The Gastronomy of the Eye: A Tale of Two Cities in India

The Gastronomy of the Eye: A Tale of Two Cities in India

Vrushali Dhage (ArtForum SF, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3856-2.ch009
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Works of art can be read at various levels: from being objects of simple retinal pleasure to the other extreme of being significant critical statements of their time. This chapter aims to strike a cerebral dialogue through the works of art. The current study shall consider the latter function of art and analyze the methods in which contemporary Indian artists have made attempts to provide a critique of the early initiatives towards developing Delhi and Mumbai as ‘smart cities'. The review of works from India concludes the essential role of infrastructural projects and envisioned spaces built in the era of economic liberalization. The study aims at drawing a methodological approach, with an art historical perspective, with the artists analysing and translating the urban experiential phenomenon, into artworks.
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The concept of the “gastronomy of the eye” was discussed by Honoré de Balzac, in The Physiology of Marriage as, “to saunter is a science; the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; to saunter is to live” (p. 31); based on the art of knowledgeable observation, over mere retinality. Attesting the belief and necessity of a knowledgeable, tasteful (Bouvier, 2005, pp. 95-111) and critical observer of one’s surroundings, a questioning individual, as a positive contributor to the society; adding a social and a scientific dimension to it. A historic parallel in defining the urban-experiencing-questioning-human, as neutral/detached, keen/unbiased, yet a knowledgeable thinker, is of the 19th century flâneur, through the urbanscape of Paris; turning sauntering into a discipline of perception. Baudelaire further insisted on a creative aspect to flânerie by associating it to modern painters and writers, as individuals with discerning capacities who could “see” better (Benjamin, 2006) whereas Aimeé Boutin highlighted the expansion of the sensory perceptions while discussing the “sensual turn” which complemented “the rise of visual and cultural studies which positioned the flâneur’s modernist gaze as a painter of modern life at the centre of many of its inquiries” (Rethinking the Flâneur: Flânerie and the Senses, 2012, pp. 124-132). Though one couldn’t overlook the capacity of some capable commoners to the same, Baudelaire granted the painters and writers a higher pedestal. He regarded them individuals capable of translating their observations into creative expressions of the same, thereby extending the very experience, and granting the works of art/writing a status of documents supporting the observations. The validity of this approach can be tested with respect to contemporary times too.

The premise of this study aims at analysing the transforming urban character of two metropolises of India namely, Delhi and Mumbai, through various smart city initiatives, corresponding to the adoption of a neo-liberal economic approach by the country; palpable to the common people, primarily through the growing number of constructed forms like – the Special Economic Zones (SEZs), business parks and various infrastructural activities. Customarily, objective, rational and empirical proofs help analyse the success or failure of such transformations. But the current study aims at devising a qualitative method with an art historical approach based on “human observation and experience”, with the consequent “works of art” as expressions of the experience (Leddy, 2019). Therefore, the “observant experiencing humans” under consideration, consist of some select contemporary Indian artists, as recontextualized flâneurs, navigating through the new manifest forms of the new economic approach. These artists are perceiving, conceiving and translating the “new urban ambiance” into works of art; thereby, modelling the artworks as critiques of the given premise.

The study provides a brief overview of the neo-liberal economic scenario in India, as a step towards globalization, beginning from the late 1980s. Followed by mentioning the transformations and attempts towards upgradations in Delhi and Mumbai. This is done by primarily focusing on the built forms, which drastically changed the characters of the respective cities, and provided a cue for the artists to base their works on. Simultaneously, aiming at re-contextualizing the notion of the artist as a flâneur with respect to the current approach. Finally, the study focuses on an in-depth analysis of artworks, which address various aspects of these transformations. The review of this transformation goes through multi-faceted ways – from a personal-physical sensory experience of walking through spaces to the macro-vision of the restructuring of the cityscape. The review also investigates the new notions of updating and up-gradating of the influence of advertisements and the media in the mental-shaping of one’s identity within the larger globalizing urban framework. This investigation of the spaces has been marginalised or completely excluded from the grand projects of projected progress.

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