The Art of Failure

Artist Blog by Debmalya Roy Choudhuri

"Rather than searching for ways around death and disappointment, the queer art of failure involves the acceptance of the finite, the embrace, of the absurd, the silly, and the hopelessly goofy. Rather than resisting endings and limits, let us instead revel in and cleave to all of our own inevitable fantastic failures" - J.J Halberstam (American Author & academic)

“Failure is my project. Through this very failure, I reclaim my life once again. Through this very failure, I come close to understanding the limits and the lack thereof of what life has been and what life can be. Through this very failure, I can see my truest desires, reinvent my destiny, live up to my words through the gestures and actions of being, and perhaps imagine a world that still has some real love and hope alive, somewhere.”

What I am going to write next might be perceived, which also informs my work, can be viewed as “controversial” or even make some uncomfortable. It is everything about and around what photography is too. Yet I do hope you will hear me out. Much of what I speak and work with, perhaps sometimes not so explicitly, involves taboo issues around trauma, mental illness, sexuality, addiction, death, and even suicide. This is not just about that. It is a sincere attempt to address all those who might still resonate with me in the chaos. Failure is a project, not the opposite of success. In today’s world, which commercially is no different than the other corporate structures that function under the binary logic of neo-liberal capitalism, the winner takes it all. A very glamorous shiny surface. Often a very affluent and heteronormative aggression that is imposed on the rest of the world.

I always wondered what happened to those who did not win in this game.

What about the homeless artist? The ones who cannot afford rent or stable housing, leave alone a studio or a big camera? What about the artist who works multiple jobs on minimum wages only to feed their familiy? What about the artists who do not have the time or the luxury to engage in glamorous shows and be part of cherry-picked events? What about the artist by passion? The artist at night? What about when the violence of life itself makes one an artist? Why do photography and its cultivated aesthetics and trends only cater to a certain economic and social class? Why do things have to be so controlled? If we can’t address despair or our traumas in an honest and real way, how can we even care or love?

At the same time, many trans and queer folks who are outsiders and cannot integrate into this logic will eventually disappear. It is the “present” and on the other side, the ones who feel they can never be. The pure essence of existence reduced to a commodified hyperreality. I only have my words to stand for, my images to speak for.

James Baldwin once said, “You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you. If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.”

Failure is my project to develop an alternative form - failure as the safe space where this notion of success in art and life can be unmade, not just as someone who has a mental illness, not as someone who has lived precariously on the edge of death, but just as another self among several such multitudes who might feel they are never enough.

Perhaps it will take a lifetime to change for real, beyond mere platitudes, and I may even die before that. But one must start somewhere. Maybe talking about it and sharing it with people is the first step. All my images are failures in a way. So, all I can do is take responsibility for this and keep going.

I envision failure as a real new form of future-making. To create an inclusive community beyond mere platitudes, by establishing a certain intimacy with those I spend time with. Failure is not to keep a cultivated brand, especially at a time when life itself is a market product, but to challenge this notion of the brand making as art. Failure as a new recourse to life. Failure as a radical anti-capitalist stance to embrace, failure as a new form that gives hope to a community of people, black and brown folks, those from the streets, and those who feel discarded, who thought they could never belong to this glorified madness. Perhaps this is one last attempt to free us from the shackles and aesthetics of glorified production and consumption that is appropriated for this show. And yet, the show must go on...

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