Narratives are not just bound to space and time; they entail memories, actions, visual and social cues, and any kind of stimulus around us. The spaces that we occupy are not homogenous but are laden with various qualities that may also be haunted by fantasies of utopias. Negotiations in Contested Space- Part I in Art Heritage brings to the viewer an interesting rendition of the zeitgeist of the times in both Indian and global contexts.
The first artwork that draws my attention is artist Sumedh Rajendran’s Untitled work that is created in monochrome. Figures in office suits and bags are positioned closely, walking forward, sometimes looking at each other while being trodden on by another set of humans heading to their respective work-spaces. The void of a regimented work-life is embodied by the black ellipses that puncture the faces of the subjects. Our lives are still dominated by certain oppositions that cannot be superimposed onto one another. Because of this unspoken sacralization, we are constantly trying to find a balance between what the world expects out of them, and what they individually expect out of themselves. This schism between the public and the private is what creates a fractured existence. This particular representation of the public life as well as the collective’s psyche is something that hasn’t changed over the last hundred years even though the office spaces have changed. The dynamics of the office life remain the same- modernist in a postmodern era.
Jyothi Basu’s Wall paper-6 is a hypnotic painting that mesmerizes the viewer with its optical illusions. Two–dimensional buildings populate the canvas leaving no room to breathe, an indictment of the hectic life that metropolitan citizens have. The seemingly symmetric symbol in red has a pair of eyes staring back, reminding me of Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984. Dystopia ensues from the ordered and structured world when a closer look at the red symbol reveals an asymmetry and a brick wall. The pertinent question that arises is, what is real? The brick wall, or the claustrophobic city background? The mind, or the tactile and visual objective reality around us? This ontological question finds its way into our daily lives that make use of various spaces, both mental as well as physical, that we come to occupy and oscillate within. Where are we headed towards?
This question opens up to an interesting answer through Pooja Iranna’s installation titled Gates to Yet Another Spectacular World. The sculpture compels me to compare it to the ancient Egyptian pyramids that contain the mummified bodies of deceased royalty. The entire installation is created out of staple pins, thus lending the structure a cold and hard character. The shine and uniformity of the three-dimensional, geometric installation bespeaks a futuristic world full of possibilities, but it is a world that is just as fantastic as its possibilities. This is illustrated by the mirror that acts as the base of this installation, thus reflecting the image into a two-dimensional space that cannot be crossed over to, much like how ancient, living humans couldn’t reside in the pyramids of yore. It becomes a utopia, a placeless place, that we all imagine but cannot cross over to. In another sense, the installation can be seen as a chimerical construction of the real, tangible world that we inhabit and an imagined world that we all aspire to escape to.
While these are a few of the artworks that caught my interest, the show at Art Heritage showcases the works of other artists such as Gigi Scaria, G.R. Iranna, N.N. Rimzon, K.P. Reji, T.V. Santhosh, and Baiju Parthan. What I particularly liked about the exhibition was the sheer variety of approaches that the artists used to visualize their notion of human beings in spaces that overlap temporally as well as spatially. It raised germane questions of living and negotiating spaces that are the medium in which our lives erode as we build our histories through creation and destruction, making us more perceptive and aware of the ensemble of relations that we invariably find ourselves in. It’s a show that definitely should not be missed for it very thoughtfully brings to the fore a nuanced understanding of the bricolage-like times we live in.