Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ready for a Four-some (show)? Visit Latitude 28, New Delhi

(Installation view at Latitude 28)

Economic recession seems to have made some difference in the mindset of the Baroda Fine Arts graduates and post graduates. During the boom time, most of the final year students looked savvy with their ‘gallery ready’ works. Like locusts that attack ripe fields, the gallerists from all over India used to flock at this institution during the boom time. The practice was akin to the corporate houses doing campus recruitment. The story was different in 2009; it was Beckett-ian in all sense.

However, the Vladimirs and Estragons from this batch kept their hope alive. Some of them got into residency programs for alternative and experimental art and some of them sought their luck in other fields. When the mainstream market does not flirt with your works, resentment is a natural outcome. Still, resentment cannot be the sole reason for someone to get into an alternative practice. These days, young artists are trying their best to transcend their mediums. They step over the stringent guidelines provided by the academic syllabus and dare to go beyond the limitations of the mediums.

These four young guys, namely Siddhartha Kararwal, Nityanand Ojha, Deepjyoti Kalita and Kartik Sood, brought under the common frame of a group show titled, ‘Urban Testimonies’ at the Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi tell us the story of their efforts to look at their respective mediums and push the boundaries to interesting limits and beyond. Also the show tells us that early birds catch more worms than the late ones. Bhavna Kakkar, director of Latitude 28 has proven her early bird status through this show. I don’t intend to call the artists worms. But an adage is an adage is an adage.

(Work by Kartik Sood)

One cannot but be impressed by the work of Kartik Sood titled ‘Touch’, which, according to the artist is an effort to make a triptych painting in a sculptural form, with video as a main component. Kartik speaks in mono syllables. He reminds one of the singer Prince and the mumbling makes you look for a Warhol in him.

‘Touch’ shows three old television monitors erected on black stands as if they were shrouded coffins made to stand vertical. The videos (same images run in three different time scales) play in these monitors are some enacted death rituals, which has some autobiographical connotations. The second tier of the stands has perfume bottles silently standing. Smell is a suggestion here, which could be read along with birth or death or even the daily sweating called life.

Like Warhol loves Basquiat, Kartik has a love for low life. He has been collecting photographs of people from lowly terrains of life, from all over the country. In ‘Plucking the Heart Strings’ we have a few backlit photographs out of them. They flicker in between reminding the viewer of their existence amongst us. In ‘Closer’ Kartik shows his painterly skills by minutely drawing the pictures of some street kids and objects related to their lives behind some pieces of rags. Customized glasses as frames project textures on the slits, images and the rags to make these works a sort of miniatures that need ‘closer’ look.

(Work by Nityananda Ojha)

The artist has a hesitation to commit himself to the images/objects/incidents that he chooses to project in his works. Kartik is not the only one in this case. For many contemporary artists, this hesitation is a route to negotiate and escape. Nityananda Ojha, however does not escape from his commitment to the images. He lives in a world of imaginary narratives, narrated in the most stereotypical ways. He selects innumerable stills from Odia films (films from Orissa) and creates a backdrop against which he mounts prisms made out of hologram glasses. The spectacular-ness of the third dimension established through hologram glasses in a way suggests the illusionary nature of these narratives and points out the ways in which the viewer/participant falls prey to such illusions.

(works by Nityananda Ojha)

However, what makes Nityananda Ojha’s works memorable is the stark representation of desire and its aftermath in sculptural forms. The sculptures have their surfaces made of imitation ornaments welded together in layers. The hanged human figure in a way tells us the story of avarice and its aftermath. The man himself is so alluring and repulsive at the same time in his body as the hanged body suggests both celebration and rotting. The lit femur that he hold in his hand shows his primitiveness as a hunter; a hunter in the jungle of desires. And the other work by Nityananda titled ‘Masturbation’, has a similarly decorated right hand projecting out from the wall with a phallic glass object jutting out his clutch. Masturbation is a sort of self-indulgence, a sort of narcissistic act, which perhaps makes the artist alone in his pursuit. It does look like more of a portrait than an emblematic sculpture. Similarly, his ‘bone curtain’ too emphasizes human avarice and a sort of ‘memento mori’ that reflects the viewers mortal self in fragments.

(Whackass by Siddhartha Kararwal)

Siddhartha Kararwal, hailing from Jaipur has a little bit of Paul Macarthy in him. I am not inclined to put each artist into the compartment of a western counterpart. Instead, my idea is to see how these artists have some sort of affinity with the western conceptual artists of the 1970s. In his work titled, ‘Whack Ass’ (of Whackass), Siddhartha brings forth a series of framed photographs taken out of his performance done in Baroda as a part of a public performance. Whacking the Horse is a saying that suggests drumming up dead issues. Here he converts the Horse into a Donkey. With a fellow artist (Prayas Abhinav), he takes the stuffed doll of a donkey (made out of coarse blanket clothes and cotton) around the city on a push cart. And the artists too are dressed up as clowns in the same clothes. The backgrounds are edited out of these frames to make them suggestive than narrative.

(You can't Please All by Siddhartha Kararwal)

Donkey theme continues in Siddhartha’s sculptural installation titled ‘You Can’t Please All’. The title reminds you of the folk story and the famous work by late Bhupen Khakkar. Siddhartha also takes off from there to create a heap of carcasses of donkeys (a la a Eugine Delacroix painting). The imagery is eerie and inviting. It suggests a dirt heap and a crumbled Guernica. If you have eyes you can see it. Siddhartha is successful in extending the possibility of his mediums, from the concreteness of ‘a’ sculpture it moves to inflatable to garbage to soft sculptures. Siddhartha’s enquiries take him to create a set of photographs in which an astronaut is seen with a vagabond (rag picker). He calls it Kalki series. Is it done for the sake of having a set of digital photography works? Or he wants to explore more into the idea of ‘apocalypse’ manifested through the notion of Kalki in Indian mythology?

(Decode by Deepjyoti Kalita)

Deepjyoti Kalita from Assam is also a sculptor who attempts to push the boundaries of traditional sculpture. While Kartik pushes his paintings into the realm of sculpture, Deepjyoti pushes his sculptures into the realm of painting. In his work titled ‘Decode’, a set of two dimensional images are kept inside a three dimensional box frame, while a cut out image of the artist moves between the other two images in regular intervals. Light, movement, color and object are employed in this work enquiring the possibilities of video, kinetic art, painting and sculptural installation in one go. Here Deepjyoti seems to be an existential man who is unable to decide upon the choices he is given with. He is given a typewriter, still unable to use it. He is masked to hide his identity, still he is not able to move away from him.

(work by Deepjyoti Kalita)

In his other sculptural installation too, Deepjyoti tries out the possibilities of all aforementioned art forms but it is more Foucauldian in approach. In one frame a man seen sitting on a column, the LED monitor then says, ‘Take a Bath’. Then the light Changes and the LED says ‘Now Dry up’. Then man is seen taking a headlong plunge into a water-body and the LED says ‘Bring a Cloud’. The total meaning shift between the sign and the signified, the act of signification happens as an absurd but curious act, and it opens up the possibility to see even the materials used also do not stick to their materiality and become something else in the process.

These four artists show the potential of lasting long. But it all depends on their engagement with art as a serious activity rather than a passport to fame and fortune. Those used it for materials gains only during the boom time, unfortunately are not around to tell the stories. And their absence itself should be a lesson to these youngsters and the sparks of intelligence shown in this exhibition should be kindled into a fire in the coming days.

PS: I don’t understand the title, ‘Urban Testimonials’. I don’t understand a word in the press release. Suruchi Khubchandani is a wonderful young writer. But she need to take extreme care of her articulations. The notes for this one written by her seem to be a bit convoluted.

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