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Brush with the city
Source: The Hindu, Date: June , 2012
A city is like a stage where a
multitude of acts are played out every minute, every second and every fraction
of that second. There are layers and layers that envelop it and an inquisitive
artist likes to peel off these layers in his/ her quest to examine, explore and
engage with it. While city as a subject remains a preoccupation for many from
the community, some choose to be consistently in dialogue with it. City and its
various elements have always made it to their canvases but changing times have
ushered in newer ways to deal with such concerns. The mammoth public art
festival â€™48 degrees Celsius Public. Art. Ecologyâ€™ held in the Capital in 2008
also played its part. Here we focus on four city-based artists who have been
dealing with the city and various urbane issues related to it in a unique
It was his engagement with the
city as a photographer that convinced him to take on environmental issues
head-on, and thatâ€™s how his NGO Toxics Links started. His videos, installations
and photographs, all these years, have been a subtle and poignant reflection of
how the cityâ€™s inhabitants have used it and abused it. One of his recent solos
â€˜Fluxâ€™ , a body of work comprising images, videos and installations held at
Gallery Espace in New Delhi, drove his point home. According to the artist, a
viewer may draw inferences but for him to start with the location has to be
direct. The transforming city of Delhi and its drastically altering landscape
has fuelled projects like â€˜Yamuna-Elbeâ€™, a seminal public art and outreach
project mounted at the Yamuna riverscape in Delhi and Elbe in Hamburg, Germany.
The public projects and discussions were aimed at drawing the attention of the
the cityâ€™s residents and the authorities to wake up to these rivers and reclaim
His latest muse are the defunct
industrial spaces in the city, like the Rajghat Power Station at ITO or the
Birla mills. "While the former has been lying closed due to environmental
concerns, the latter has been transformed into a mall. G.D. Birla started it in
1960 and there is a room that which was used by him. It ran till 1996 and was
closed down when industrial mills were being closed down. I have been working
on the subject for sometime, ... the spaces that are changing ... flyovers,
metro stations...," says Ravi.
Wala - Paribartana Mohanty,
Akansha Rastogi and Sujit Mullick
Having won a FICA public art
grant, the Wala collective is committed to putting up a series of performances
across the city. So, they engage with the city using sites and symbols like a
garbage dump in Seemapuri, the National Gallery of Modern Art and Delhi Metro.
The protagonist is known as â€˜Kachra Sethâ€™, who takes the story forward. In the
â€˜Kachra Seth Observatoryâ€™, an actor dressed up as a king â€” imagery drawn from a
miniature painting â€” holding a lotus and a mirror, went around the garbage dump
in Seemapuri seeing the reflection in the mirror. "So, the onlookers went
around along with him seeing what he was seeing. It was during the time when
Delhi was plagued by endemics during the floods, â€¦dengue and all. â€¦Kachra Seth
then went to an MCD toilet and was laden with costume jewelleryâ€¦ and suddenly
people starting snatching away that those jewellery from him. â€¦So, in a way, he
became like a metaphor for desire for the people. â€¦" says Akansha Rastogi.
After a recent, performative guided tour of the Delhi Metro, Wala Collective is
now working on their next piece, which is planned at a heritage site and an
Itâ€™s important for Vibha to raise
existential issues for they inform not only others but even her own identity.
Having shifted from Chandigarh, she was in her initial years, all the more
sensitive to the chaos and different landscape of Delhi. Her earlier solo,
â€˜Between me and Delhiâ€™ held at Anant Art Gallery in 2004, was more personal in
the sense it dealt with the issue of migration.
The city continues to resonate in
her art. â€˜Neo-monsterâ€™ is one such work, a public art project that raises
questions about urbanisation and consumerism. A larger-than-life earth mover
made out of an inflated balloon is a travelling work that has been to not just
different parts of the city like malls and illegal colonies but also different
parts of the world. Displayed at different sites in Delhi, the giant art work
fascinated the public enough to get them to click photographs, ask questions.
At the site, the artist also gives away flyers to the viewers. "At least a
few will be read and trigger a thought," she had told us earlier. Currently
in Latvia, Vibha wants to take â€˜Neo-monsterâ€™ to Istanbul and China "where
a spate of new constructions is coming up." Sheâ€™s now working on another
city-specific project, â€˜Absence presenceâ€™, where she will do installations
dealing specifically with the disappearance of house sparrows from Delhi.
The search for his own identity
takes Atul Bhalla to the city and its many aspects. "It comes from
questions like, â€˜Where am I?", â€˜What am I?â€™ I feel inspired by certain
aspects of Delhi," he says.
For â€˜Dilli doorastâ€™ in 2006
curated by him, Atul had three artists of different religions live in old Delhi
for a month. The show was finally put up at Chitli Qabar, the place where the
artists had lived. The Yamuna has also been central to his art practice. For an
eco-art residency for Khoj, Atul did a Yamuna walk that lasted five days from
Palla, where it enters the city to Okhla Barrage. Atul feels that the city and
its planners have forgotten the river somehow. "But it is very much alive.
I pray every year for it to flood so that people notice it; ...after
Independence no single building has come up which faces the river...," he
says. For 48Â°C , he again engaged with Yamuna and came up with an interactive
performance piece â€˜aapne Jamuna ko kabhi chhua hai?â€™. The artist had put up
hoardings at Metro stations asking the question. In his latest project, a
photography exhibition at Shrine Empire Gallery in December, he is dealing with
myths of a city.
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