When I first saw David Baptiste Chirot’s rub-art be calls “rub-beings”, a continuous string of images drew across me – images garnered from Bengali poems I grew up reading. The sweet-shop with a backside kitchen. In the early morning hours, two obese Sandesh chefs pressing and kneading a large bucketful of dough placed on the floor with their feet wrapped in plastic-shoes. I loved to watch them apply soft Sandesh mix on shaping dies made of black stone.
A quiet, obscure rubbing, like the pages of a closed book brushing against each other. Like a dead leaf caught in the storm, slapped on the window pane, latching onto it all night, shedding off only in the morning, stamping its ghost on the glass. Like an ongoing text which has barely a “body”. An amorphous shape, without structure – a text, one stalks the whole day like the cat of Jibanananda*.
Those “rub-beings” were cultural reproduction of a magical kind. An endless series of artwork on all sorts of material – these were precisely their life-tales and their noodle-knot of associated feelings. All at once, in an earth-turning event. Although ever-curious about the art-making process, here at first I didn’t want to know how they were created, whether these could be called ‘paintings’ or ‘sculptures’ or ‘organic sculpto-paintings’.
Here was an “undoing” in the disguise of impression-making. Extraction of negativity in order to recreate a different version of the positive. A loose woolen thread pulled at to unfurl the whole hand-knit sweater. A raised bucketful, let go into the well. Form yielding to unformability.
David explained soon, via a stream of email exchanges. He spoke about a flooded small town where some buildings had started to collapse by midnight. How people had rushed to the graveyard with pencil, paper, ruler and scissors to make negative impressions of gravestones. The yeast of rub-art, which he later called “rub-beings” came from there. Initially, David began to experiment with ink and found material, performing as many transfers and negative-positive transformations as possible. As he settled on a certain process, more experimentation flowed in the form of weathering, sketching, application of color and biodegradable organic material.
Art progressed. Through impressions of the world around us – electric poles, tree-barks, manhole lids, dilapidating walls, rotting window frames and more. A positive growing out of a mother-negative, negativating again to birth another positive. To which David applies more art-making techniques – painting, gluing, inking, masking, collaging and many other processes follow. To add to the uncertainty, he would leave them out in the open at times to invite more impressions of rain and snow, of dust and leaves, of sand and gull-droppings, of time and place. A whole world actually fingerprints his art in a stupefying act of ‘normalizing’ – an act whose complexity confounds as simplicity surfaces. David took a few lines from a Bengali poem by Sabyasachi Sanyal (“I live alone/ under water two-men deep/ my lover/ lives with my love/ under water two-men deep/ not rain/ I like the days that get rain”) and made a rub-being with a card-board man laid atop its faded impression, painted and weathered under a tree beside Lake Michigan during the summer of 2007.
According to theory, true postmodern art must not find a museum. It should be able to form and stay outside art-establishments, studios and salons. David-Baptiste Chirot’s “rub-beings” remain true examples of contemporary postmodern art and how one needs to save them (if at all) from time’s crush, needs creative considerations.
*Bengali poet Jibanananda Das; his poem about running into a cat all day.