Bright Noise showcases 14 artists who transform visual noise drawn from the Indian landscape to art

Jitish Kallat’s bleached bamboo ladder made of fibreglass stands inconspicuously. The supports bulging with Victorian gargoyles are noticeable only at a second glance. This is the space of Bright Noise, at Lalit Kala Akademi.

The stimulant for curator Girish Shahane was the Italian movement Arte Povera, where artists took ordinary material and turned it into political expression. His starting point was works by Anita Dube and Rashid Rana, who used glitches, interference or noise. The “noise” from discarded artefacts made compelling images with a refined sense of aesthetic. As the collective for his show grew naturally, Shahane introduced anew this possibility to artist Manish Nair who shot blank hoardings especially for this show. As Shahane says, “It appears that anybody could do this but it’s tougher to do than it looks.”

All the artworks show evidence of process as in distinguished artist Vivan Sundaram’s three-projection video Black Gold, mesmerising projections on the floor inside a darkroom, a recreation of his original site installation at the Kochi Muziris Biennale. With 2000-year-old clay shards excavated from the ancient site of Pattanam, in a 50’ long and 10’ wide channel, Sundaram made his own reconstruction of the lost port town of Muziris, into which he filled water, lastly spilling in the peppercorn. The dream-like circumstances of ships carrying spices between North Africa and Cochin, keeling over and dumping precious pepper arise. Text and graphic transliteration make their entry. In Rashid Rana’s ‘Language Series 9’, an artwork is constructed with postage stamp-like detail, many with Urdu text to render a magnificent montage on an entire wall. The strenuous attention to detail and laborious construction techniques are not lost on the viewer. Anita Dube’s scribbles of velvet and wire on the wall, emulate illegible writing. Rendering organic flower-like testimonies in digital prints, Rohini Devasher uses digital noise with video feedback that occurs when a camera is pointed at its playback monitor. Unembellished, a large pipe on the floor turns into itself like a piece from a construction site — Vibha Galhotra’s work on the Yamuna, Delhi, signifies the endless return of waste.

In the next bay, Nandan Ghiya has sliced frames of antique objects, portraits and silverware in manipulated horizontals deliberately tampering with the sanctity of the object, recreating the picture. Nandan takes his deconstruction art from digital technology’s glitches and errors, transferring it back to the physical frame. It is reminiscent of architectural renovation where walls are relocated within the older structure, relocating the new, violating the old.

The interface with the screen and video is another channel for exploring the forgotten bytes. “Navin Thomas does this with bits of classical music, a wonderful and heart-warming piece,” says curator Shahane who notes many works in the show use humble material with elegance in the transformation of trash. He deliberates, “It makes me look at the accidental beauty in my own city Mumbai in a puddle of waste.” Shahane’s curatorial note reflects a deep concern for environment and conservation and also the inability to distinguish between “signal” and “noise”. The imminent quandary stands: by idealising junk will we find a way to eliminate it?

Bright Noise treads a fine and difficult line. Few of the pieces clamour for attention as art in public space could be expected to. Indeed, if set on the wayside, they might easily be missed for any part of the Indian landscape. This is not a call towards divine glory grabbing the viewer’s awe. With aesthetic and beauty held by reins, the subtle shots of billboards, the incongruous ladder or a carpet of stones call for a tough questioning by re-contextualising.

In India, visual noise is already at cacophonous levels. We are used to coming to art as to cinema to be glamorously elevated. We look to art to find uplifting in overwhelming quiet, mythological paradoxes and bright bold forms. Subtle interventions are not the Indian way and to be reminded thus, of losing our landscape, takes a quotient of the brave or the dedicated. Yet, one could stand back and wonder if there is not a way to elevate even the remnants of the past, junk and digital artefacts to make a more beautiful noise.

On at Lalit Kala Akademi till March 8.