Canvas had many hues, brush had many points to make for the art lovers of Delhi this week. Then there were installations too. Truly, a week of allround activity.
The exhibition at Rabindra Bhawan seeks redefinitions for both the gallery space and what is conventionally considered the artwork.
The Director of the 2007 Documenta German artist-curator Robert Buergel has been quoted in Art Forum - February 2004 - as saying that it is a mistake to consider art "a repair business for removing misery and injustice from the world." At the same time he has argued that aesthetic output need not be contained in an artwork, but may be a part of the "effect on the spectator." Defining a conceptual shift from the previous Documenta 11 in which Okwui Enwezor identified multiple platforms as a global mapping for the conceptual base of Documenta, Buergel believes that Documenta 12 would draw on aesthetic grass roots initiatives, or art routes other than the main routes of centres of practice. Buergel's initiatives as a curator are likely to reflect his existing exhibitions such as The Government (together with Ruth Noack), which dilated on extra Governmental interstices of creativity. Buergel's visit and lecture in New Delhi come close on the closing of Vivan Sundaram's exhibition Living It Out in Delhi's Rabindra Bhavan galleries. One refers to these events together because they set up models of practice of the artist as theorist and curator, the specifics of visual communication and the component of artistic intervention. Specifically, Sundaram's exhibition is about waste as urban detritus - garbage, kabad, raddi as much as the politics of waste. He achieves his goals through acts of mimicry or a mock usage of materials that copycat high art structures and images. The central image of the city as an urban phenomenon, the vertical monument, a symbol of triumphalism, since medieval times, is rendered here a monument to rubbish. As the first piece in the show its metal cabinet effect crammed with waste paper recalls the filing cabinets of the DDA, the NDMC, the MCD all the acronyms of state mal-administration that render the lines of ordinary citizens hellish.
Art in debris?
The exhibition seeks a series of redefinitions for both the gallery space and what is conventionally considered the artwork. For instance, the large piles of rubbish actively sorted out by the kabadiwala in the gallery by the sheer art of dislocation, gain a performative aspect. But they also confirm the location of artistic concern within political and economic structures, compiling a reconnection with human agency, in this case careers founded on the detritus of the city.The questions that the exhibition raises go further. . What are the modes of artistic and aesthetic agency involved in such a form of representation? More importantly, does a polemic emerge based on art and political economy? We see artistic agency at work through different modes of presentation. Waste is recycled into chairs and a table; shoes stripped of their uppers are placed on a series of iron beds, like sick remnants. A massive photograph takes an aerial view of a carefully arranged play ground of rubbish, that mimics urban planning here rendered noxious and foul by the sheer amounts of untreated waste. Elsewhere on the a map of Delhi, it is interpreted to locate the work sites of nearly 300 rag pickers, who appear wearing the T-shirt, "Your waste is our business"!
There is another mediatic shift with a video titled The Brief Ascension of Maryan Hussain. In this brief video Maryan a child rag picker who sleeps on a pile of rubbish performs a balletic ascent, of aspirations for release perhaps. Alternatively, he may only appear to have the mobility of a plastic bag afloat in the breeze. The other video on view Tracking (double channel) has already been seen as a work in progress and in a sense mirrors the large photograph of the recycled city, in that the city is constructed like a miniaturised land of retrieved rubbish, mimicking sky scrappers hoardings and serpentine streets until the apotheosis when incendiarists set it aflame. Working with the NGO Chintan that works with rag pickers Sundaram converts the Rabindra Bhavan galleries into a waste collection centre and a self-reflective site where the art space assumes the dynamics of a social project.Another exhibition that reflects on the city and its contours of violence - ingesting streets is Jitish Kallat's recent exhibition Richshawpolis. (Gallery Nature Morte) Dick Bruna's illustrative puzzles for children on everyday objects, like the cars have become classic nursery tools for cognition. Here Kallat borrows from the Bruna like seemingly tepid, harmless illustrative lexicon, to create a logo for the city, the auto rickshaw.On its three wheels it becomes a symbol of careening instability, dented and scarred, and at worst aflame after violent collision. The only picture of wholeness is of the artist in a wraparound photograph lounging at a city phone booth, potential witness to an accident across the street. In the paintings particularly the series the Dented Chariot the human from at accident site appears lacerated with exposed inwards. In a series of large paintings mounted on gargoyles, the accident site is rendered like a large comic book splotch. Kallat tends to engage with his subject through mediatic imagery. Some of it may appear witty and ironic, the rest is only vaguely subversive.