Love in a Panic Room

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on: Sep 22, 2011


The mundane turns provocative in the artworks on show at three expertly curated exhibitions in Delhi.

A pile of gunnybags, forming a square, lie in the foyer of the Devi Art Gallery. You don't give these a second look, walking ahead to peer at the large painting on the wall.

But then, the curator, Girish Shahane, tells you to step inside the square and press a red button — and lo! art blossoms. The bags suddenly inflate to crowd you in from all four sides. You are literally trapped in a gunnybag room. The only way out is to press the green button and wait till the bags deflate and you can jump out.

This is called Panic Room — an interactive installation by L.N. Tallur.

The painting on the wall, incidentally, which from afar looks like a building, is a jumble of drain covers stuck close together. It is a telling comment on our urban lives, by Atul Bhalla.

This dramatic start sets the stage for the art exhibition, Home Spun, at the Gurgaon gallery owned by industrialist Anupam Poddar and his mother, Lekha.

From a large hut made of cowdung, laces strung over a dining table in a tapestry that resembles a cobweb, to sofas that bleed and walls that move in and out, art seems to have stepped into another world altogether.

“Home is both a place and a state of mind — it has both a locational and an emotional dimension,” says Shahane, who has been ingenious as well as humorous in his curating.

For instance, with his touches, he has made the foyer an Orwellian view of the home — when you are trapped inside the gunnybag, unknown to you, Big Brother is watching as a camera records your movements and plays them out on a screen on the first floor.

The downstairs gallery showcases the “architectronic” form of the home. Here, Shahane has clubbed those works of art in which he sees a strong architectural element.

If the temporariness and ordinariness of the simplistic cowdung hut creation of Subodh Gupta, called Mother and Me, leaves you dissatisfied, thankfully other exhibits have a stronger sense of permanence. The wooden toys stacked up in tower by Chinmoy Pramanick are rather appealing, while Hamra Abbas' walls that move — a comment on mystical transcendence, if you will — is a clever touch.

The eye-catcher in this hall, however, is the Pakistani contemporary artist Rashid Rana's giant mirror play, called Desperately Seeking Paradise. This towering installation, where thousands of mirrors reflect news of the neighbourhood (there are paper clippings stuck inside) is spectacular in its detailing and scope.

Surreal space

Upstairs, you enter a room titled The Apartment, where Shahane has pieced together some surreal works in the conventional home setting — from drawing room to kitchen, and even some bathroom art. The drawing room is a bit like a scene out of a horror movie with Sudharshan Shetty's dramatic bleeding sofa, the typewriter spewing out artworks, a weirdly contorted chair and so on. The impression you get is of a completely dysfunctional home.

Among the eye-catching works here is a mosquito net on which artist Mithu Sen, who contracted malaria in Africa, has poured out her angst in a poem.

The final gallery is a corridor-like space that Shahane has likened both to a palace corridor as well as a Mumbai chawl . From Sri Lankan artist Anoli Perara's lacy tablecloths that frame a dining table like a cobweb to Manish Nai's 3-D effect on a wall, there are some striking works here.

And for interactivity, there is the floor carpet with scissors hanging by a thread, which viewers can use to cut out pieces.

What strikes you is the clever way in which Shahane has bound together the disparate works of 40 artists from India and abroad — most of them, incidentally, from the private collection of the Poddars and not for sale — and unified them into a single theme, making them somehow fit into his vision.

Love and the six senses

At Lado Sarai, which is fast emerging as the high street of art in the Capital, at Gallery Exhibit 320, one sees this same clever bringing together of divergent artworks in the Census of Sense.

The pretty young curator from Mumbai, Veeranganakumari Solanki has played on the theme of Senses, which she says guide human action. So, the works draw upon sound, sight, smell, taste, touch — and the sixth sense, which for her is thought — to shape the viewer's perception.

Featured here are works by established artists like Bose Krishnamachari, Nandan Ghiya, Princess Pea, Soazic Guézennec, Sumakshi Singh, Sunoj D. and Vivan Sundaram.

All the works — be it Sundaram's photographic depiction of the rubbish on Yamuna or Guézennec's oxygen tree — certainly make you pause and think.

Dabbawalla's gaze

But the most sensory exhibit at the gallery is undoubtedly Krishnamachari's tiffin carrier video installation. The giant installation made with the ubiquitous dabbas that characterise the city of Mumbai is a tribute to a city in a flux. Inside the tiffin carriers are videos that document daily living in the vibrant city — from stockbrokers on Dalal Street to Bollywood to the food joints.

Down the road, at Latitude, it's Love that is the binding motif. But in the exhibition Love is a Four Letter Word, it's the darker side of the emotion that is being explored by Manjunath Kamath, Chintan Upadhyay, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Bose Krishnamachari and Pakistani artist Sana Arjumand.

If Krishnamachari plays upon the Love is Blind theme with his depiction in Braille — “one needs to have a vision, not sight to grasp the meaning of love,” he says, then Kamath's digital print called Fake Love makes a mockery of the emotion. The most startling piece of work here is Mazumdar's towering dark metallic vehicle on which hundreds of roses in red and gold are stuck — to show the incongruity of romance.

A couple of thoughts from the three showings — how video and interactive installations and digital plays are now the new vocabulary of the Indian artist. Shahane says western galleries will not take you seriously unless you experiment with these. And second, how Pakistani artists are creating waves with their raw talent.

Home Spun at Devi Art Gallery is on view till December 27; and Census of Sense and Love is a Four Letter Word till September 30.

Published on September 22, 2011
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