Playing with senses

INSIDE view An image from Shilpa Gupta's work “Auto Portrait 9/40” featuring the artist.

INSIDE view An image from Shilpa Gupta's work “Auto Portrait 9/40” featuring the artist.  

BOOKMARK The monograph on artist Shilpa Gupta explores different dimensions of her art practice. SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

I t's not easy to view Shilpa Gupta's art. Those who have been through the experience would understand this.

The viewer, unlike most art exhibitions, is made to step out of his/her comfort zone of being just a viewer to become a participant in the work created by the young inter-disciplinary artist. Like the passengers in Mumbai's local trains who received bottles of simulated blood carrying stickers “blaming you makes me feel so good, so I blame you for what you cannot control — your religion, your nationality”; or the customers at a bookstore who came upon kidneys made of sugar and gelatine while browsing through book shelves as part of her interactive installation, “Your Kidney Supermarket”.

Gupta consciously uses interactive videos, websites, objects, photographs, sounds and public installations to examine the issues of consumerism, borders, terrorism and security. The new media she works with itself has a significant role to play, for the democratic, non-consumable art fashioned out of it is intended to challenge the ‘market' of art.

Now, Vadehra Art Gallery's recently launched monograph on the artist, published by Prestel, an international name in art publishing, seeks to function as “a symposium of ideas”, as its editor Nancy Adjania describes it. Lavishly sprinkled with images of her works, the writings by the world renowned artist and curator Peter Weibel, art critic Nancy Adjania, Pakistani artist and art critic Quddus Mirza and writer Shanay Jhaveri create different entry points into Gupta's art. “Shilpa is one of the confident voices dealing with the entanglements of global contemporary,” says Adjania who in her essay tries to understand one aspect of her art in the context of “alaya-vijnana” (store consciousness) concept of Mahayana Buddhism.

The book begins with Peter Weibel's interview of the artist which is rather poetic in flavour.

Not just her individual art practice, where Weibel points out her use of technology as a medium of absence, he also questions her about the importance accorded to senses in eastern culture vis-à-vis western art.

In the chapter titled “To See Again and Again” penned by Jhaveri, the author explores the connection between Gupta's works “While I Sleep”, “Singing Cloud”, “Notice Board” and “Untitled” (a piece with flap boards found in transit zones). Reversal of language and their intended affect on the viewer is the common factor that binds them. “Singing Cloud”, Gupta's most recent installation, is made up of 4000 microphones, suspended from the ceiling and emitting groans, snores and singing “I want to fly high above, ships sailing, Rajes Allahus, JeusRaalhAllam…” The art science project which Gupta says “explores shifting perceptions and senses” was showcased in the 4th Auckland Triennial held in June this year.

Give me feedback

Enabling readers to get a complete sense of her work are the texts of her poetry, songs, letters exchanged between her and viewers asked to write their response after taking the bags from a gallery in the U.K. for a walk in a public space. The boxes were covered with a cloth on which was written “There is no explosive in this”. The vague and quirky annotations that appear on every page align with Gupta's art practice.

“Aar Paar”, the milestone project in Gupta's life, is discussed in Mirza's chapter “The Unusual Suspect”. The project, born during a Khoj residency where Gupta met Pakistani artist Huma Mulji, created a dialogue between visual artists of the two countries.

The artists made posters that dealt with the notion of unity and separation and were transmitted through the Internet. Recalling the infamous incident, he writes, “…one midnight in 2002, an Indian artist's father had to pay a visit to nearby police station on account of an artwork showing two guns and roses received from Pakistan and to explain the peaceful nature of that otherwise ‘loaded' visual.

The artist whose father had to appear before the police was Shilpa Gupta and the culprit who sent the poster from the other side of the border was the writer of this text.”

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