“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”, lamented one of the greatest prophets of Modernism, T.S. Eliot. Fast forward a hundred years and we are here, cocooned within our homes, fiddling with our fate, in between solitary walks from room to room, to an afternoon siesta fighting off the now routine jadedness. Time has sure come to a standstill and we’re no longer strangers to the feeling of being defeated by it. Now more so than ever, but this time not chasing its elusive tail, but being unable to keep up with its ever-slow strides, slower even than the time the sun takes to recede into yesterdays.
But have you thought about the condition of space that too is evolved and effaced in the process of all this change? Again, we go back to our confined lives chalked out in the shape of the thorough square footage of the room we live in. We know we need space, not just to exist but to expand. We need to develop an eye for the space that’s beyond. This beyondness which exceeds structures and boundaries of the space our bodies inhabit, that subverts the mundane “measured out with coffee spoons” or manifested in any form of daily chores.
Bombay-based gallery, Akara Art taps into these thoughtful questions about spatial dialectics by bringing forth the diverse works of five artists in their first online exhibition, ‘A Walk Across Grids’, on till the 23rd of June. Each of these artists in their own radical way approaches the shifting dynamics of the space around us, that make up our contemporary urban life. The exhibition offers a platform to convey the urgent need to document the changes and gear towards reimagining new perspectives of the world.
We also got the chance to interact with three of the artists featured on the show who told us about their individual practices, inspirations and the underpinnings of their creative vision that they channelize through their art.
Based in Baroda, artist Harisha Chennangod’s work ‘Portrait of Present’ (2020) depicts the fabric of the city life at night, as an invocation to the identities that inhabit the structured spaces and are moulded by its accompanying socio-economic structures.
1. What is the guiding thought behind your work ‘Portrait of Present’ (2020)?
Years of my practice made way to this minimal way of representation. The work reflects like an illusion of a nightscape city and the aerial view of mapping or geometric universe; it is a creative challenge to me in an abstract way. I create a painting and choose its small portion – which works out well in the process, then explore that area in my next work; that’s how I have reached the current point in my practice.
‘Portrait of Present’ reflects an armature of construction, patterns, forms, characteristic of blinking cities around the world. The rush of colour planes overlapping and moving. Lines have overlapped layer by layer, geometric shapes and colour blocks create congestion inside the grids. Somewhere it looks like a bird’s-eye view of the cityscape. Lines, shapes and colours play the primary role in the overall composition of painting.
2. What does your art practice constitute–the transition from the process to the product?
My visual language is a journey that first begins in my mind and in my studio space. I spend most of my time in my studio; it is kind of a meditative process for me! Such practice helps me to observe the refined subtle nuances of life. This process is very important and challenges me which comes out in my practice. It starts with the construction of lines – layer by layer, then with the colours it leads me to the various areas of the painting.
3. How do you think that art and its tangible denouement can have an impact on the socio-political structures?
Art is a medium to express our feelings. It does have an impact, like in the speed of life, some percentage of society gets a chance to feel/ think about the situation from the creativity that the artist creates.
Harisha Chennangod, ‘Portrait of Present’, Acrylic on Canvas, 72 x 48 inches, 2020
4. Is there any reason behind choosing the nocturnal city as your subject?
My visual language bends more towards abstraction; it portrays the picture of what is happening in our surrounding, knowingly or unknowingly. I enjoy exploring my visual language in a more abstract manner by constructing the minimal lines and forms on the surface. Creativity needs a reference, so the unconscious registered observation makes its way through in my mind and reflects on the works. My paintings look like nightscapes of a growing city or the illusion of mapping with blinking light windows.
Earlier in my student days, I used to stroll at night and observe the city, the structures, the armature of the city and painted night landscapes of parks, cityscapes from top of a hill or painted streets of my neighborhoods. So the decades of that process of observing and documenting the city at night have led my practice to this.
5. Do your memories of home town get reflected in your art? Tell us briefly about it.
Yes, in my recent works you can see layers of coloured grids which definitely reflect my childhood memories. Back in my village in Kerala there was a small scale handloom industry, which was supported by Khadi & NGO organization, which produced towels and handkerchiefs in these chequered grid like patterns. Those overlapping threads always stayed in my mind.
Also interestingly in the same pattern my mother used to make mats out of palm, coconut leaves and grasses in her leisurely time for our home. Somewhere these childhood memories and observations lived with me and started reflecting in my practice in its very own abstract manner.
Calcutta based artist Subir Hati has always been interested in the patterns that surround his everyday life. Through his body of work, he tries to dialogue with the possibilities of change that underlie forms, when set against the registers of time, space and context.
Subir Hati, ‘Well Baked’, Acrylic on Canvas, 36 x 36 inches, 2019
1. What sparked your interest in the “metamorphosis of shape”?
A kitchen knife can be changed into a murder weapon. Though the object’s physical existence remains the same, there happens a metamorphosis with the changing narration and utility. The change of time, space and utility alters the meaning. This always held my interest.
2. Do you think that the idea of shape is susceptible to change implying transience or is it the physical manifestation of fixity and permanence?
Both the characters are true and virgin. It depends on the mental state of a being; at times it is transient and at times it may also speak of permanence.
3. What revelations do you experience in dealing with the maze of patterns in your art?
The immense possibilities amaze me and also the ‘restlessness’ of addressing it. Being ‘somewhat’ ‘handcuffed’, at times, also gives me the sense of freedom to ‘break the chain’.
4. Tell us about the elements that you use in the making of your works.
Would like to quote Tagore here as he says – “Jagot ta aakarer ek mohayatra” – The universe is basically an eternal journey of shapes. I don’t use any ‘element’, or so to say. It’s the character of a particular element that almost compels me to make that a part of my work. For instance, the colour ‘blood red’ at times assimilates into my work as ‘blood’ or at times as the colour of ‘Krishnachura – the flower’, depending on my mental state of being and assimilation.
5. How do you bring together the two defining parameters of space and time to give substantial meaning to your works?
Change of time and space changes the meaning of existence, be it of an object, be it a relation. Thus the transition of ‘being, and the urge of framing it eludes us for eternity. It’s not the destination or destiny that defines our thoughts, rather the journey that is ongoing. And so is my work, it’s an attempt to go beyond a frame, while keeping within it.
Born in Jodhpur, artist Neeraj Patel delves into the implications of space by creating monochromatic paper works. He is particularly inclined towards documenting urban construction sites to expose the dichotomy of development as well as destruction that inevitably comes with the thrust of industrialization.
Neeraj Patel, ‘Industrial Land’, Graphite Charcoal on Fabriano Paper, 8 x 27.7 inches, 2020
1. Since your works offer a meditative glance into the nuances of space, what role do you think space has in contributing to identity politics?
My work can be only experienced and observed through spaces and its nuances are rooted in the shifting of them and the spaces itself speak a collective voice with its own observation. As identity politics is always embedded within the system and in the societal structure which comes through the constant construction and reconstruction of the physical structures.
2. Why do you think that the consequences of industrialization are at its best as well as at its worst in the urban construction sites?
It has both positive and negative impacts for society. The issues of taking away farmers’ lands and drawing them to the city for search of food and turning them into migrant laborers for building the gigantic buildings weave a complicated capitalistic net. These naked construction sites echo these struggles, the class differences and negative effect of the growing urbanization. The balance of nature is also dying out because of this.
3. Do you think that landscapes exist as commentaries on the political beliefs and class relations of a society?
Yes, landscape always has been part of it and a hierarchical symbol of class relations and power struggle and dwells in between politics and society.
1. How would you like to describe your creative process, both in relation to your currently displayed works as well as your art in general?
I am interested in methods for interactions and installation from experiences, counters and engagements. I manifest my works through the understanding of being present in different times, landscapes and situations. Certain questions like how spaces are affecting the living spaces and how visual culture will inform the architectural spaces interest me and I would like to explore them.
2. Is there any specific goal you imagine to achieve through the artworks being showcased at this exhibition?
The two works from the exhibition concern my research based on past history and trajectories which are changing the industrial landscape, shopping malls, residency space and how political situations and the system of states convert within the time and space. Currently, I’m part of Space studio residency, which got delayed because of COVID-19. We are participating from home and physically we will be present at the space from July. I’m constantly utilising this time to explore and work on the surroundings and to express it through sculpture drawing and installation. Earlier I was in space studio residency for five months in Baroda and it was a good time to explore and work on the surrounding and explore my responses from the site with drawing, sculpture and installation. The displayed works in this current exhibition are a continuation from my solo show which happened in early 2020.
A sneak peek into our conversation with Akara Art’s gallerist, Puneet Shah
1. What has been the driving force behind coming up with this exhibition, ‘A Walk across Grids’, during these times of worldwide systemic as well as interpersonal change?
We generally host a group show at the gallery once a year between May and July with younger artists, with a hope to discover new talent and also give them a platform to showcase their works and to have an online exhibition in these times felt like a win win opportunity for both the gallery and the artists.
2. Is there an underlying vision that urged you to bring together these five artists in particular?
The idea was to bring together a group of artists whose works resonated with us and who shared similar concerns of spatial construction and minimalism which fit within the scope of the exhibition.
3. What do you wish to achieve through this online exhibition?
Promote younger Talent
Be Engaged with Clients and Viewers
4. Lastly, how do you feel about art consumption taking a drastic turn from the contours of physical spaces to being facilitated via technology?
I think technology has once again proved how dependent we are on it and how advanced it has become. Just like any other business, art galleries may also have to adapt to and incorporate technology in terms of their day to day working which can open completely new possibilities and ways of doing business, which is the way of the future.
We feel it’s extremely pertinent to acquaint ourselves with the question of space and its multiple ramifications that lurk in our everyday lives. It’s all the more rewarding when these questions are in fact dealt with such ingenuity by some truly creative minds of our time. If you liked reading our interview as much as we enjoyed taking it, you can visit our website to check out our repository of blogs about a plethora of topics related to the arts. For example, if you’re looking for something light-hearted yet insightful, you can check out our blog about some of the art world’s famous collaborations here!