All art works included in the exposition (figures and backgrounds) are the work of the author, Srisrividhiya Kalyanasundaram (Srivi Kalyan).
A Porous Consciousness in and as Artistic Practice:
Re-engaging with classical Indian philosophy and aesthetics as a living tradition
One of the central themes of the ecological crisis is the separation of man from the natural world, driven by anthropocentric worldviews, frameworks manifesting from Cartesian duality, and a consumerist economy. Working towards a relational worldview from a multicentric perspective that takes into account both human needs and the needs of the more-than-human world, without privileging one over the other, is an emerging view taken by diverse environmentalists and conservationists (Uhl, 2013; Weston, 2009, p. 12). The key question is: How do we turn our gaze inward to fix our perceptions of nature and our own consciousness?
This exposition asks how an artist’s individual journeys into ecological consciousness emerge from transdisciplinary engagement across current ecologically framed disciplines, classical Indian thought, and artistic practice as research. The artist trains to be able to move seamlessly through the physical, emotional, psychical, and metaphysical layers of the self and the world in intersubjective spaces. In building sheer skins across different dimensions, realities, and ways of being, playing with consciousness become the real craft of the artist. In order to understand how ecological consciousness can be unravelled through artistic processes, this exposition enquires into personal practice.
In traditional Indian thought, the individual human being is conceptualised in relation to his ecological environment. It is his ability to be aware of this intricate relationship through his consciousness and self-reflection that allows him to transcend his individual form, as well as a multiplicity of forms, to arrive at formlessness and that which is beyond form (Vatsyayan, 1997, p. 11). Artistic creativity is critically and painstakingly intertwined with ecological creativity in Indian aesthetics. The underlying principles of form, grammar, and structure are carefully considered applications and expansions of ecological principles. But what lies at the heart of consciousness that can enact, embody and expand this creativity principle? I argue that the consciousness principle is porosity, an ability to transcend the self to enter a state of being where life can move as a seamless exchange of energy in sacred time and space. This exposition draws insights from practice-based research and unravels the practitioner’s point of view into subjective, qualitative research using text, image, and movement.
The philosophical and aesthetic underpinnings are drawn from Classical Hindu/Indian aesthetics, philosophy, and ancient notions of ecology, which is also the author’s own cultural practice and living tradition. ‘Hinduism’ is a broad umbrella term for the diverse cultural notions and nuances that she draws from. It is essential to be sensitive to the fact that Hinduism as a religious construct is colonial and recent and does not do justice to the plurality of faiths held within the subcontinent (Van Horn, 2006). ‘Political Hinduism’ as a construct is also different from the traditional perspective of a collection of plural faiths and sects that fall under the broad umbrella of what is currently recognised as Hinduism. This umbrella has a plurality of practices that include theistic, atheistic, agnostic, and materialist traditions as well as those sects popularised by individual saints. In its multiplicity, Hinduism is challenging to weave into a singular framework of a religion and when a master narrative is sought or constructed (Kumar, 2010). This plurality of Hinduism comes with both organic unity and an incredible diversity of dialogical, opposing and evolving voices within it, making it fairly impossible to impose the category of 'religion' as a singular identity (Balagangadhara and Jhingran, 2014).
The author draws from both Tamil and Sanskrit texts and philosophical works, epistemologies and ontologies as well as lived cultural experiences.
I have experienced feelings of oneness with landscape and other beings over the years. It largely remained a deeply meaningful and personal experience from which my connection with the natural world has deepened over the years. It led me to an interior space where I could not completely distinguish myself from the natural world. I also realised that the idea of oneness was only a vague way of describing the feelings that seemed to have many different nuances.
As my concerns surrounding the ecological crisis deepened, I delved into these feelings, and began to isolate them within experiences that were directly related to the natural world. This led me to further elaborate on what I perceived as the potential of this feeling. These experiences are largely subjective and intersubjective. The feelings evoked a sense of being porous at the heart of any experience. I attempted to locate this feeling within empathy or love, but realised that it transcended these categories. I understood the need for a more directed study into this feeling and sense of being that I termed as the porous self.
I began to observe that for brief periods of time, I was able to experience states of awareness that helped me resonate with another being. For instance, as I watched a common pochard duck resting at Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, I suddenly began to feel deeply rested. In another instance, watching a tailorbird land on a tiny leaf shifted my sense of heaviness to a lightness of being. Watching a grey heron take off at close quarters subtly altered my immediate experience of space and time. Seeing mountains being mined plunged me into grief, while at other times I resonated with their lightness and inner song. Over a couple of years of these experiences — sometimes only lasting for short timeframes and sometimes over elongated periods — made me realise that I had stumbled onto a principle of consciousness: porosity. There was a deeper awareness of my identity in the background, but it did not disturb the more immediate resonance of life around me. At some level, I appeared to be simultaneously operating at two levels of consciousness: one porous, another individual. Porosity enabled me to relate better to the natural world, making me more empathetic to other life forms, expanding or altering my sense of self, and helping me ask difficult questions about how to live a life that was in resonance with other life forms around me.
I began using text, image, and movement as ways to enquire into this porous nature of consciousness while also changing my daily life practices. Wandering, walking, gardening, and composting, along with writing, sketching, painting, performance, and reading became loosely connected practices to inquire into porosity.
One of the keys to discovering porosity had been suspending the mental model that created a separatist frame of the human and the other. Being open to a more sensuous, animistic frame was integral to being able to experience another idea of reality. With this came the quest for alternative views of reality, different constructs of consciousness that would allow for a porousness of being.