Pop Quiz: Showkat Katju’s Glass Bead Game

Amjad Majid

The Glass Bead Game by Showkat Katju

Q1: The above images depict which of the following? You may choose more than one answer:

A.  A sculpture.

B. A game to pile up rocks without them falling all over the place.

C. Photographs documenting an art performance.

D. Contemporary photography.

E. A man erecting a stone idol to start a new religion or to invoke an ancient one.

F. A man placing rocks in an impossibly tough order in a remote area and walking away into the horizon so that the trekkers and locals who find his rock arrangement the next day start getting superstitious and spread rumors about how the site of his artifice is haunted.

G. A man placing rocks in an impossibly tough order in a remote area and walking away into the horizon so that the trekkers and locals who find his rock arrangement the next morning start suspecting that someone from the nearby village is secretly practicing witchcraft or djinncraft during the night.

H. A man emulating or reminiscing child-play from times when there were no screens and nature provided the toys and puzzles to be assembled using one’s bare hands and absolutely without clicking a mouse or pressing a finger on a touchscreen.

I. A man trying to challenge earthquakes.

J. A man who chooses to believe that ‘rock’ in the word ‘rocket’ is there for a reason and thus tries to assemble one made from…

K. Freud

L. A man trying to get wind to give gravity a helping hand to be part of his game in order to establish intent, motive, predetermination, agency and will beyond human, animal, plant and other forms of life on the planet.

M. A man trying to tell a government “this is far more constructive and healing than all that you have ever done” without ever uttering a sentence to institutions and figures of authority who are unworthy of his silence as well as his speech.

N. A man inaugurating an exhibition at an open-air gallery, museum or biennale, consisting of a solo show with only one artwork, where nobody is invited for the opening yet anyone and everyone is welcome if a chance encounter wills it so.

O. A man making a gift to nature in its own image and of its own matter.

P. A man tempting birds.

Q. A man developing an activity that emulates the therapeutic effects of practicing Chinese calligraphy with brush and ink for hours, requiring great tact, care, tenacity and patience with soft gestures and smooth movements.

R. A man hoping that his peculiar rock arrangement will go unnoticed for thousands of years and then the humans of the future who discover it will construct all sorts of theories about its origin and purpose, thereby giving birth to new myths.

S. A man trying to make Kashmir the center of the world by placing a marker made of stones balancing on each other, a marker which he believes to be the center of the world, the “kilometer zero” from which the planet spreads into its material being.

T. A man extending the range of his action by leaving its trace and result in the form of a stone statue (i.e. the material proof of his action) such that when it falls over in the absence of the man, it will still maintain the continuity of the motions he set into place to build the statue to begin with. The whole exercise thus can be seen as a metaphor for the big bang and the expansion of the universe as a singular event that unfolds into further events.

U. A man building a structure that he secretly calls and identifies as “the stone cactus,” never letting anyone else know that that is the name he has chosen to give the object.

V. A man thinking to himself that he shall create a structure that resembles fossilized goat feces pooped out by a gigantic goat from prehistoric times and consequently, centuries later, a cult of giant goat worshipers will emerge making the contemporary worship of other farm animals obsolete.

W. A man constructing a snowman out of stone to conjure the winter to arrive in a bid for the snow to fall.

X. A man attempting to develop an exercise of concentration and great focus.

Y. A man building a structure whose true significance and purpose only he knows one other person to know, and hoping that that person will find the said structure, activating a memory from their past, with the possibility that the man and the other person are one and the same, a self and an other, set apart by time.

Z. A man who invokes a game after reading a novel in which the characters are involved in a game whose internal and specific mechanics are not immediately discernible but whose ultimate function is to connect disparate thoughts and ideas to refine their association and thus become more profound and diversified. As such, each instance of the game, such as the one illustrated in the photos above, is a reinvention of the original concept of the game as well as a reimagining of it.

About the one question “Pop Quiz”

A schoolteacher based in China, who works as an art critic at night, scrolls through social media to find Showkat Katju’s post of two photographs with a simple caption “The Glass Bead Game.” As a joke, the school teacher decides to post a multiple choice question with five possible answers in the comments section of the said post. Soon enough the school teacher finds himself enveloped in a game of sorts that leads him to extend the possibility of answers to a total of 26, for each of the letters of the English alphabet.

Soon enough he starts marking the distinctions between the vowels and consonants in the answer choices, and the specific letters of the answer choices that spell out his name and the names of others as well as the names of places. This alters the order and extends the multiplicity by which the question can be read since the intention is to create a sort of “list-poem” that is a reflection of language as a “combinatorics of letters,” with all these pointing back to the two images shared by Showkat Katju.

As such, the two images by Katju and more specifically the rock arrangement depicted in them thus become a repository for the 26 answer choices corresponding to the 26 letters of the English alphabet. The 26 answer choices, in turn, are pointers that reference the stone object and the man depicted in the two images. And the fact that “none of the above” or “all of the above” are not options in the list of possible answers, while the question connivingly states that “You may choose more than one answer,” complicates the possibilities of the right answer, if there is to be one in the first place. Of course, this again is only known to the school teacher whose one question with 26 potential answers, including their combinations, is a simple demonstration of how art can be perceived, interpreted, and employed to arrive at multiple meanings and establish a range in signification and semiosis.

Last but not least, the caption (“The Glass Bead Game”) by Showkat Katju on his two images in itself opens up a portal since it is a reference to Herman Hesse’s novel of the same name, a reference that again reinforces the secret pact between image and word, visual art and literature, art-making and its interpretation as well as art criticism. Ultimately, a conclusive observation can be made that creativity in one inspires creativity in others at the intersection of visual art and literary production at the juncture where image and text get to play. And this again is how certain aspects of Herman Hesse’s novel come to life and that too from Kashmir and out into the world beyond the mountains.


Showkat Katju is a Kashmiri art educator and artist.
Amjad Majid is a Kashmiri writer and art critic.

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