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Updated: March 1, 2013 18:10 IST

Crafting history

Shailaja Tripathi
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Confluence of ideas: (From left to right) Eliese Steiner, Peter Nagy and artists Sumir Tagra and Jiten Thukral with their Meissen sculpture at the residence of the German ambassador. Photo: Sandeep Saxena
The Hindu
Confluence of ideas: (From left to right) Eliese Steiner, Peter Nagy and artists Sumir Tagra and Jiten Thukral with their Meissen sculpture at the residence of the German ambassador. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

New India and new Germany meet in the new works of Thukral & Tagra in porcelain, which were created at the historical Meissen Porcelain Manufactory

Eliese Steiner, German ambassador Michael Steiner’s wife, sums it up aptly, “It is like breaking the stereotypes. For Germany, India is a country for spiritual fulfilment and cows, snake charmers, etc. And for India, Germany is a country producing great cars and technology and not really appealing but the truth is that both countries have changed a lot in the last few years.” And these countries in transition meet in the art works of Indian artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra known as Thukral & Tagra (T&T). “Longing for Tomorrow” is a series of works by the duo assimilating Indian imagery and traditional German craftsmanship. World-famous Meissen Porcelain vases of Germany have been tweaked and made into contemporary art pieces by T&T. Flown down from Meissen, they are currently on display at the residence of the German ambassador in New Delhi.

Exquisite vases have been piled up to make sculptural installations bearing the artists’ signature imagery that constitute of satire, pop and candy colours. Tiny gold plated phonograph tubes fitted into them and placed over furniture pedestals with wall-mounted backdrops complete the package. As part of the ‘Art Campus’ programme initiated by the historical Meissen Porcelain Manufactory — where Europe’s first porcelain was born — T&T were invited in 2011 to collaborate with the artisans of the factory. Though a few of them prior to this — at Gallery Nature Morte in Berlin and at Art Basel (June 2012) — have already been shown, Peter Nagy of Nature Morte gallery, which supports the endeavour and represents the artists, say they were slightly different from the ones shown as those didn’t have the furniture pedestals. He reveals that one of the overwhelming concerns was whether these delicate pieces which were made during the six months the duo stayed in Meissen campus, will survive the shipment.

In stark contrast to T&T’s work which is so much about contemporary India and its people, the campus was isolated with hardly any people around. “We are used to so many people around but firstly, one is from a different country and then, you don’t see people. That made our work challenging,” say T&T. Beyond that there were other challenges as well. Unique it might be but the surface brings along a number of restrictions with it. Out of thousands of moulds, T&T chose those which suited their requirements.

“We had never worked with the technique of washing and spraying. Also painting is done with clove oil. So, the whole process is quite time consuming. After every step it has to go to fire and only a certain portion can be fired at one time, so you have to wait for the piece to come back. And it takes time in drying as well. Artisans work in scheduled programmes and create mass products. It was new aesthetics for them but they supported us,” recalls T&T, who wanted to create sound sculptures but couldn’t due to technical reasons. “You have to have a strategy there. You should know how much degree to fire at so that you get the kind of pink you want.”

The duo conceived 60 pieces out of which they have made around 13 works. The rest will be made later this year when they go back to Meissen to finish the task. So far, most of the installations comprise 6-8 vases joined together but the longest one will be as high as 12 feet which is yet to be completed.

More to come

According to Eliese Steiner, the residence of German ambassador is opening to the arts for the first time. An art historian herself, she says “Longing For Tomorrow” is just the beginning of a host of exhibitions and art related events planned to take place at the embassy.

Lectures, demonstrations and various art exhibitions are being planned this year. Later this month, a reputed German curator is expected to come and release a catalogue of the exhibition, which will remain at the venue for three months.

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