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Cover Story

  • Arun Kumar H.G
  • Arun Kumar H.G
  • Arun Kumar H.G
  • Arun Kumar H.G
  • Biju Jose
  • Mithu Sen
  • Shilpa Gupta
  • Subodh Gupta
  • Sudarshan Shetty
  • Tushar Jog
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The Absent Curator,
Objects and the Secret Pacts

‘Objects: Making Unmaking’, a group show at Vadehra Gallery, New Delhi has generated a great interest amongst the art lovers. JohnyML probes into the notions of ‘objects’ and ‘curator at large’ evident in this successful show.

Any exhibition that deals with the notion of ‘objects’ generates some kind of curiosity amongst the viewers as the word ‘objects’ does not prescribe the works of art as ‘sculptures’. This qualification facilitates a liminal space, where works of art can transcend their material identity and form to a realm of pure ideation. This act of ideation (by the artists and the works of art) is attributed with various layers especially when the word ‘objects’ is further qualified by a phrase ‘making unmaking’. A group show titled ‘Objects: Making Unmaking’ or ‘Making Unmaking Objects’ currently on at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi becomes interesting in this context of pure ideation.

The viewer is left with his/her own devices of interpretation as he is provided only with a title and a set of works of art. Within the sanitized atmosphere of the gallery, the clues for understanding the works are given through artists’ names and the details of the works. Here is a confrontation of two helpless entities; the viewer and the work of art. Neither a contextual backdrop nor a historical pointer is set for the aid of the viewer. In this peculiar situation, a viewer has to interlink the history of the artist (if he knows the artist in question) with the history of the objects and the material of its production. This interlinking of conjectural histories creates a secret pact between the works of art and the viewer, within the secret/absence of a curatorial note.

‘Objects: Making Unmaking’ (let me prefer this title) generates a cultural discourse within two secrecies; one, the secret pact between the viewer and the works of art and two, the secret of curatorial note. In the absence of a curatorial note, the first question comes to fore is this: Can a show of this scale and perfection be done without curatorial intervention? The internal dialogue created between the works of art with distinct identities and their strategic positioning within the gallery anticipate a curatorial intervention, which, for the time being is unclaimed by anyone.

I would like to draw a parallel between the secret pact between the curator at large and the artists and the secret pact between the viewer and the works of art. Understanding these works simultaneously helps the unraveling of the mysterious relationship (as far as the viewer is concerned) between the curator and the artists.

All the thirteen artists participating in this show have ‘done’ objects. Sharmila Samant’s photographic rendition of the ‘hagiography’ of a pressure cooker, Tushar Jog’s conceptual drawings for innovative appendages for local train travelers and wayside vendors and Mithu Sen’s multiple incarnations of her self through manipulated photographs are perhaps the exceptions that could be cited when one looks at the show as an object based whole. However, I would say, except for Mithu Sen’s photographic works, the other two artists quite dexterously engage ‘objects’ within their productions.

 Tushar Jog’s work does a social commentary and at the same time he voluntarily suggests workable solutions for infrastructural deficiencies of our society. There is jester’s smile ingrained in his works and one should be aware that a jester’s smile is the wisest smile one could have at any given time of human history. Mithu Sen responds to the curatorial demand of having ‘objects’ by bringing in her sensitive sculptural formulations using an ensemble of private symbolism. However, one would tend to ask about the internal logic that drives her photographic works and the object based miniature installations.

Arun Kumar H.G and George Martin confront the curatorial demand of making objects and negotiating them within a special cultural context, using the ‘images of the objects’ that are forgotten or taken for granted. In a surreal conversion Arun transforms a traditional dining table and a chair into a series of chests and vaults that hide many secrets. One can play with the table and chair, open and shut them at will, and in this process one can find certain socio-cultural symbols (again objectified) hidden in them. If dining table is the place where we eat, Arun gives us the glimpses of the locations (paddy field) and (raw) materials (lentils, rice, picture book of fruits etc) that make the dinner possible. Arun makes ‘child’s museum’ where labour and the fruit of labour (the socio-economic relationship of production and consumption) are aesthetically placed for scrutiny. Another set of works done by Arun also exemplifies this relationship in a more solid way.

In their alluring best, complete and finished with Automobile paint, Martin’s objects too play the role of a ‘child’s museum of curios’. However, there is a difference. In sculptural/object terms, these images (like a saw, bulb, scissors etc) are made out of negative space. They are not objects. On the contrary, they are the objects that were present at one point of time and are absent now. They are ghost objects. Martin, perhaps, would like to call them as the ‘objects from the realm of oblivion’. As an attempt against forgetting, Martin brings in a glistening iron shovel and places it like an icon next to the absent objects. Though hung on a wall like a painting, the work defies the logic of painting, sculpture and even the logic of an installation. It is a museum hung on a wall. Martin and Arun seem to have made a secret pact in addressing a concrete socio-cultural and economic productive relationship. And in this secret pact they unravel the curatorial mystery/intention for the viewer.

Three artists don’t surprise. They are Sumedh Rajendran, Subodh Gupta and Shilpa Gupta. Sumedh addresses his concerns about the migration and the inhuman urban progression using an animal form fitted with a trunk (the migrant’s sole chest) fitted at its mouth. Subodh’s ‘Trolleys’ have been traveling all over the world fulfilling the intentionality of the artist. The frozen image of a journey, aspirations and tribulations once again come back to the space of its critique (gallery space) as, one friend puts it, ‘the return of the prodigal son’. Shilpa Gupta would like to cover the objects of consumptions with off-white linen clothes and place them on a table as if they were lying on an operation table for clinical scrutiny. And in another work she asks the viewers to take away a portion of the sticking tape with the inscription, ‘There is No Border Here’.

Yes, as I said, they don’t surprise the viewer as the surprise element is lost in the act of seeing them again and again in various forms of reproductions. But they together conspire to reveal the curatorial agenda. They bring forth the burning issues of cross-border migration, cultural integration and consumption of multi-cultural world through their object presentations. From earthly to aspirational and from aspirational to the political they move back and forth. Objects of aesthetics or aesthetics of objects in this way can unravel the curatorial mystery that tries to re-negotiate the existence of objects in the mundane and the aesthetic realms.

Biju Jose and Aparna Rao play with the real and the surreal. To be precise, I would say, they play with the real to suggest the surreal or ir-real in it. Biju makes a designer vanity bag, exaggerated in dimensions. His attempt is to re-define the real and displace the meaning of the real materials in order to suggest the illusionary relationship that exists between production and consumption. He uses plywood, locally available iron buttons, plated iron pipes and aluminum casts to create a vanity bag. This bag is as alluring and covetable as a ‘real’ designer bag. But look at the materials that he has used! The knowledge of the materials pushes the viewer to see it as an object, which is not real at the same time ‘real’. Thanks to the lack of other terminology, one has to say that it looks surreal.

Aparna Rao’s telephone is a pretty long one. One cannot have a long phone like that. With glossy read paint this telephone instrument, beckons the viewer and renders him totally helpless as the apparently functional looking object is actually beyond use. If you dial you cannot hold the receiver. Or if you hold the receiver, you cannot dial it. The idea of ‘extensive’ communication is objectified to create an absurd sense of it. Did the curator intend at such subversions?

The real subversion comes from Kiran Subbaiah. He hangs a crushed plastic bottle with some water in it, using a thread. In another work titled ‘Rin Ring Vim’ he uses the ‘cultural’ objects that stand in for the sounds/words in the title. Here you see a cake of Rin soap (a famous detergent soap in India), a mobile case and a packet of Vim powder (a famous brand of utensils cleanser). As if taking off directly from the Art Povera ‘School’, Kiran philosophically subverts the ‘sanity’ and ‘desirability’ of objects as ‘works of art’. Though Duchampian take on objects comes to mind, Kiran moves further by saying that ‘If you don’t like my works I would be really sad’. He demands the viewer to take his ‘objects’ as ‘desirable objects’. Is curator challenged in this act? I would say, this work should be the bliss of the curator, as many Indian curators these days do not get this freedom to accommodate such works.

Thanks to my numbness and dumbness, I am not able to respond to the works of Sudarshan Shetty and Kaushik Mukhophadhyaya. I have seen the same work of Sudarshan in his solo show. I have seen other works of Kaushik too. And I was able to respond to their works in their given contexts. In this ‘Object Making Unmaking’ context, somehow I find it difficult to engage myself with their works. May be that is the best challenge they offer. I do not discount them at all, to steer clear all doubts.


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