Zones of Privacy | Books as Art Objects | Chatterjee & Lal

Could a book be viewed as an art object, or simply as a series of photographic reproductions? Contemporary artists in India continue to use a diverse vocabulary of abstract forms to convey their ideas. As a result of which, they have understood the potential of the book to go beyond than just an act of displaying information. In this light, Zones of Privacy, an exhibition curated by Rukminee Guha Thakurta brings forth a platform where books meet art, in ways unimagined. The exhibition showcases the works of 27 artists who have engaged with the book form idiosyncratically, allowing the audience to dive into the private lives of the creators themselves.

On display is an assorted collection of sketchbooks, scrapbooks, diaries, and photo-books assembled next to each other on various tables. The viewer has the luxury of sitting down and browsing through each individual book, navigating her or his way into the artist’s contours of thought. From the artist’s point of view, they become totally vulnerable by creating work so raw and poignant, evoking emotions in others who read their books. The series of books exhibited reveal to what extent the artist wants the consumer to consume him or her, that is to say how many of the artist’s personal thoughts and memories should be put out in the open as viewing objects for a third person to scrutinise.

As the visitor uses latex gloves to delicately turn each page of each book, the reader is invited to step into the private zone of the author. As a result, a deep intimate bond is created between the reader and the book. Each book deals with a different subject – exploring themes of love, lust, humour, happiness, and melancholia. Furthermore, along with various themes the form of the book — its colour, shape, size, cover page, style of binding, and material of pages – all generate an experience of great anticipation for the reader. These small details must be paid attention to, because they form an integral part of the book, being in sync with the type of story the book entails.

Artists whose works are exhibited include Sohrab Hura, Priya Kuriyan, Prashant Miranda, Dayanita Singh, Chaitanya Solanki, Nityan Unnikrishnan, and Nida Ghouse among others. Some finds are truly fascinating, Chaitanya Solanki created a small personal journal titled “Ascension”, which is an ode to dying animals that society abandons. The book captures the last few moments of a few animals in urban landscapes. Upon viewing the book, the audience engages with the artist’s passing thoughts, further getting an understanding of how the artist feels for the millions of animals  on the streets who are treated as non-living entities, yet they aren’t so.

 

Other artists too dealt with darker thoughts, such as Magnum photographer Sohrab Hura. “There’s a lot of suffering in this house”, the photographer provides the reader with an uncomfortable personal detail with the opening line of his photo journal. Hura documents his relationship with his mother, who was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia in the year 1999. Through his photography, he speaks of how his mother was not the “regular” mother. “Our initial years were spent hiding from the world,” he writes. “Hers out of paranoia, and mine out of embarrassment and anger towards who she had become.” His dog named Elsa can be found in many of the photographs, who is constantly  seen with drooping ears, as though the depressive state of his mother has affected the dog. Hura is brutally honest with his experiences at home, revealing a transparent truth to the reader.

In contrast, Rohit Saha’s works explore themes of love through the medium of photography. The photo-journal reflects an on-going story about two lovers and how their relationship is lodged between uncertainties of space and time. Further, the journal traces how their love blossomed despite being in two different cities. Upon waiting for months, yearning for each other’s touch, they would meet in hotel rooms. The cover page beautifully ends in a quote, “Departures were inevitable and replete with raises for another tomorrow.”

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Among the books exhibited, a thick grey and white photo journal entitled “Seeking Moksha” holds Nishant Shukla’s encounter with pilgrims and spiritual seekers, all of whom who are in a constant search for moksha (liberation). The journal describes the photographer’s journey to the Himalayas over six years, where he fantasised about spending his life in solitary living in the midst of serene mountains.

Besides leaving a lasting impression upon the viewers, Zones of Privacy has provoked some unexpected and surprising conclusions regarding what actually comprises a book. However, some people in the audience might not have an overly positive response to this show. They might argue that the current generation is so used to reading on smart screens, they might not yearn for the smell and texture of old paper, or for that matter might complain about the long hours spent on examining each book carefully. Therefore the potential of such an exhibition to occur again might  come along with its own set of disadvantages. Nevertheless, a question which perhaps might puzzle the audience upon exiting the doors of Chatterjee & Lal is —  which category must a book be put in? The art category or book category?

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Sheetal Gattani | 46 Pillars | Chemould Prescott Road

Sheetal Gattani is among the new grain of contemporary artists in India, and is exhibiting her solo work at the Chemould Prescott Road entitled 46 Pillars. The exhibition espouses Gattani’s marvellous display of perspective, art, and hidden nostalgia in this fast moving world. In an effort to derive an understanding of her work, the exhibition must not be comprehended as a series of objects, instead as a platform of interaction with the existing infrastructure of the Chemould Prescott Road. Having spent over a period of three months within the studio gallery, Gattani has woven stories amongst the pillars installed at the gallery itself. She employs a wide range of materials to engage both with the surrounding space and the viewer. The dioramas on display spark a sweet nostalgia taking the viewer back in time to the city then known as Bombay. As a result, Gattani’s site-specific installation elicits not only a social, but a deep contemplative experience for the on-going gallery visitor.

Bombay has been a prodigious muse to numerous artists for a long period of time. Yet again, Gattani re-imagines the cityscape in 46 pillars as seen from 20 vantage points, with each pillar giving the audience a glimpse of the city. As the viewer travels from one vantage point to another, the artwork responds to the viewer’s position, and a narrative starts to develop. Thus, by looking at other pillars from a particular vantage point, other components of the installation fall into place resulting in composition which can  be seen on a wall from 10 feet away. The multiple drawings on the pillars are reconstructed solely by a romanticised nostalgia, through a memory mapping as imagined by the artist herself.

Previously, Gattani had created a series of artworks for Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. She remarks on how 46 Pillars was initially thought of at her studio at home. She further states that at first she had thought of creating numerous bamboo poles instead of wooden pillars. However, upon her engagement with the gallery space, she realised that installing wooden pillars wood be a much feasible idea since it would compliment the existing pillars at the gallery. Furthermore, Gattani mentions the amount of hard work gone in creating the work in terms of positioning the pillars at the exact angle, working day and night with various carpenters and assistants, along with tons of detailed planning.

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The artist imbues the mundane with meaning by capturing the quintessential Mumbai drink — the ‘cutting chai’, a pocket clock, and an old telephone through charcoal drawings on the pillar walls. Furthermore, as Gattani’s work perforates the gallery space with fibre optics, the most mesmerising aspects of the exhibition are seen —  illuminated sculptures. The artist meticulously creates a tap with flowing water with the use of LED lights. The splashing of water could perhaps indicate a childlike frolicking by splashing water on each other, bringing back memories from childhood, when life was perceived as simple. In another part of the installation the audience can see a lit skyline, which mimic the lights of Mumbai’s high-rises at night. This part provides a point of entry to view Bombay as a growing metropolis transforming into a product of capitalist agenda. As a result, few parts of the installation might be nostalgic for some, and beauty for others.

Equally intriguing is her other body of work titled White Grass (2009), displayed in another section of the gallery. Gattani, trained in print making, explores the dimension of depth through chipping the surface of paper. The works are an abstract body of drawings which are created through a process of repetition by carefully peeling off the surface with a sharp blade. The artist has impressively created a  three dimensionality by simply cutting the canvas and raising parts of it, instilling a need for the audience to dive deeper into the artwork to appreciate the 3D aspect of it. Furthermore, the works appear to be influenced by paintings of Rothko, while some resemble an architectural blueprint, and other textures of textiles such as jute and khadi. However, the artist dismisses all such claims by saying that there was no such intent on her behalf to create such affects.

 

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Interestingly, her series of drawings are devoid of figurative images. Since the artist explores the many facets of Bombay that have woven themselves through her installation, Gattani could have incorporated occupations of people who have got dismissed with time —  flute sellers, knife sharpeners, lottery-wallas, and corn-removers. Perhaps, the artist has deliberately moved away from the stereotype of Bombay being known for its overpopulation. However, the essence of the city is characterised by its diversity — an ability to absorb people from different segments of society along with providing them with  a space to make a living by creating supplies for demands.

Nevertheless, her work beautifully constitutes the nexus between herself and those who receive it. Thus, having spent over three months engaging within the studio gallery, Gattani’s site-specific installation does indeed create a visceral experience for the viewer, which is playful yet solemn. Her work then can be understood as a canvas of urbanism, environment, and cityscapes gently integrated into place.

The Triumph of Aesthetic | Christo Vladimirov Javacheff’s The Floating Piers

 

 

Lustrous, satiny, and monumental are precisely the words which describe prolific artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff’s latest project. The seventy-four year old Bulgarian artist, best known for his stupendous environmental installations has yet again got the internet buzzing about his masterpiece — “The Floating Piers”. This phenomenal installation lies afloat on the surface of Italy’s breathtaking Lake Iseo, and is anticipated to draw a footfall of half a million visitors.

Christo’s outdoor creation is strategically located in the midst of Lake Iseo, striking a strong contrast with the deep blue waters of the lake. The floating installation is created using 200,000 high-density recycled polythene cubes, and is covered in a bright saffron coloured cloth allowing hundreds of visitors to get a chance to walk on water, ever so gently. The saffron coloured undulating pathway resonates a playful, upbeat, even positive aura. Furthermore, the installation links the viewer’s imagination to the mythological scene from the Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’, where invincible lord Ram and his army built a bridge out of stones which float on water, thus enabling him to cross from one point to another in order to rescue his wife, Sita. It is in this light the pathway is viewed, as though one is on a spiritual quest, offering a pilgrimage with an uncertain intention.

Resembling the yellow brick road from the tale of Oz, the piers create a vantage point that can never otherwise cease to exist. The installation exposes the viewer to multiple ways of seeing the artwork as well as alternating perspectives. From a bird’s eye view the installation is seen as a symphony of lines — following stringent, linear geometric interventions. Additionally, the phenomenal installation is remarkably juxtaposed against the free flowing temperament of Iseo, where the solid form of the installation is slicing the soft currents of the water body.

However, the work of art is not restricted to just the Floating Piers. The aesthetic experience entails the scenic lake, the piers, the mountains surrounding the installation, the weather conditions which make the pier enjoyable to walk on — all account for making up the aesthetic. The gentle movement of the waves against the Pier are pacifying yet romantic, as if the waves are caressing the walker on the pier. Thus, for the artist, “The work of art isn’t the Floating Piers…but the journey: those who went will carry them in their minds for the rest of their lives”.

To many, the beauty in Christo’s installation resides in it’s indelible experience. However, a critical question to ask is — what makes the installation so profound? Is it his celebrity status in the art world, or the genuine nature of the artwork that is luring people to his creation? Nevertheless, the large scale installation which is only on for a period of sixteen days, gives the artwork a temporary residence, yet leaves a lasting impression on the viewers.

The Journey Is The Destination | The Artist’s Journey between Then and Now

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The exhibition titled “The Journey Is The Destination” hosted at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, presents an opportunity for the audience to imbibe selected artworks of India’s pioneering contemporary artists. This spellbinding exhibition features works of eight great artists; Anju Dodiya, Atul Dodiya, Sunil Gawde, Nalini Malani, Baju Parthan, Sudhir Patwardhan, Vivan Sundaram, and Zarina Hashmi. Furthermore, as the title suggests, the exhibition takes the viewer on an enthralling journey, narrating a tale of how art practices of these maestros has undergone a significant shift with time.

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Intriguing works of artist Zarina Hashmi titled ‘Cage’ (1970), and ‘Companions of the End of the Night’ (2013), lay juxtaposed against each other, displayed on a wall of the gallery. Her work is mostly non-figurative, seesawing between woodblock prints and calligraphy. The former artwork is an ink print created by assembled pieces of wood. Her artwork signifies a warm shelter, further suggestive of a protective environment. Particular to this work, an interesting observation —- she has created an imagery of a wooden house, on a medium (paper) which is essentially made from wood itself. Additionally, the wood on the surface also mimics the actual texture of logs of wood. Furthermore, Zarina’s works primarily reflect her childhood memories of the period of partition between Pakistan and India. Ostracised from her homeland, in an effort to relocate, the notion of home thus became central to her work.

However, in Zarina’s ’Companions of the End of the Night’, traces a new development in her practice. Unlike her previous work, this piece reflects her interest and appreciation for Urdu calligraphy. One sees a cryptic black rectangle with minuscule dots on the surface translates into black and white abstraction. Beneath the black rectangles one can see  the Urdu phrase, translating into — “Akhri Shabke Hum Safar”, which is also the title of her work. Furthermore, there appears to be a subtle hint of Sufism in this particular artwork, poignantly reflective of the extinction of Urdu script in present day India. Perhaps the black backdrop along with the ascending dots represent the dying journey of Urdu poetry in this country. The extinction of Urdu literature could be traced to the hegemony of English language adopted from the West, or due to the domination of the Arabic script.

 

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Amongst the seventeen works exhibited at the gallery, virtuoso artist Baju Parthan’s artistic practice has witnessed a radical transformation over the years. As a part of the collection, Parthan’s “An Act of Equilibrium — The Wind” (1991) is juxtaposed alongside “Chorus — 2” (2011). The former is acrylics on paper, reflecting the artist’s preoccupation with folklore, myths, and legends. During the 90s, Parthan travelled to Goa and enrolled himself in a five year course in fine arts where he got exposed to Indian mythology, thereby resulting in Parthan incorporating such elements in his earlier works. However, in this particular work, one sees him depicting an intimate bond between humans and animals. Further, the painting represents animals as spiritual beings who can be appealed to for aid and safety, thereby indulging in a primal animistic culture.

However, if Parthan’s earlier work was characterised by themes of mysticism, his latter work is inspired by a virtual reality. Chorus — 2, a 3D lenticular print, reflects Parthan’s fascination with technology. The work depicts the iconic chawls of Mumbai with aeroplanes hovering on top. Since the artist has used lenticular imagery, it creates an illusion of depth. Hence, his work can be read as an intersection of multiple realities. The constant changing of social landscapes symbolises the evolution in our social milieu — as a viewer what world are we located in? Are we still dwelling on a past  cityscape which is no longer there? Are we anguished, saddened, worried about the current reality we are living in? As we advance into the future do we see technology as fulfilling the void in our lives or interfering in every aspect of our lives? 

Having said that, the exhibition provides those who are coming to see the show with written material on the exhibition,  as well as information on the artists who are part of the show. Further, this is acknowledged as a great practice by a majority of the viewers who would like to interpret artworks, as it provides certain clues to grasp the concept of the exhibition. Nevertheless, the exhibition has truly shown the journey of artists back then and now by helping viewers engage in a visual dialogue with counterpart works of each artist.