Art Chennai gets an intriguing twist with installations and cartoons

On the fourth day of Art Chennai, the sessions get intriguing. At Expresss Avenue, the entrance and atrium are crowded with curious passersby and art lovers. There are dubbas hanging from metal bars, microphones stacked on a red table, and a large screen that showcases a lovely mustard field. Of course, this is just at first glance. Meanwhile, at Burgundy's, everyone is having a hearty laugh at Biswajit's witty cartoons.

Biswajit Balasubramanian

At Burgundy's, everyone is having a light evening, wine glasses in hand and wide smiles on their faces. The reason? Biswajit's witty cartoons of everyday situations. There are a few from his Malini series for The Hindu's Retail Plus, some from the music season, and others from a film magazine he contributed to.

In Biswajit's cartoons, it's often not the main character that delivers the punch. Three dancers at a performance hold out boards of their sponsors, standing in various dance poses. The sponsors vary from banks to cellphone service providers. At one corner of the stage, a Natraja statue (the main sponsor being Lord Shiva Dance University!) laments: “I say, don't you think they are carrying this sponsorship thing a bit too far?” In a few others, the accompanying artistes are bored and the lead performer is too busy posing for cameras to concentrate on the performance. The art gallery series shows a family munching on the food rather than being interested in the art, while other art lovers look on scornfully.

Sometimes it's nice to have a character on the periphery saying things,” says the artiste. “It's often these people who see the joke while the actual performers don't.” He also has a few strips for a technology series. Sample this — a newborn, lifted out of his mother's stomach comes with a USB cord rather than an umbilical cord. “Inspiration can come from anywhere or anyone. Wherever you go and whatever you observe can be an idea for a cartoon. I visit art galleries a lot, and make cartoons out of what I see. There is a cartoon on how art lovers decipher a work, coming up with ideas that even the artist wouldn't have thought of. These are just observations,” he says.

(Biswajit's cartoons are on display till March 18)

Bose Krishnamachari and Sheba Chhachhi

I peep across the escalator near Express Avenue's atrium, and notice the fringes of a red carpet, with a large, red table in the centre. Move a little ahead, and you're blown away. Thirteen regal white chairs whose top half end in geometric post-modern buildings surround the table on three sides. And the table itself is covered by microphones as if the purpose is to call for a conference of world leaders, their chairs patiently awaiting them.

Bose Krishnamachari's minimalistic design on a larger-than-life installation creates quite an impact. In the installation ‘White Builders and the Red Carpets', there are allusions to the media's role in the global economy — is everything news? Or, are we just pawns in a bigger plan? The 13 chairs also talk of religion's influence in the world; alluding to The Last Supper. Wires from the 100-odd microphones end in a pile on the carpet, reminiscent of the chaos in this world.

“Ideas are like molecules,” says the artiste. “The execution of the concept will take time, and is always like enlightenment. This piece is a critique of our times. But I don't give answers, because that's not what people want. We're not satisfied with answers unless we come up with them and the work speaks for itself.”

His other work ‘Ghosts: Transmemoirs' is an interactive installation, and has people watching LCD screens placed inside tin dubbas, while listening to the stories on the headphones. The gazebo-like structure allows you to walk in and be surrounded by iron hooks, train handles and wires, engulfing you in the chaos of a city.

These LCD screens show many interviews and videos of Mumbai, by the artiste.

“I chose the dubbas to represent the art because they represent Mumbai. There are about 108 dubbas in the installation, and I chose this number because 108 has no beginning or end. This is an art about survival issues in Mumbai, where order rises from chaos. The dubbawallas conduct an orderly business out of the chaos of the city. I've tried to capture other elements in the form of the handles that forms a part of the public transport in the city,” he says.

The stories vary from family to fashion, talking about the evolution of a city through the eyes of people from various backgrounds; from celebrities to the common man. This is a story of urbanisation and its impact, about those who are from Mumbai and others who made it their home. “I haven't hid the many cables that hang from it,” he says. “You can go inside the installation and feel my art. It's a temple of cables; a cable city.”

Sheba Chhachhi's art is an oblique red construction, with a room inside and a large LCD screen out in the front. This interactive installation allows people to search their soul, and watch their bodies being transformed by consumerism, allowing the video to act as a mirror. The change is shown in real-time video not just to the person inside the room but outside too. “In the beginning, you just see yourself in a mustard field. It's a classic, romantic image,” says Sheba. “Then the image begins to change, and I'm trying to bring in all the genetically modified food. This is to make people aware of their bodies and the changes it is going through due to these foods.”

And true to her words, the yellow field fades out and the person, now just a silhouette, begins to turn into a mass of bubbling orange bubbles. Plastic bottles of aerated soda drop in on the side, engulfing the silhouette, which is now turning purple, into large aubergines.

“I was provoked by the debate on BT brinjal, and that's why this installation is about consumption. I've been interested in real-time virtual reality and it took about six months to get everything ready. People are intrigued by this; it's just another form of communication,” she says.

(The installations are on display at Express Avenue till March 19)

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