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Updated: November 7, 2013 18:29 IST

The inside view

Shailaja Tripathi
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Vivan Sundaram with one of his works. Photo: Shailaja Tripathi
The Hindu
Vivan Sundaram with one of his works. Photo: Shailaja Tripathi

Vivan Sundaram transforms an ordinary mannequin into a work of art, as he shifts his gaze from what is on the body to the body itself in his latest show.

From outside to inside. That’s the journey Vivan Sundaram has undertaken in his latest outing “Postmortem (After Gagawaka)”. Two years ago, when he mounted the show “Gagawaka: Making Strange”, with his bizarre clothes made out of sanitary napkins, plastic pipes, rubber tubes, surgical instruments and other such material, it was with the idea to probe what covers the body. So as his models walked the ramp wearing his sculptural garments at Lalit Kala Akademi, the lines between art and fashion blurred, posing several questions.

While with the former, Vivan made an entry into the world of fashion, his onging exhibition marks his exit from there.

“It’s like that entry into fashion also implies an exit for me to critique that notion of beauty in some manner of speaking…how the garbage or the readymade, made of so many different items, finally becomes an attractive garmenT and to disinvest it of that and to open it out, and the support is the mannequin. The clothes are draped on it,” says the artist, who shifts his gaze from what is covering the body to the body itself.

Assuming significance, mannequins begin to move into the realm of sculpture. And as Vivan undertakes that exercise, from being lifeless, the mannequins acquire a new identity and life.

Reconfigured, dismembered, mutilated, Vivan’s mannequins occupy the Vadehra Art Gallery, rendering it stark. They stand as a whole, fixed into the walls (a lower limb even juts out of the facade of the gallery) re-arranged and reconfigured with hollow parts of the dummy cut and stuffed with medical body parts allowing the viewer a connect at various levels like sexuality and violence.

Found objects are integral to Vivan’s conceptual art practice, so much so that many of his shows have revolved around it, with “Trash” being a case in point. However, in this show, the concept of recycling enters through a different route. The benches for the ramp show Vivan made for his previous show re-emerge as framing devices here, getting a new lease of life like mannequins. So if at one instance, they are fashioned into a coffin, at another place, they beautifully frame two mannequins, whom Vivan calls lovers. The frame doesn’t limit the two bodies; in fact, it adds to the lightness Vivan seeks to create in this work.

Vivan has recycled from his shows in the past, but not at this scale. A sequel to a show is also a first for the artist, who trained in fine arts at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda, and Slade School of London.

Also part of the show are two video channels and a sound installation created in collaboration with German composer Bettina Wenzel and Ish S. of the Delhi-based electronic outfit sound reasons.

Influenced by a range of movements like Dadaism, Surrealism, Fluxus and artists Joseph Beuys and British American painter R.B. Kitaj, Vivan recalls that the fashion world didn’t relate too much to “Gagawaka”.

“So little of that kind of thing happens here. Young students see what the Alexander Mcqueens and very avant garde western fashion designers do, but that’s theirs, ours is not about that. Also, today most fashion in the world is done out of textiles. Fashion is an industry which works 24 x 7. There is a supply demand thing, but it isn’t the same thing with art. Fashion is about finish, it is not about how you cut and you stitch. And a lot of people told me that we get nothing from your work, this is something very exotic,” says Vivan.

(The show is on at D 53, Defence Colony, Vadehra Art Gallery, till December 5.)

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