Art Assemblage displayed works that brought together the present, the past and the future

On a recent morning at the Hyatt Regency, there’s a sense of disconsolation as the bays of art are devoid of visitors. Art Chennai’s Art Assemblage dazzles like arrangements in the night sky of stars all together impacting a revelation. For festival convenor Sanjay Tulsyan and curator Girish Shahane, a lucid concern for conservation, heritage and environment spurred this year’s theme. Gallerie 88, Akar Prakar and Gallery Art and Soul showed work by established artists, many recalling our traditional past. The contemporary works of galleries unravelled a chain of connections linking the “distress of civilisation”. The images of art contain the present, the past and the future infused with the possibilities of what could happen and what we choose not to see.

Project 88, Mumbai

Prajakta Potnis’ Capsule 1, II and III are digital prints on archival paper in monochromatic hues of green, yellow or brown. Photographs of escalators encapsulated in refrigerators capture a lull in the vestibule, all in stasis. Time is frozen. The variant scales of objects are unsettling. An odd placement of a lacy doily instead of a carpet suggests human intervention. Potnis captures surreal luminous spaces with an inevitable sense of the perishable. Sandeep Mukherjee’s vibrant canvases with pulsating forms rely on sensations to create awareness of our selves in relation to environment. In acrylic on duralene, Untitled (Terra Valley) imposes artificial structuring in rocky organic landmass with brick-like geometry. Rohini Davesher’s Surveyor VI and VII bring a memory of flight, shuttling and travelling with prints of landscapes appearing as in satellite images. In the topographies of crinkles and creases, a marked path meanders. It is manmade. We map and excavate every part of the earth irreversibly.

Ashvita, Chennai

In one from his series Missed Call by C. Douglas, a man is nonchalantly smoking a cigarette, his head bandaged closing off sound, while notes spin around like reminders that he refuses to see. He has “missed the call”. Douglas calls attention to our absolute imperviousness to every clue from the changing environment. R. Magesh’s quixotic “…and he flew saying screw you” references the extermination of pigs during an outbreak of swine flu. Trees are uprooted, a pig is flying and a house hangs from a flying balloon. Yet, the man sitting astride a scooter wearing a gas mask at the edge of a broken precipice hastens to save himself in the face of disaster. P. Krishna Rao’s Bombay in bold charcoal strokes of the harsh cityscape, ziggurats in ink on paper, is devoid of any trees.

Gallery OED, Cochin

Darwin is sitting in front of a sphinx-like creature in Biju Parthan’s Darwin’s Metronome that taps time and evolution between pragmatic and mythical spaces. Piyali Ghosh’s Untitled IV comic surrealist interpretation of man-woman relationship strokes the wacky realities of inexplicable bonds. The corpulent couple is completely entangled: the woman holds the man’s tie in her mouth, fish and snakes intertwine and a dog sits by the man, certainly more faithful. In this picture of deception, domination and selfishness, the couple is smirking, irreverent to the human condition. Anjaneyulu’s smooth rendering of a steel carrier for onions takes your breath away. More like airbrushed posters, his reflective oil on canvas paintings of paraffin lamps and old soda bottles exalt the ordinary object, renewing its permanent space in our daily lives.

The Guild, Mumbai

This is an elegant collection that includes a much-admired People Tree by G.R. Iranna. A pink flowering tree is upside down. Yet, a number of people lines up under, benefiting from the shade of the tree. K.P. Reji’s Fishes Under The Broken Bridge is a diptych with manifold stories implying man’s callous treatment of Nature: children play without care, harassing a frog. A boy sits on the broken stump of a tree dropping a cockroach over a sleeping playmate. In the background is a broken bridge with a number of people on either side, fishing. Navjot Altaf’s digital montage archival prints of A Place In New York dazzle with layered narratives of this world city, where losing and finding is simultaneous.

Exhibit 320, New Delhi

The child in our adult selves vicariously longs for the popsicle-fairy tale universe of cartoon characters as in Princess Pea’s miniature worlds. Reman Chopra’s layered photo narratives magically interlace drawing and photography, recalling the capacity of memory to archive and preserve. The exquisitely fragile elaborate paper pop-ups by George Sebastian demonstrate the ephemerality of all physical things, superlatively riding over “what is”. Reality surfaces from the imaginary.

Art Assemblage underscored humanity’s ability to insulate itself from reality, disconnecting from our actions and to artificially preserve by refrigeration. Darwin’s metronome is ticking.