Monday, May 31, 2010

An Untitled Installation at Eranakulam

(Untitled Installation- Inside view)

(Artists working on the installation)

(A view from front)

(Inside the installation)

The Town Hall building in Eranakulam is quite impressive though not too imposing. The architecture is a mixture of the Roman and the local styles. Symbolic remnants of royal past and modern times lay scattered in its vicinities. There is a grand old tree on its left giving shelter to hundreds of crows from the truant pre-monsoon rains. Adjacent to the Town Hall building, the management has erected a huge shed with a tin roof. When it rains, the drops make incessant clattering noises.

During the second half of the month of May (2010), a group of artists who studied at the Fine Arts College, Thrippoonithura, converted the shed into a gallery- not with paintings or sculptures, but with an impermanent installation.

A motor bike painted in pink automotive paint stands fixed on a metallic pedestal with its carrier holding a number of cardboard boxes flying up to the tin roof. On the cardboard boxes you see the images of families drawn in ink and charcoal, and collages made out of colorful magazine covers. Behind the bike there is an ensemble of found objects welded together and painted in pink. They look like a set of musical instruments kept aside by the musicians during a rehearsal break. Further behind it, almost in the middle of the shed, there is a huge rectangular cabin made out of magazines and newspapers. The outer wall of the cabin has the images of women from the glossy Malayalam women’s magazines. Inside the cabin, which is accessible through both the ends, the walls sprout in rolled up newspapers. And there is a urinal and a washbasin.

It was Antony Karal, an artist who has done more than hundred altar pieces in Kerala, who took me there. He teaches at the Painting Department of Thrippoonithura Fine Arts College.

The installation, for me as a Malayali is quite revealing and direct. One could easily discern the average Malayali’s intense association with newspaper reading and analyzing everything through the perspective of journalism. It starts from toilets and perhaps, ends up in public toilets. The outer cover of the cabin tells you how woman is becoming a commodity. One cannot but notice the fact that no magazine publishes a dark woman’s picture on its cover page and the irony is Kerala has a majority of dark skinned women.

“A lot of people came to see this installation but they did not ask many questions,” says Abhilash Unni, who led a team of artists to do this installation. “Perhaps, they understand the subject matter very well. Or they were curious but reluctant to ask questions.”

Why installation? I asked Abhilash Unni. “All of us are practicing artists. Though we do exhibitions in Kerala, only a limited audience is interested in gallery based art. Eranakulam has a long history of public art. My idea is to revive public art as a movement. Inexpensive and impermanent installations is the only way to do it as we don’t have any funding system for public art,” says Abhilash.

But still you need funds, I chipped in. “Yes. This is funded by a group of friends who were doing a cultural seminar here. They supported us financially. And we are planning to do more works in public spaces by involving with other cultural groups.”
But when it comes to Kerala artists, ethics is a big problem and they still need to find out ways to negotiate between praxis and ethics. “A liquor company was ready to sponsor some of our projects but we could not accept that money as a few friends were against the very idea of taking money from a liquor company,” says Abhilash.

“You all consume liquor, don’t you?” looking at their faces I ask. They nod in agreement. “Then what is the problem? Raising funds strategically and using them ethically is more important than rejecting funds on the basis of ethics and doing nothing. If you dig the funding structure of many museums that display the highest forms of humanitarian and ethical art, you find arms dealers and stock brokers who deal with liquor companies, funding it,” I tell them.

Abhilash Unni and the team of artists (Amal Jyothi, Arun Paulose, Arun Vijayan, Ananthan KT, Chitra EG, Davis, Jalaja, Jasinther Rockefeller, Jyothish, Kunjukuttan, Libeesh, Prince, Sijo and Suresh Arukkootty) are now ready to do more works in and around Eranakulam. “We want our works to be locally involved so that it could adequately reflect the micro level problems arisen out of globalization. It should be critical and knowledge based,” Abhilash adds.

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