Mrityunjay Chatterjee

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year and six months

This grant will support designer, Mrityunjay Chatterjee, to undertake research towards a book on the production, distribution, and design aesthetics of pamphlets, stickers, posters and little magazines produced and sold from Battala and College street in Kolkata. Both Battala and College Street are hubs for the printing and distribution of pulp literature and other popular print media. Mrityunjay’s unique research will look at these popular print forms from the designer’s point of view. A part of his study analyses the visual aesthetics of these forms. He will trace networks through which the forms travelled, and their links to the designer’s/expected viewer’s social class. The book will also document the innovative printing processes employed by the creators. In recent times, the expression and vitality of popular print forms have become a significant part of contemporary art practice, theory, and research in the field of visual culture. Cultural theorists and historians have analysed film posters, matchboxes and sleeves of long-playing records as valid art forms. Artists today incorporate posters, newspapers, pamphlets, banners, hoardings, signboards and stickers into work that finds a place within art galleries and the commercial ethos of international art fairs. Mrityunjay’s research will reveal how popular print forms play an active role in shaping notions of a particular contemporary aesthetic.

Integral to the aesthetic analysis will be the study of modes and networks for the distribution of these objects. The distribution networks being unique, unlike published books or magazines, they work through links between formal and informal distributors, volunteers and low-paid vendors. Sometimes these objects are distributed through friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. Inter-city buses, local trains, and trucks play a very important role for the mobility and visibility of these objects. Stickers in a local train or pamphlets pasted in public places carry immense potential to influence people. They function as both autonomous objects and catalysts. Given the small budgets available for printing these forms, technical innovation is crucial. Second-hand printing machines or recycled plates, diluted inks or butter paper are used to cut corners. The printing machines, ink, paper and other materials are carefully used in production, with a keen attention to detail. Since the life-cycle of these objects is often short, the economics of their production rely on their being sold in bulk quickly.

Along with studying the printing units and distribution networks, Mrityunjay will meet with the writers, producers and designers of these materials. In order to see how these materials were sold and received he shall visit fairs, stalls, trains, buses, and walls. The book will carry photographic documentation of these locations. It also contains images of printing presses, cover pages of little magazines, stickers, posters, and pamphlets. Each image shall be annotated with technical information/available history. Mrityunjay addresses the following questions in his book: a) How do the design aesthetics of popular print forms reflect and influence a contemporary sensibility? b) What makes these popular print forms the most authentic representation of a local community? c) How do these forms straddle a public and private reception by their viewers? d) Do processes of circulation invariably fragment and alter the essence of these popular forms?