Surgical masks. Crepe bandages. Padded bras. What made Vivan Sundaram create wearable art from trash?

Hours before the opening of “GAGAWAKA: Making Strange” at Chemould Prescott Gallery in Mumbai, Vivan Sundaram was preoccupied with the positioning of his artwork. Twenty of these 30 works, wearable art from trash, sat pretty in five informal clusters. The rest — a black number embellished with bold red padded bras, a breezy trouser fashioned from surgical masks, a perky short dress of crepe bandages to name a few — posed a challenge. These creations were to be paraded by models as they sashayed among the invitees. These sculptural pieces, as the multidisciplinary artist calls them, debuted in Delhi in December 2011. Vivan Sundaram spoke about his latest work and the innovative use it may be put to.

Three months ago “GAGAWAKA: Making Strange” opened at the Lalit Kala Akademi in Delhi. How different is this show from that?

Every space is a challenge and makes one innovate. In Delhi, I was working in a gallery that was three times the size of Chemould. I created an 80-feet long ramp with my earlier works where models and dancers could perform with these garments.

Here, in Chemould Prescott gallery, models wearing 10 of my works moved around the invitees blurring the line between art and the audience. Here the “performative” element was minimal compared to that in Delhi. This made me explore the possibility of “performative” with the “non-performative” element. The models stood next to the mannequins in a premeditative positioning. After the opening, these 10 works, mounted on mannequins, join the rest of the works on display.

This crossover from a still artwork to one moving through gallery space and back to the stillness of a shot on a mannequin is very interesting to me. This fascinating shift from one to another, from a body that is moving to a body that is not a body at all.

This work is inspired by fashion…

There is a long history of relationship between art and fashion. It has evolved over time. Through this show, where art meets fashion, I wanted to see how this relationship is received today.

Please explain the title “GAGAWAKA: Making Strange”?

GAGAWAKA is inspired from Lady Gaga and Waka Waka, the FIFA World Cup song. Making Strange comes from Bertolt Brecht, which alludes to distanciation and alienation in contemporary times. I use everyday materials such as medicine foil, rubber tubes, sanitary napkins and bras to make unusual garments. As a result, when you look at the garments you recognise the material but, in this new avatar, it is strange.

Everyday urban waste — rubber tubes, paper cups, medicine foils, x-ray films — have been put to dramatic use in these garments. What do these works convey?    

It took me two-and-a-half years to put this show together. I had a professional designer to help execute the idea. These garments cover and reveal and in doing so they evoke desire become symbols of eroticism and sexuality. There is pathos as well as seen in the use of orthopaedic braces and empty capsule foils, a reminder of decay and degeneration.

Though some of these garments are wearable this is art not fashion. Where is the demarcation between the two?

There is a thin line between art and fashion. What distinguishes this work from fashion is a combination of three things: the intention, material used and wearability.

The intention was to create an image from trash that was moving enough to become an art object. The garments were fashioned from material that was either discarded trash or purchased disposable material that I thought had potential.    

As an artist I have made these sculptural objects, one of a kind, and not replicated as in a fashion designer's label.

Many of these carry aspects of contemporary modern fashion, perhaps not so much in India as in the west. Some of these are wearable depending on the kind of visibility you want.

So, what next for these sculptured pieces? Where do they go from here?

(Smiles) There is a lot of interest from the public and institutions to these garments. They want to put them to some use. Who knows may be they'll come up with a play or a performance or even an opera! The cues are there in the pieces. It is up to others to pick them.

Vivan Sundaram's GAGAWAKA: Making Strange at Chemould Prescott Gallery from February 27 to March 21, 2012.

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