and she in their own lives have interacted compassionately with constantly migrating people coming to their cities from outside; equality begins at your neighborhood. The West is not simply doing enough. There is a sense of complacency and laziness that permeates the Western society at large.
-- What is the role of art in this context?
-- Art, if it is committed and honest, can reflect the turbulent times we live by. Art creates that contemplative distance from reality allowing action. If we are not affected, if we continue to follow the archaic rituals imposed or demanded from us by the corporates and political institutions we all will become polite zombies. Committed art makes us aware of the smell of gunpowder in the air – we can’t stay still anymore.
-- You are involved with sound art; how do you see yourself contributing to society?
-- As an artist and thinker working with sound, it is my assumption that the root of all conflicts is essentially embedded in a lack of ability to listen carefully to the other. As philosopher Gemma Corradi Fiumara suggests, a propensity to listen to the others, without making immediate judgments, may potentially lead to bridge the troubled water of difference. My sound artworks employ an inclusive and contemplative listening practice as a way to approach conflict resolution. The idea revolves around listening as a creative act to engage with the surrounding environment, and the various bodies that inhabit the environment, more compassionately. Departing from the idea of a functional mode of listening as immediate meaning-making for the purpose of everyday cognition and navigation, I suggest a practice termed “hyper-listening”, which intends to explore the aesthetic and mindful aspect of the listening act as framed in the term. This act indicates a need to transcend the epistemological constrains of the immediate meaning deducted from the mere object-hood and materiality of sound, towards embracing the aesthetic and poetic contemplation triggered by attentive listening to the ineffable and ephemeral phenomenon of sound. Through my research and artistic practice in the field of sound I have come to realize that sonic phenomena often trigger poetic contemplation if we open our ears to the environment and to the others, and this is a methodology to engage more compassionately to accommodate other’s views and perspectives. I have been involved in conducting a series of workshops in various art organizations and institutions across Europe and Asia to mobilize the idea realized as a community art practice. I am committed to the practice of engaged listening as a methodology to spread an awareness of inclusion and contemplative acceptance of the other. I hope that the sharing of the idea will help in recognizing the potential of listening to the others in our environment not as bodies of conflict, but extension of us as a larger common.
-- Do you have any hope for the future?
-- I have hope in the younger generations, studying in colleges and universities. It is their attitude of questioning and attentive listening that gives me the reason to hope.
Budhaditya Chattopadhyay is an award-winning media artist, researcher, and writer, with a PhD in artistic research and sound studies from the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, Leiden University, The Netherlands. Chattopadhyay produces works for large-scale installation and live performance broadly dealing with contemporary issues such as climate crisis, human intervention in the environment and ecology, race and migration. Conceptually, Chattopadhyay’s work inquires about the materiality, objecthood, site, and technological mediation of sound, and addresses the aspects of subjectivity, contemplation, mindfulness, and transcendence inherent in listening. His artistic practice intends to shift the perspectives from object to situation, and from immersion to discourse in the realm of contemporary sound and media art. His works are published by Gruenrekorder (Germany) and Touch (UK). Chattopadhyay has received numerous fellowships, residencies and international awards, and his works have been widely exhibited, performed or presented across the globe. His writings regularly appear in journals, magazines, and catalogues.