(Pradeep Mishra with his Incubating Love at the VT Station Mumbai)
All over the world, railway platforms (like street corners) are the places where people entertain their senses with interesting art, music, dance and magic. Unlike in the west Indian railway platforms are uncontrollably crowded and people hardly get time to ‘stand and stare’ as the worries of catching a training and finding a place in it haunt them the moment they embark even a journey to the railway stations. These days, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation takes an initiative to ‘decorate’ the stations with some works of art. This is being emulated in other cities where the rapid rail system is introduced, as in the case of Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangalore. While the major airports in India have done away with the usual kitsch of touristic symbols and replaced them with some commendable works of art (but questionable in several other cases), the railway stations in India either subscribe to the idea of ‘decoration’ or filling the spaces with the so called ‘traditional art’. There had been attempt to put some works of art in the New Delhi Railway Station in 1990s but despite having some of the works of art placed there, it had failed miserably in getting people’s attention.
(Incubating Love by Pradeep Mishra)
If permanent works of art wouldn’t gain the required public engagement in the Indian railway platforms, could temporal art forms catch the eye of the people? An experiment recently done in the 8th platform of Mumbai Victoria Terminus Railway Station, in a project titled ‘Bori Bunder@ Platform Eight’ seems to be have attracted people from different walks of life, especially towards a project titled ‘Incubating Love’ by one of the young and silent contemporary artists, Pradeep L Mishra. In a space like a railway platform where people are in transit even on a regular basis, visual articles appear as a part of the milieu and in due course of time they become the part of the consciousness. Hence, the clock piece, the warning signals, the weighing machines, the sandwich shops, the tapping of the shoe shines etc become a part of the visual subconscious of the people. However, it is strange that the architectural and artistic beauty of the station itself or even the sculptural and relief art forms incorporated with the original architecture of the station building become astonishingly new and fresh only when they are shown to the people in their entirety from a distance. This means that a sort of distance from the original space is required to understand the works of art on a daily basis especially for the commuters whose minds are preoccupied in various ways.
(People with Incubating Love)
This poses two interesting issues regarding the works of art placed in a busy railway station: One, there could be any number of works of art but they do not thrust an individualistic impact on the commuters but they would generally create a visual subconscious and it could proved by taking a work of art from its place in a railway station for a few days, and definitely people would start missing that ‘something’ there though in the long run people would forget it (they would be happy if it is brought back). Two, if the same works of art are documented or photographed by the mainstream media and show it to people quite regularly then they would start recognizing its symbolic worth at least pertaining to the station. That’s why to establish Mumbai, the movies either start with a pan shot of the luxurious Marine Drive, if it is to give a general idea about the city, or with the Gate Way of India, if the story has something to do with the general history of Mumbai, or even the famous VT Railway station’s facade, if the protagonist happens to come by a train, or the sprawling airport of Mumbai. These visual symbols popularised by the mainstream movies, television and journals, make any new comer to the city to pose before the said monuments and click a photograph, subconsciously realizing their cultural and symbolic relevance.
(Incubating Love at the Platform)
So long as such symbolism is not pumped into the minds of the people, even if our authorities place a lot of works of art in the busy railway stations like VT or Church Gate or New/Old Delhi Railway stations there would not be any required cultural impact. One more thing I need to say here; to ‘see’ a work of art one needs a ‘distance’ which could be either physical or virtual. This distance is created by a sort of spatial control (of presenting and viewing). The space controls the idea of ‘seeing’ or in other words we could say, what we see is proportionate to the control imposed by the space in which we witness the object/work of art. A work of art scene in a trade fair, art fair, gallery, museum, railway station and in a photograph is seen differently even if the same work of art. This is the kind of control and distance that I have mentioned. Here the physical control becomes the virtual distance or the virtual control (as in the case of a photograph) becomes the physical distance. That means, a work of art, however impactful it would be in the beginning, when it is placed in a busy railway platform, it loses its aesthetical value and becomes one of those props that create the general visuality of the platform. That does not mean that one should not place a work of art in a busy platform but I emphasise the need for making constant virtual or physical distance with it so that people could see it in its entirety and understand its cultural value.
(Pradeep Mishra with his work)
However, that is not the case of a temporal work of art, especially when it involves a sort of interaction (in its minimum, just passive looking and in its maximum, helping the artist out to move around the work) by the people who look at it. Pradeep Mishra’s temporal work titled ‘Incubating Love’ is one such work. Pradeep takes a trolley which is used for hauling parcels of different kinds, a bit coarsely, and covers a square wooden crate with jute cloth, exactly the way the parcels are covered and places a trough with fishes and a water lily plant. Surrounding it are beakers covered with jute clothes and jutting out of those beakers are the red roses. The artist hauls the trolley along the 8th Platform, which I understand as one of the less crowded platforms and is mostly used for filling the wagons with parcels. Besides, it must be opening to the Bori Bunder side, less crowded and is busier with transportation of goods. Whatever be the case, when Pradeep pulls it around and keeps at some spots, curious onlookers come, talk to the artist and even clicks the picture. Speaking to the artist becomes a mode of understanding the work of art, for those people who sees the strangeness of the load that the artist who definitely does not look like a labourer hauls around.
(Labour Love, painting by Pradeep Mishra)
The words love and labour are strangely connected in different contexts. Shakespeare said, love’s labours lost; the failure to gain love even after trying very hard. Love is laborious, in most of the cases till the beloved falls for the guiles of the lovers. Love has the pain of the labour and once it is gained it is satisfying as labour would pay for the labourer. Like a labourer has only labour to share, a lover has only love to share. Love ends up in the labour in the labour room, if the love is consummated without protection. I do not know whether Pradeep has gone from the high seriousness of philosophies that connect labour and love to the frivolous meanings that I have been jotting down. However, I understand that Pradeep, as a serious artist connects love and labour in a philosophical fashion and says that only labour means hard work could sustain love and beauty in the world. He also says that the labour is as dear as love and the labourers should be loved and cared for. By brining the tender-est of nature’s products, like flowers to a rough trolley to a loading platform where goods are handled coarsely, Pradeep brings in the contradictions of life. Even if the labourers are doing their works coarsely, their love for life is as tender as the flowers and their life is natural and we need to infuse nature back into our lives. A painting titled ‘Labour Love’ that Pradeep has done along with this work, shows the silhouette of a group of work men trying to lift up a huge parcel, which interestingly is as light as cloud or a foam or cotton. The work done with charcoal on jute clothe is interesting because I would like to read it out as the labourers attempt to touch the cloud of salvation and sublimation though their labour.
(People and Pradeep Mishra's Incubating Love)
Pradeep Mishra has been a very sensitive artist for the last one decade. His paintings filled with iconic animal imagery come from his innate love for the nature’s beings. As a true nature lover, he has done process art works in different platforms including the Khoj International in Delhi, where he has sprouted seeds and flowers on the mud beds. Last year, almost in the same year, Pradeep did another public art project with a social group in the Bandra, at the Jogger’s track, where he depicted a whale with sand washed ashore by the waves. He titled it ‘Mother Land’ (more here: http://johnyml.blogspot.in/2015/11/impossibility-of-death-in-mind-of.html). Negotiating the public spaces with works that would touch the hearts of the people is more important than creating spectacular works in the middle of the cities and giving opportunities to make selfies by one and all.