#TAAL (The Abstractions At Large, May 14, 2016):

What cannot be abstracted? What was Grothendieck up to? Does abstraction exist all around us; as notions of (say) numbers, distance, money, & more? Further, is there a way of abstracting the notion of distance across different kinds of geometries? Is labour (power) abstract? Is it surprising that we are able to think of 2 apples and 2 oranges as just 2? Does cinema & art usually give a concrete body to abstract things like emotions? What is the method of abstraction across realms, & does it involve turning ‘inputs’ into ‘commodities’? How does the orange-seller know how to efficiently pack the oranges? How is abstractness embodied, and what role do materials play? Is the concrete an instance of the abstract? Does the word ‘room’ (say) signify a concept in our heads? Can cinema (a la ‘absolute films’) be concrete without (the artifice (?) of) actors, sets and dialogues? What role do aesthetic & philosophical principles play in the process of abstraction? Can there be/is there a method of ‘rising from the abstract to the concrete’? Why did art turn abstract? Is all art, in a sense, abstract? However, is the making of all art very concrete? Might a sculptor ‘know’ a result before a topologist does? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from film studies (Prof. Moinak Biswas, Jadavpur University, Kolkata), mathematics (Prof. Gadadhar Misra, IISc, Bangalore), & art (Pushpamala N., Bangalore).

Listen in…

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #TAAL show.

Prof. Moinak Biswas (film studies) is currently at the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University (JU), Kolkata. He received his education in English literature from Jadavpur University and went on to do his doctoral research on Indian cinema at Monash University, Melbourne. He taught English for four years in a government college in West Bengal before joining the newly launched department of Film Studies at JU. In 2008, he initiated The Media Lab at Jadavpur, a centre for experiments in digital arts and archiving. He edits the annual journal of the Department, ‘Journal of The Moving Image’. He was also one of the founding editors of ‘Bio-Scope, South Asian Screen Studies’ published by Sage, India. Prof. Biswas’ key research interests are Indian cinema and contemporary cultural politics. He writes in Bengali & English. His father, Hemango Biswas (1912-1987), was a major composer / singer, and a leading figure in the IPTA movement. Prof. Biswas inherited an interest in political thought and folk music from his father and an abiding interest in literature from his teachers. He is self-taught in Film Studies and believes that one should combine creative efforts in making images with critical engagement with them. He made a short film ‘Graffiti’ in Super 8 mm in 1983 as an undergraduate student and a feature film, ‘Sthaniya Sambaad’ (with Arjun Gourisaria) in 2010. He is currently engaged in making a multimedia artwork.

Prof. Gadadhar Misra (mathematics, operator theory) is at the Department of Mathematics, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. He completed his M. Sc. from Sambalpur University (1979) & his Ph.D. from Stony Brook University, New York (1982). His Ph.D. thesis was titled, ‘Curvature inequalities and extremal properties of Bundle shifts’. Before returning to India in the year 1986, he taught at University of Georgika, Athens and University of California, Irvine. He was at the Indian Statistical Institute during 1986 2007, where he served as the Head of the Bangalore Centre from 1997-2002. His research is in the area of operator theory. Applying techniques from representation theory of Lie groups and complex geometry, he has obtained a canonical model as well as a complete set of invariants for a class of Hilbert modules, a complete classification of all irreducible homogeneous operators in the Cowen-Douglas class and curvature inequalities for a class of operators. Prof. Misra is a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS), Indian National Science Academy (INSA), National Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the the J C Bose National Fellowship. He is the recipient of several awards, including the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in Mathematical Sciences (2001).

Pushpamala N. (art) currently works as an independent artist based in Bangalore. She studied BA (1982) and MA (1985) in Sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda. Starting off her career as a sculptor, Pushpamala began using photography and video in the mid-1990s, creating tableaux and photo-romances in which she casts herself in various roles. Interested in history and the idea of cultural memory, she cites a wide range of references in her series of masquerades where she simultaneously inhabits and questions familiar frames from art history, photography, film, theatre and popular culture, thereby placing herself as the artist at the centre of social and political inquiry. In her work as a photo and video-performance artist, sculptor, writer, curator and provocateur, and in her collaborations with writers, theatre directors and filmmakers, she seeks to subvert the dominant cultural and intellectual discourse. She exhibits widely in India and internationally, and speaks often at seminars and conferences. She held her first solo exhibition in 1983 at Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore, which was an exhibition of woodcuts & sculpture. Some of her recent projects have been a combination of photographs, live performances, & installations. A few notable ones are: ‘The Arrival of Vasco da Gama’ (2014), Mother India Project’ (2005-), & Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs (2005).

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.

#TAAL mentionsGauss, Karl Marx, Man Ray, André Breton, & Alexander Grothendieck, among others.