Life | Off the wall

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Off the wall
Text by Maria Louis
Published: Volume 16, Issue 4, April, 2008

3-D installations are becoming larger than life, where controversial issues expressed through the artistic medium often draw attention to a cause, declares Maria Louis

Visitors to Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2008 were bewildered by the sight of strange objects within the Jehangir Art Gallery. Most of them were suspended overhead, placed on the floor, nestling in boxes and only a few graced the walls. The spectacular spatial experience of a maze-like terrain was a translation of the vision of Harsh Goenka of the RPG Academy of Art & Music. Called A MAZING, it gave free rein to the imagination of over two dozen Indian artists like Julius Macwan (who recreated a graveyard to symbolise the death of magic) and Sunil Padwal (whose installation of a tortoise created from miniature cars spoke volumes about the city’s ‘fast’ paced life). Such works of art have become more the norm than the exception. Recently, Sunil Gawde’s inverted feminine bases masquerading as heart-shaped balloons bobbed up and down with incredible lightness within his designated Frame/Grid/Room/Cell at the group show of seven artists including Nalini Malani and Riyas Komu, curated by Gayatri Sinha for Bodhi Art Gallery. Not long ago, the same space hosted a procession of high-rise ‘dabbas’ going round in circles on a sushi conveyor belt at Subodh Gupta’s solo show; and Tushar Joag made a powerful room-size statement with a suspended ‘periscope’ at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke’s group show, Pink.

Almost a century after Marcel Du–champ provocatively installed a urinal in a New York art gallery (Fountain, 1917), a flood of creative outpourings has rendered the wall space of our burgeoning art galleries woefully inadequate. Indian artists – young, mid-career or established, are exploiting an unique vocabulary to express themselves more freely. The result: viewers find themselves circulating around free-standing or suspended works, craning their necks to see projections above eye level, or cloaked in beaming images while surrounded by sound. Bose Krishnamachari’s Ghost Transmemoir had video interviews beamed through small screens fitted into rows of tiffin dabbas, with attached headphones to access the sound. And to think that it all began here in the ’80s, when our artists began to experiment! Who could forget the irrepressible Husain, who used this art form most dramatically when he filled up the Jehangir Art Gallery with balls of crumpled newspaper in a show entitled Shwetambari? Of course, he was denounced by purists whose sensibilities were out–raged at his impudence.

By contrast, Indian artists are painting the town red (sometimes Pink) with their ardour for installations. Usi-ng everyday materials and new media like video, sound, performance, computers and the internet, they even make installations that are site-specific. While the new globally-aware art audience is more tolerant, one wonders if art buyers are ready to accommodate the less ephemeral but still unwieldy works in their col–lections. If not, why do artists indulge themselves and where do they get the financial support to do so? Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Prescott Road maintains that this art form has come into its own in India, yet laments that the climate is not completely conducive. But Mortimer Chatterjee, partner in Chatterjee & Lal, which launched its gallery space designed to hold new media art as well as paintings and sculptures with a show of video works by international artist Sophie Ernst, feels that the tide is turning as ‘at last there are viable spaces that can effectively house installations’.

The avowed aim of such practitioners is to challenge the status quo by encour-aging their audience to see familiar objects in an unfamiliar light – and half the fun lies in decoding the scrambled message. For instance, if one did not know about Riyas Komu’s political preoccupations, one could easily miss the point in his satirical Oil’s Well at Bodhi. “Though there are few takers, it’s heartening that purchases are being made outside of the canvas,” says Gandhy, pointing out that, “almost everything Subodh Gupta makes is sold, institutionally or privately. His Hungry God (skull sculpture made of vessels) was bought by Francois Pinot, one of the world’s biggest collectors.” While collectors in India are still largely focussed on canvas and paper works, Chatterjee predicts a sea change in the next two years, “when more homes will be able to accommodate 3-D works of art”.