Bhairav: Dasein as inscription

Munir Kabani and Nikhil Chopra’s Bhairav emphasizes the ontological nature of the transformation of the art object, through a world-view philosophy in which art’s primary position is labour. Instead of presenting labour as a dialectic emphasizing conflict and contradiction (as would Marx), the film returns art to its logical source i.e. that the reading/appreciation of the art object is only possible if one takes into account the process of creation itself.


Ustad Bahauddin Dagar centers the film through a recital in the morning scale (raga) Bhairav. Bhairav has a calm(komal) rishabh and dhaivat and essentially modulates itself between a calm (komal) svabhav (nature) but also a rudra (angry) svabhav. The film is structure according to the alaap-jor-jhalla approach to the raga in which the characteristic nature of each note in a raga is sculpted to show the microtonal possibilities of the space between notes.


The film begins by establishing the relationship between the primordial human as an instinctual form (Deleuze may pronounce this as his/her becoming-animal) and establishing the relationship between this instinctual form of Dasein(being-there) and its linkages with the act of creation. The primordial artist ‘imprints’ nails in the form of a circle on a cloth-like surface. In Heideggerean terms the equipmental nature of Dasein is emphasized so that art is an uncovering (althiea) of truth, which is present-at-hand. Later the primordial man mounts the cloth with circular nails on a hillock such that the cloth almost resembles (the face of) a flag. In this way, the art object has an essential link to faciality i.e. that art links to the face of the divine (Christ) figure.


The primary position of this ontological approach to art is that producing and witnessing the art object has a key link to conscioushood or intentionality. According to the Dhrupad tradition the repetition of the ‘known’ notes of the raga lead to the unknown accidental note that is not part of the scale in the same way as the train leads to an accident due to the unknown, unseen controller of the mechanism: the train driver. For Kabani and Chopra the accident results in a transformation of art as a sign to its function as an index i.e. a sign physically connected to its source. This is represented by Chopra’s illustration of Dagar at the end of the film, which is connected through space i.e. occurs in the same room as Dagar’s performance.


For Chopra, the jor section in which the raga has been fully established and the relationship between different frequencies emphasize the transformation of a ‘colouring of the mind’; is a condition of potentiality for automated self-destruction (represented by the tearing of the sketch), instead of a mere sensorial collapse. In this sense, the film is reminiscent of Jean Tinguely’s apparatus for self-destruction (titled Homage to New York): erecting the work of art as life force so that it collapses onto itself.


This transformation of the sign into icon proceeds via the iconic figure of Dagar playing the rudra veena in which the being present-at-hand combines with the equipmental nature of Dasein (the veena itself). The intentionality is gradually withdrawn in the penultimate sequence in which performance artist Madhavi Gore enacts the birthing of the child emphasizing the physiological aspect of the elan-vitale, which brings the physiological into full view. The serenity of Bhairav transforms into a pained body, which Chopra makes into an inscription in the form of a drawing in his sketchbook. The construction of the inscribed art object is juxtaposed in the same space with the construction of the physiological object: the process of delivering a human baby.


Kabani and Chopra perhaps are trying to suggest that the transformation of the temporal art object from sign to index (denoted earlier), results in the Lacanian gaze, in which the artist acquires the gaze of the doctor understanding the pain present in a manifest reality (controlled by laws such as gravitation). This manifest reality cannot lead to a transcendence but instead lead to a corporeal form of art. In this embodied form of art one witnesses the visual artist inscribing Gore’s pained body on paper and the film-maker transforming the camera into an extension of the body itself. The cinema presented here is a cinema of the subject: in which the model/performance-artist represents the reality of the pained body (Gore’s utterances were recorded during the birth of her daughter).


The final shot of the film as the camera moves into the sky signal a violation of this gravitational idiom of art (inaugurated by the hammering of the nail into the ‘flag’) so that attain Simone Weil’s dialectical opposite to gravity: grace itself.

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