Shilo Shiv Suleman is an independent artist. Her Instagram bio reads ‘Lover. Artist. Activist. Storyteller’ and ‘I am known by my creation’. It is these very parts of her identity that were disrespected when a multilingual multi-industry movie Saaho plagiarised her ‘Pulse and Bloom’ art installation.
Shilo created ‘Pulse and Bloom’ for the Burning Man festival in 2014. On its official website Burning Man says that “The copyright of a design, written work, artwork, or performance is owned by the person or group who created it. You must ask permission before capturing such artwork and performances and obtain signed model/property license(s) or release(s) from all appropriate parties.” The makers of Saaho, Shilo tells Silverscreen did not do so. Under section 14(c) of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, artists have the exclusive right to authorise reproductions of their art (even work that is derived from their original work). They also have the sole right to use their art in films or photographs. Any third person who wants to use the art must get a licence from the artist.
“To begin with, I think we need to have a larger conversation about creating support structures between the mainstream and those who choose to work as independent artists,” Shilo says over a phone call. She has chosen to remain independent because the context her work appears in is as important as the work itself for the artist. “I’ve worked with neuroscientists, Syrian refugees, sex workers in Pakistan… For the mainstream to use my creation without me having a say about it, is a problem. As is the context in which my art appears in the film,” Shilo explains. Shilo first saw the Saaho poster that plagiarises her work on Instagram when Shraddha Kapoor shared a poster on her account. “I find the mainstream’s portrayal of women problematic. I am also critical of the aggression,” she says.
‘Pulse and Bloom’ was born out of a love story. “I fell in love with a neuroscientist. It couldn’t have come out of anywhere else. My installation is based on bio-synchronicity,” she explains. “Pulse and bloom uses pulse sensors and light to create visible luminous experiences of union. Put your hand on a flower and see your (own) heartbeat visualised. Place a lover’s hand beside you and breathe until you merge as one… Pulse and Bloom is based on studies that prove when two people spend enough time with each other, looking into each other’s eyes, and breathing with each other – their hearts begin to beat in time like fireflies pulsing in patterns,” she wrote in an Instagram post.
According to a note Shilo shared with Silverscreen the lotuses in her installation are “made of 3 core elements: the flower and petals, the stem and structural base, and the base lilypad. The flower is made of laser cut Rowlux illusion film attached to a metal frame. The slender stem is made of gold powder coated steel pipes that attaches to a base plate. The base lilypad is a comfortable circular sitting surface. Arranged in a circular matrix a diameter of 24 feet, the 10 lotuses contain LED lights wrapped around their stems and inside their flowers that are activated when individual participants physically interact with the lotus. Each lotus is equipped with two IR sensors and microcontrollers, each located on a carved wooden interface, that when pressed by one or two participants translates the participants’ heartbeat into flashing LED lights within the lotus, visually projecting their heart into the flower in the sky.”
It took Shilo a year to create (and more to research) the artwork. “It is is the responsibility of the big mainstream to support the indie scene,” Shilo says, “I really think we need a more responsible culture around creativity. There must be a conversation between original creators and these power structures. Bollywood is a beast really that feeds dreams and shapes realities. It has a responsibility not just towards artists but towards everyone in society.”
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Pulse and bloom uses pulse sensors and light to create visible luminous experiences of union. Put your hand on a flower and see your (own) heartbeat visualised. Place a lovers hand beside you and breathe until you merge as one. Here’s the beautiful thing about human connection, it’s both visible and invisible. a (precious) thing with secret passages that lead from the eyes to the heart. mystics proclaimed it first. the lovers knew it best- we find mirrors in each other (again and again and again) Pulse and Bloom is based on studies that prove- when two people spend enough time with each other, looking into each other’s eyes, and breathing (beating.being) with each other- their hearts begin to beat in time like fireflies pulsing in patterns. Biosynchronicity (let’s call it). . . . This is perhaps why they say we have broken hearts. (when you leave you take the pulse with you) When I first met Rohan, we spent some time breathing together,seeing eye to eye.heart to heart (for a hot minute) before we started talking about biofeedback installations. Making art that reacted to the body, and that used the technology of the quantified self to break down the idea of “Self” completely. This was my unionsong. first spoken out loud with @rd108, forged in metal fire by @heatheraminastewart , coded intricate like lace by @samuelclay structurally earthed by @sabaghole. powered in sunlight by @lukeiseman It cost me a heart. (i’ll make another) I am known by my creation. music by @danleavers made for fearless a few moons ago.xx
(All images of installation by special arrangement with the artist)