Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Here After Here: The Point Where Jitish May Consider Stop Doing Art

(Jitish Kallat with one of his works. source net)

The exhibition is just four days old; besides some pre-publicity you see hardly any post-exhibition celebrations in the media. But Jitish Kallat can wait till the weekend when most probably the newspapers would publish full page essays praising the forty two year old artist to the heavens for these ‘stupendous’ works done during the last two decades. Curated by Catherine David, Jitish Kallat’s ‘Here After Here’ is a retrospective, a look at the past oeuvre and the look into the future of it, though the artist in his interview with the Vogue Magazine and the curator in her wall text insist that it is not a linear retrospective in the conventional sense of the word but an exhibition that catches the engagement of the artist with various ideas and mediums at different stages of his development as an artist. As photography is prohibited, as there are no handouts and the catalogue available is priced at Rs.850 what I could speak is from my memory, all what I could carry there from a huge show with almost hundred works ranging from paintings to photographs to multimedia installations.

Let me admit at the outset itself that it is a worth watching exhibition for it gives a complete taste of the artist who is just forty two years old. I repeat this age factor like a jealous old man because I always wonder about the early bloomers and their future. Jitish Kallat, cut to be a contemporary artist by looks, nature, presentation, demeanour and conduct has another forty two years or more active years to come. I sincerely pray to God Almighty to shower him with health, wealth and happiness so that he could come up with interesting works of art. But the fate of early bloomers is this that they fade away slowly for what is left in them is their experimental verve with materials than their deep analysis of life, and the experimental enthusiasm for taking up mediums is clearly seen in this retrospective as Jitish moves from acrylic and oil on canvas to mixed media, fibre, resin, dental plaster, computer software, multimedia installations, multi frame assemblages, parody, pastiche and what not. In a way from this show one could dissect and understand the proliferation of materials and methods not only in Indian art scene but also in the private and public life of an average Indian. Like an aesthetic machine Jitish has ingested all these materials and methods and employed his understanding in creating different kinds of impressive works of art.

(Aguasarus by Jitish Kallat)

There are two types of works in Jitish retrospective; one, done by the artist himself and two, designed by the artist. The works that he had done in his formative years (from early 1990s to late 1990s) are all by himself and moderate in size. The works that follow in the new millennium are joint efforts and large in size where the artist plays a director’s job than an artist’s role. The complexion of the growth of the Indian art market also could be seen when one goes through the works on display here because according to the money inflow, one sees the materials and scope of the works change and also depending on the artist’s exposure to a larger world, the thematic as well as material sophistication come to the forefront. Then there is a feeling that for this artist sky is the limit. He could do anything that he wanted to do. And Jitish, ironically exemplifies the limitation of the artistic thinking that most of the artists of the late 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium faced in India. There is a pattern to it; grappling with city life, migration, arrival of new technology, money, terrorism, cross border cultural and economic exchange, development of global taste and all these work against the general backdrop of Indian history.

Perhaps, that was the curse and blessing of the Indian contemporary art in those years. In its efforts to be at par with the western aesthetics and western world (to put in other words to please the aesthetic tastes of the western curators) Indian contemporary art went for many sixers with occasional fours, that too without touching the ground. While they talked about mass migrations to the cities, in the beginning they talked closer to home realities and later they were just talking about global migration. Jitish symbolizes India to fit into the narrative of the west by cutting the regional and provincial from his scheme of things. He studies food in different ways to make it a spectacle but what interests me is the number of Indian as well as foreign artists who had taken up food as a theme! Even our Subodh Gupta had to deal with food, which Rikrit Tiravania had done in late 1990s and later became an international fad including the Chinese artists going for extreme edibles. So is the use of simulated bones; at one point the whole world was working with bones including Anita Dube and T.V.Santhosh. That means, going by the Indian contemporary art, we see only international issues or issues that could be identified internationally in art. Nothing provincial and regional about it; provincialism could go maximum to giving iconic status to the security guards, a new tribe that gets the sympathy of Indian middle class artists; from Jitish Kallat to Shilpa Gupta and many more.

(work by Jitish Kallat)

‘Sleeping’ is one theme that has been made popular by many artists including Shibu Natesan and N.S.Harsha. Perhaps, after Andy Warhol’s Eight Hours sleep, it was Manjunath Kamath who in his video art had made sleep a performance. Then many of them tried sleeping inside the gallery including Nikhil Chopra. Here we have Jitish Kallat also making sleep as his theme in one of his sculptural installations where one sees a number of animals in their sleeping posture, which is a sort of cute. The description that goes with the sculpture moves around the idea of sleep as a disembodied existence but that’s it. I thought that the artist would go further to deal with the idea of Sushupti, the dreamless sleep where the ‘I-ness’ still exists as a witness, but an absent witness only to come back when one comes out of the sleep. Such deeper debates are not attempted by Jitish for he seems to be an artist looking for themes and materials in the external world. If I do not sound too harsh, I choose to call such aesthetic adventures as aesthetic scavenging. In aesthetic scavenging one makes use of anything and everything, any issue in the world becomes the artist’s issue and his eyes are always opening to the gross world and never even once turning into the subtle worlds.

Jitish may dispute my views though I do not intend any wrong to him because he would say that he has also done works that looks into the mechanism of mind and imaginations. He shies away from using the world spiritual in his works even when there are umpteen spaces where he seems to stand at the edge of it. Because of this lack of spiritual firmness, Jitish remains an artist of the physical world, dealing with the physical issues and that too in a gross form. Look at the installations in thousands of frames that cover the major part of the sprawling gallery of the new wing of NGMA. They are premeditated for its visual effects and never for the spiritual subtlety. There is nothing wrong in it if the artist prefers to deal with the physical world. But the curator in her wall text suggests that Jitish is an artist who deals with physics to metaphysics (not these words but something to this effect). If an artist deals with everything that comes to him or occurs to him, then however visually effective they are, they remain as spectacles signifying nothing. In fact, Jitish’s works are spectacular and beyond that they are museum pieces.

(work by Jitish Kallat)

What makes Jitish an appealing artist to the western world? I find most of his works are in major collections in the western collectors or museums. What I understand is that Jitish gives what the west wants to hear; the story of a failed India. Jitish presents the famous ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech of Pt.Jawaharlal Nehur etched on distorted mirrors and Gandhi ji’s speech in Sabarmati before his famous Dandi March in simulated bones. Gigantic and spectacular, these two works besides all other issues of riots, migration, cramped city spaces, literally valueless one rupee coin and so on, speak of a failed Indian dream (or at least the wall texts say so). This is what the western museums want; the images of/from a failed India. I wonder why Jitish never attempted to monumentalise the speech of a landless migrant or even the monologue of a security guard. Jitish looks at the ‘glands’ (pockets) of the people in the street; a nice spectacle of India’s dreams on the move. Poverty and deprivation, or helplessness blown up beyond a point pixellate into sarcasm; though Jitish does not intend it so, it comes across as that.

Jitish has many more years to work and what is he going to do? His works are in most of the museums all over the world. A work of art which has reached in a museum is a dead object. Jitish himself had said once that a work of art once out of the studio has its own trajectory. With the artist having no hold over the fate of his works, they remain as loan/lonely mummies. In the meanwhile Jitish has to do many more works. The problem with artists like Jitish is that they make gallery ready works; they are fabricated for the show. There must be preparatory drawings but they cannot be called serious artistic processes. They are designer’s blueprints. Jitish’s works look like dettol washed products meant for exhibitions. There is no touch of the artist or no life of the artist breathing from them. Jitish would do a lot more impressive and spectacular works in the coming years and I am sure he is going to employ the latest technology and materials in his works. That’s what happens to the artists who depend too much on fabrication of newer materials. I could predict two things for the artist’s future: either he would go back to studio painting or he would stop art altogether. The moment one realises his spiritual side then these works would look lesser and gross in his own eyes. But the external demands would not permit him to look at that side. If he does, he would not do such works. In whatever way, Jitish needs a break. He has curated one of the biggest biennales and now has a retrospective. Now he needs rest, a serious re-thinking. And if possible a decade of no art.   

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