A work of art is an artefact that reflects the artist's sensory/aesthetic perceptions and shares the concerns about the time in which he/she lives. In other words, these artefacts created by the artists are considered part of the archival material used to construct the grand narration of social history. Jacques Derrida says, "the archons are first of all the documents' guardians." Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook explain it further on the function and potential of the archives: "This represents enormous power over memory and identity, over the fundamental ways in which society seeks evidence of what its core values are and has been, where it has come from, and where it is going. Archives are not passive storehouses of old stuff, but active sites where social power is negotiated, contested, confirmed".
A legitimate question is who has the credibility to select these suitable artefacts to create an archive. In other words, it is necessary to consider how people's living environments and experiences have represented in historical studies by compiling the archival materials. In a society where graded inequality has been existing for centuries, the dominant discourse has always been controlling the systems of knowledge ,cultural expressions and social life of the marginalized classes. Therefore, understanding social history written from the elitist perspective is inadequate.
The gap between empirical and theoretical knowledge-based practice has widened since the 1960s with the emergence of "ultra conceptual art ("dematerialization") . The status of artists practicing traditional art methods has been degraded by the dominant discourse. According to Lippard and Chandler, “conventional art media are no longer adequate as media to be messages in themselves”.
The implication of conceptual art has brought a dilemma in visual art practices in choosingthe suitable aesthetics to appreciate the work of art, especially in India. Looking back to the idea of dematerialization, which progressed during the 1960s and 70s, one can find that art practices have not progressed linearly as Schillinger or Lippard had anticipated, and the traditional way of practicing visual art has yet to reach the saturation point. Achieving dematerialization may not be the ultimate goal of the pioneers of the conceptual artists, but they intend to simplify the art to break the complexity. They argue that simplicity leads to discovering what is truly indispensable and meaningful. However, in reality, it has created the opposite effect. The inability of the artist who practices art traditionally in articulating their works theoretically force them to withdraw from mainstream art practice. Eventually, it creates an inferiority complex among them.
Although discussions on this topic have been vital and relevant in sociological and cultural studies in India, this debate has hardly touched upon art criticism and practices in India. Gopal Guru, in the context of social science, argues that the social science practice in India has created a cultural hierarchy dividing it into a vast inferior mass of academics who pursue empirical social science and a privileged few who are considered the theoretical pundits with a reflective capacity, which makes them intellectually superior to the former. Though Guru's area of study is social sciences, the same argument also can be applied to the field of visual art practices and art criticism in India, especially within the context of contemporary art practices in India. The idea of "experience as theory" has a long history and has been rooted in the philosophy of phenomenology. The philosophy of phenomenology played a crucial role in moulding the modern Western art of the 20th century. It tries to define man's relationship to the phenomenon by disclosing and describing its fundamental essence, devoid of all rational, intellectual, and conventional presuppositions. Merleau-Ponty defines phenomenology in these terms:
Phenomenology is also a philosophy which puts essences back into existence ... It is the search for a philosophy which shall be a rigorous science, but it also offers an account of space, time and the world as we 'live' them. It tries to give a direct description of our experience without considering its psychological origin and the causal explanations that the scientist, the historian or the sociologist may be able to provide.
By imposing the theoretical premises forcefully in the field of art practices, the specific group is always privileged to do only theory, and others are left with their living experiences/empirical knowledge. Eventually, it works as a negative factor against egalitarian principles. The question here is, "why ‘one has an innate ability only to do theory? Alternatively, whether the practicingtheory is only one's natural disposition?". It also raises a relevant question: why can an emotion or lived experiences not be a theory?
Taking this discourse further, in the exhibition entitled Whose memoirs? Whose Archive? An Empirical survey, artists from various cultural backgrounds shares their collective memory of their lived experiences. Eventually, this collective memory has become an archive of their empirical knowledge and becomes a representation of the enigmatic reality of the time and space they live in. These experiences can be something other than a first-person experience. Instead, it can represent shared /collective memory of the genetic past. This particular exhibition originated from the discussion over the widening gap between empirical and theoretical based practices. However, the works selected for the exhibition are not of an exclusive nature. Instead, myattempt is to blur the line between empirical and theoretical based practices so as to make it inclusive. Intellectual and aesthetic pleasure can merge in this experience when the work is visually intense and theoretically complex.