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Navin Thomas

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1974, Chennai, India
Lives and works in Bangalore, India

Navin Thomas is an experimental artist, whose works primarily explore the co-existence of electro-acoustic ecologies with natural ecologies i.e. the effect of sound either generated or broadcasted electronically on insects, birds, humans, etc. A self-proclaimed flea-market junkie, he often uses discarded electronic equipment in his installations. His works are multi-layered and experiential in nature, stressing on the audio component of artworks, rather than the visual.


Diploma in Graphic design
Diploma in Cinematography, Karnataka Film and Technical Training Centre, Bangalore, India


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Pop culture influences mark his oeuvre

From Phantom’s Skull Cave to Japanese Horikawa robots of the 1980s, Thomas’s pop-culture influences are as strange and varied as his works. In the series titled Future Tales in Automation, he presented a satirical view of the call centre culture and telephone sales by bringing together two popular icons –telephone handsets with mythical creatures mirroring the cult illustrative style of Amar Chitra Katha comics. So we can see winged gods wondering aloud through speech bubbles and faces in the series sporting parrot-like beaks, possibly representing the call centre employees. The juxtaposition of mythical creatures with contemporary objects alludes to how far technology has entered our lives, possible even taking the place of god.

Navin Thomas, Future Tales in Automation, 2005, print on archival paper, 130 (w) x 89 (h) cm

Personal, rather than the political is what informs his work

For Thomas, his art is neither political nor a commentary on the times, but rather something very personal. The subjects of his projects are things that have shaped him or piqued his curiosity. Consider Future Tales in Automation, 2005, which marries his love for comics and his experience as a local call centre trainee. His 2011 public installation Ode to dengue is another instance of the artist living his art. The installation featured UV lights designed like a flower, made from discarded objects. The purpose was to observe the effect of the light on a local bat colony and other nocturnal insects. His fixation with used electronics, birds and insects dates back to his childhood years of fiddling with the family radio or trying to teach his grandparents’ parrot to talk.
Also, the sudden element of surprise that a viewer might feel on being faced with Thomas’s work is the same as what the artist experiences when hunting for its components. So the viewer’s surprise is first born into the artist’s mind as he has already ‘lived’ the thrill that the viewer shares, thereby making Thomas’s work all the more personal.

Navin Thomas, My love is an icy cold fever, 2011, Insect attracting ultra violet bulbs, steel frame and generator, 9 x 7’ approx.

Giving life to electronic junk

A flea-market junkie, salvaging electronic junk is another way for Thomas to delve deeper into culture. According to him "you can tell a lot about a culture from what it throws away ", and so many of his installations incorporate rescued scrap with audio capacity –from old PCO telephones to public announcement loudspeakers to a toy that sings in Iranian. It is almost as if he resurrects junk so that it can tell the tale of its previous owners.

In 2007 at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Thomas created a whole room out of ‘found’ materials like sheets, mousetraps and live crickets. The furniture and walls were all covered in white and the focus was on a spherical “nest” filled with twigs, a stool and an old TV. The TV played live video feed of a rooftop view with Pittsburgh in the background. It is a historical piece that evokes a feeling of the room having been vacated or abandoned for something better and more exciting. A characteristic trait of the artist is using what has been ‘found’ outside to shed some light on our inner selves.

Navin Thomas, Installation view at Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, 2006, mixed media including: found twigs, steel sphere, salvaged electronics, furniture, used sheets, live crickets, mousetraps, dimensions variable.

Navin Thomas, Detail, Mattress Factory, 2006.

Exploring the electro-acoustic ecology, the intersection of technology and nature

Navin Thomas’s works are primarily sound installations made from public telephones, discarded TV sets, old tapes, ultraviolet lights, urinals and other such everyday materials. Through these he attempts to understand how living beings react to and co-exist with sonic magnetic environments. He maintains that we are constantly exposed to radio in some form or the other, what with our lives being dominated by modern technology.

A perfect example of the artist’s exploration of electro-acoustic ecology is his 2010 installation titled “…”. A tree-like structure made out of salvaged industrial pipes, radio antennas and discarded transistors that played blank frequencies. To this buzzing ‘tree’ were introduced live, hand-raised birds. Each time a bird flew around or perched on one of the ‘branches’, there was a fluctuation in the intensity of the sounds coming from the radio.

This installation featured in his award-winning exhibition ‘From the town’s end…’ which showcased other such sonic environments in relation to the natural ecology.

Navin Thomas, …, 2010, Detail, Salvaged industrial pipes, radio antennas, discarded transistors, live hand raised birds, 258cm x 121cm x 108cm

Navin Thomas, …, 2010, Detail

His work eludes single meanings

Thomas admits that he enjoys ‘messing with your mind’ and considers it an accomplishment if the viewers don’t exactly ‘get’ his art. His projects are more about observation rather than conclusion, just ‘looking’ (or listening) at the artworks, rather than getting answers.

In Don’t stare at the light, too brightly… from the show ‘From the town’s end’ (2010), he again examines how little species react to electronics. Ultraviolet lights mounted on an industrial exhaust fan are used to attract insects while one of the two salvaged speakers play the calls of nighttime insects, and the other one plays the instrumental of the popular jazz number My Funny Valentine. From one view, it is a tale of bittersweet Shakespearean romance, with the insects dying out of their devotion to the light ‘flower’. Another way to look at it is as the decay of natural life in light of human technology.

Navin Thomas, Don't stare at the light, too brightly..., 2010, night view, industrial exhaust fan, insect attracting ultraviolet bulbs, salvaged speakers (public announcement speaker from mosque, customized hat box), 2 track sound piece, variable dimensions.