An artist with a groundbreaking body of work, he recently held a cutting-edge exhibition in Delhi that addressed the advent of AI. In a freewheeling chat with HELLO!, artist Raghava KKN discusses his interest in varied art forms and why he believes artists need to evolve with the times.
Raghava KK is an intrepid storyteller who uses myriad mediums to share his narrative. He employs traditional forms of painting, installations and performances and has also embraced new media to take his art to the next level — an aspect of his talent that’s evident in his latest work, ‘The Impossible Bouquet’, which was inspired by artificial intelligence, curated by Feroze Gujral and presented by the Gujral Foundation in Delhi.
The artist’s interest in AI-related art perhaps began in 2015, when he created a new compositional process that was part human and part algorithm-driven. Since then, he has widened his artistic horizons, be it through workshops around the world or founding an art collective that helps criticism and education around the subject coexist. In this interview with HELLO!, Raghava takes us on a journey through his years delving into the intricacies of art and what took him so long to return with a solo exhibit.
HELLO!: Your cutting-edge series, ‘The Impossible Bouquet’, focuses on AI. How was the experience putting it together?
Raghava KK: “It was magical for me because for the first time, I was able to work alongside AI to improve my own practice as an artist and a painter. So I was able to show myself — and perhaps the world — that working with AI can make us better versions of whatever we want to be. The result was a collaborative art experience that was immersive. The experience was beyond surprising and truly gratifying.”
H!: The bouquet plays an important role in the series. You disrupted the arrangement by using varied materials to bring it to life. How did you come up with this concept?
RK: “I can trace this evolution back to my first Ted talk on the five lives of an artist. This was when I realised that I live many lives and play many roles — as a father, son, a curious person, learner, student and a teacher — and that each one of these teaches me something about life, the experience and myself. So constantly trying to reinvent myself and presenting different parts of myself got solidified when I read Ramachandra Guha and Shashi Tharoor’s ‘Concepts of an Impossible Democracy’. I thought India’s offer to the global world was this idea of an impossible democracy where multiple realities coexist as a beautiful, impossible bouquet, an arrangement. The concept’s been running through my work since I started, but only in the past five years did I create a series called ‘The Impossible Bouquet’. This was an evolution of that, truly an impossible bouquet with the melding of the physical and digital, all materials, all geometry…”
H!: This was also your first solo exhibit after many years. What took you so long?
RK: “First, considering Covid alone will take two years off the list. Second, I went through a personal journey, where I retreated into myself to introspect. It was what I call a spiritual growth phase. I wanted to reinvent aspects of myself, so I took some time off. But I’m back now. All of me is back. I may have been away from the art world, but I was very active in several other worlds.”
H!: The concern with AI is that it replicates human behaviour and actions, but can take away from the authenticity that an artist can bring to his work. Your comments, please.
RK: “The one thing that an artist can and tries to control is the encounter, the meeting of the viewer with their work. This encounter is sacred, ‘The Impossible Bouquet’, the latest exhibit by Raghava KK, is the artist’s attempt at depicting the benefits of working in harmony with AIregardless of how it comes to be. And we, as artists, build tools that help us evolve. I don’t think muscle memories are ever lost. You can augment or replace, though I think we choose to augment.” Disruption must be unfolded into a civilisation for it to reinvent itself. So we don’t lose anything; we only gain. For instance, in this series, I paint, invent, make collages and work with AI. I use conceptual ideas to engage with the artwork, and it has all of me. I don’t have to separate muscle power from brain power. That binary doesn’t have to exist anymore.”
H!: You created this interesting performance ‘eye candy’ on Instagram to engage with the young audience. Is the onus now on the artist to adopt various mediums to reach a larger spectrum of viewers?
RK: “I reached out to this new audience because I wanted to be at their level. I want to be engaging with the reality that’s changing what it means to be us. I want to participate. I can choose to be left behind and hold on to what I grew up understanding, or I can keep evolving my personality, which is beyond my skill, my ideas, my labour and everything one can define. I believe I can bring Raghava to the table regardless of medium. You choose to narrate the history of art through mediums. I choose to live through multiple mediums, many lives, and learn new aesthetics about what it means to be alive, to be Raghava.”
H!: You were the first Indian to launch an NFT at Sotheby’s New York, in partnership with the NGO Burning Man, where AI came into play once again. You also had a collaborative AI piece that was long-listed for the 2021 Lumen Prize. Do you feel that now more than ever, artists need to evolve and move away from traditional art?
RK: “I think artists need to wake up and look at new tools of transcendence, which can allow them to catalyse the reality we want to live in. This is one of the most unique opportunities India has brought in to contribute to a contemporary consciousness. We are 75 years old and have experimented with a new kind of ‘impossible’ democracy. And I think that’s what the world needs to understand: how to be whole without a definition; how not to be a brand, but a personality. These are very spiritual Eastern, philosophical ideas. We can now use new media to talk about these things.”
Photo of Raghava KK: Kamya Gupta; Artworks Courtesy: The Gujral Foundation
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the March 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!