Gaurav Ogale is a digital artist with a love for a time gone by. In his video and multimedia works — often in the form of short narrative films, published on social media and full of surreal juxtapositions — he harnesses the “unexplainable power of nostalgia”, paying homage to his childhood in Pune and life in Mumbai. The videos are like short stories narrating the small moments from the artist’s life, told through doodles, paper cut-outs, typography and photographs, and moving to the rhythm of his favourite wistful music. “I remember a lot and I hate leaving things behind,” says the artist. “And so I have to find a different way to carry my memories. For me, this means translating them into audio and video pieces. I create them so that I can keep revisiting my memories.”
With no fixed studio space, Gaurav makes a corner for himself wherever he is — at home, a friend’s kitchen or at a residency in Goa or rural France. “I carry the objects that allow me to think and create,” he says, “not only tools like my iPad Pro on which I take to write and draw, but also the more sentimental objects that ground me.” He shows us some of these objects — a worn leather bound notebook from his school days, a ceramic bookmark collected in Marrakesh during a residency and a little bottle of perfume, a gift from his father.
“I was looking at the doodles and words, and couldn’t help but feel that they were trapped on the page. They had to move and speak for them to be true to my memory.”
Most of his time, the artist admits, is spent day-dreaming. “I let my mind wander till an idea interrupts me,” he says, explaining the seeds of his video-animations that play out his daydreams, in which chairs stand on walls as if they were floors, and human legs poke out of snail shells. Before these ideas can take visual form, the artist writes out his thoughts either on paper or Notes app when using the Magic Keyboard connected to his iPad Pro . “It could be a poem, some bullet points or a long letter,” he says. “Writing is a way for me to build a world in which the visuals will live.” And often, it is a single word that unlocks the work for him, that makes him “feel a certain way” and sets him off on the visual journey.
A “techno-phobe” in a previous life, the artist now finds his iPad Pro, armed with Procreate and the Adobe Suite, to be an irreplaceable part of his practice. On it, he sketches and colours using Apple Pencil, and drops in scans and photos — all of which are then animated on Adobe Premiere, to make the static and disparate images into one fluid whole. “I wish someone told me three years ago that technology is not as rigid and unfriendly as I thought it was!” he says, laughing. “It has become such a support system — iPad Pro’s display is so sensitive, it feels like sketching on paper.”
A turning point in Gaurav’s relationship with technology came while flipping through his childhood journals, all the way back in 2018, at the very beginning of his life as an artist. “I was looking at the photos and doodles and words, and couldn’t help but feel that they were trapped on the page. They had to move and speak for them to be true to my memory.” It was then that audio-visual technology came to his rescue, helping him set his memories free.
“The most important part of my work is the archiving, documenting and recording,” Gaurav says, who has a special eye and ear for the passing moments of the everyday. Be it recording sounds on the street, saving images on Instagram and on Photos app on his iPhone and iPad Pro, writing down lyrics from songs and poems, he is always collecting little stories, sentences, melodies and images, to later put together into his collage-like videos. Physical objects too play an important role in his virtual dream world, be it an old geometry box belonging to his grandfather or a little black-and-white photograph of his grandmother with her sister found in the bed box of his family home in Pune.
“When you work with the right person, someone who understands the value of collaboration, you are able to make something truly special, something impossible to do alone.”
Over the pandemic, Gaurav started a new series of multimedia videos made in collaboration with performing artists for which he has now become best known. “During the pandemic, everyone around me was looking to do something new, and I was speaking to a lot of theatre artists who were especially looking for ways to create while every venue was shut,” he says. Over conversations with his soon-to-be collaborators, including actors Jim Sarbh, Sheena Khalid and Kalki Koechlin, directors Zoya Akhtar and writer Manu Pillai, the artist started to conceive of vignettes that would show glimpses of his collaborators’ deeper selves. With Sarbh, for example, Gaurav created a visual world of William Carlos Williams’ poem Danse Russe, a favourite of the actor, with outline drawings of the actor dancing to the voiceover of Sarbh reciting the poem. Ever since this series, the artist has worked almost exclusively in collaboration. He explains, “When you work with the right person, someone who understands the value of collaboration, you are able to make something truly special, something impossible to do alone.”
When asked about his definition of the word “extraordinary”, Gaurav hesitates and says, “to be honest, I am still looking for the meaning of that word. We are all ordinary people and lead ordinary lives. But something within that can become extraordinary.” The impulse is always to capture the fleeting sights and sounds of the everyday — to collect, remember and canonise what may otherwise be left behind.
Gaurav Ogale will show in the Digital Residency Hub at The Studio at India Art Fair 2023 as part of the Digital Artists in Residence Programme. His poster turns the concept of a biography best-seller on its head, using the elements of the grand book cover to pay homage to the ordinary people who leave an extraordinary impression on our lives.