The KHOJ Peers Residency programme is known to have artists from diverse backgrounds, and it was the same case this year for the Peers 2010 too. With artists from various disciplines and with me as a critic the term diverse needs to be looked at very sensitively. A residency always demands artists or writers to step out of the regular ways and methods of working and their individual practices, to be a part of a prescribed group such that this act of “being a part” hints at a formation of a situation for intellectual osmosis against that of an isolated working practice. The term “diverse” too needs to be thought about carefully, because this diversity invariably provides opportunities for the members to learn something more, which falls apart from their precincts of knowledge. Therefore the term “diverse” hints not at the dissimilarity but in the possible productive outcomes this assemblage can bring about.
Reading Through Layers
The Peers Residency Programme to us was not just a month long event of working, but of blending along with the new spaces and also of fine-tuning our own working methods. Therefore the residency needs to be read in layers – one, as another milestone in the creative trajectories of the respective residents who have been practicing independently, and the other as their interaction with various physical spaces. The first one, not only maps the ways of working of the artists, from the conceptual level to that of the final / produced works, over their individual timelines, but encompasses the cerebral osmosis an artist constantly undergoes, their close engagement with all that influences their works either directly or those which have left their faint shadow. Such that the residency becomes an event, another cause and a stimulant for their works, works either made for it (residency), or as ideas to be taken forward, which then become specific points to be placed on the same timeline.
Each of the artists have been working in their own capacities, and have a decent volume of work which provides / gives a clear understanding of the artists interest / intent through her / his works. The works done prior to the residency act as points of reference from where the artists have taken a cue, and moved ahead (moreover their selection for the Peers 2010 was done on the basis of these pre-residency works) and therefore need due attention. By employing the term “milestone in the creative trajectories”, I do not intend produce a bald narration of their earlier –to- current works or a text (an explicatory guide) to support the visuals; but to speak about the conceptual core of the works (further their working methods), as framed by the artists and critically analysing the same. Then, the timeline, takes a totally different connotation, moving away from its documentative significance to that of comprehensively sketching or tracing the intellectual brewing, physical involvements / efforts, behind every work (a body of work).
Similarly for the residency, considering its open structure, the works made here seem like a sub-section of their creative experiments undertaken in the stipulated time-period of four weeks, and therefore need to be looked upon, - not as final, finished works but as “works in progress”. Corresponding to which, while undertaking the curatorial project for the Open Day I had to conceptualise it at a visual and textual level, dually. Considering the progressive character of the works of the artists the curatorial note too was titled as “Working Title”, as it had to hint at the inherent character of ongoing experimentation, evolution and progression. At a visual level, there was no one particular thematic thread in which their works could be woven together; each artist had a different domain of interest and terrain of enquires. This loose title provided a large umbrella under which the works could be justifiably be clubbed together. And yet some surprising connections emerged out of the boundaries of the chosen concepts and working methods of the artist which had to be emphasised. Considering their backgrounds, the five artists seemed like an assortment of different disciplines and evidently did not form a co-ordinated project team, or a homogenous group. The rooted heterogeneity led to views and fresh perspectives, such that the contrast existing between them became the enhancing element – further the juxtaposition of their works drew each of them into sharper focus.
In a snapshot the residency seemed to be much more than an integration of - some predetermined ideas, some thought, some dropped / abandoned, some tried and failed, some which took form and were placed for viewing on the open day and some which were thought about but would be worked on later; all the possibilities, which seem to be a congruent part of a residency structure. A structure which not only provides space to experiment – but is well prepared / equipped to accept successful works, just as the failed ones.
Moving to the issue of spaces - for most of the artists their stay in Delhi played an instrumental role in the formulation of their works. The stay according to me needs to be divided in three parts – the guest house where we resided together, the Khirkee studio where we worked “individually” (yet holding a sense of sharing the space) and Delhi, itself as a new city (to most of us). The reason for such a division is that, each of these spaces individually contributed to the associative experience in their own unique ways. The guesthouse acted as a home, a temporary address, a space which housed all the dinner time discussions / arguments (depending on the direction the talks took), which in a way provided pointers to ponder on. Further Bhavin’s work came straight from the room on the terrace, which he felt was perfect to shoot his video in.
The Khirkee Studio provided an interesting space to work in. Located nearly a road-cross away from the chic “Select Citywalk Mall, at Saket”, one of Delhi’s largest malls, the Khirkee Village seemed like a contrasting image; and then the central road seemed like a line separating the two worlds, than a functional road, exposing the sharp contrasts co-existing in extreme proximities. The clean white Khirkee Studio structure starkly stood (like an odd one) out in the near-dirt-lane, lined by less impressive structures, nearly shanties. This sense of contrast was further deepened by the presence of historical monuments from the Sultanat period, dotting the same vicinity. Most of these were being refurbished, for the Commonwealth Games. Neha was fascinated by the number of such monuments which speckled across the city, and aligned her work accordingly. Most of these monuments underwent a sudden status transformation – from once nearly abandoned / neglected spaces, to those of high historical value, unexpectedly coming in spotlight.
Even as we started living in our prescribed spaces - at the guesthouse and the studios, a dual / contrasting feeling of attachment and detachment was subconsciously playing in our minds. A small / soft clause was told to us – The studio spaces and the guest house must be returned as it was given. (The clause certainly and justifiably seemed to have been framed on the basis of the extreme freedom which artists tend to take.) The thought of departure in the very first place, hurdled the thought of settling in the space. And at the same time the creative studio space demanded a constant engagement with it. These individual studios, by standing witnesses to the trails of advances and withdrawals in the works, got a status of brooding / breathing spaces for the artists. The architecture (the studio) itself provided various possibilities to explore. I am using the term “architecture” and not a bland label as “building” as this interesting built form lent itself to most of the final works. For the Open Day, these spaces of intimate interaction had to be opened-up to a large audience, as viewing spaces. Further works were designed keeping in mind possibilities offered by it. Moulding / adaptation, of the space, made the space an integral part of it. (explanation for the same is provided below through the description of the individual works)
I mentioned about the Khirkee Village, and the glamorous Citywalk Mall, similarly Delhi itself provided many such spaces / places which hit a chord as we moved through them. For instance in Old Delhi, at a point near Chandani Chowk, I read a board which said “Mirza Ghalib Ki Haveli, Ballimaran” – and that was it. I was sure that I wanted to go there. All the descriptions in Ghalib’s poetry seem live and real. To me it was like a pilgrimage site. Similarly Neha was driven into an ittar shop, and Rabindra and Bhavin to the electronics market. There were many such spaces which lured us, which we visited and re-visited, nearly setting up a cycle of deeper exploration, of a search – and later Rabindra gave an expression to this cycle, through his works.
To me the blog, for the PEERS 2010, had been a tool to note down not just events but what I would call the step by step progress, advancement in the works of the artists individually and also as an associated group, giving an insight to their personal side too. Be it the presentation at the FICA Reading Room, or the walks through Old Delhi, or our studio visits, each day had something worth noting down. By the time I got down to write the curatorial note, the blog entries made it easy to discern – some evident linkages at the experiential and mental level of the artist with their works. The blog had a change in its title from the Absent Ones to that of Do Deadlines Do. The earlier title was thought of, as there was no photograph in which all six of us were together, and therefore I had even thought of introducing the artists on the blog through their absence as “the missing ones” and not through their presence in the group snaps. As time passed the work pressure started surmounting and evidently the new title for the blog was coined. Further this latter title seemed absolutely appropriate as the open day approached, as the definition of deadlines became cleared than ever.
For the Last Lap
Neha Thaker’s work came in direct relation to – one, the residency programme and the other to her stay in Delhi. A constant mental tug-of-war, as mentioned earlier, of attachment and a conscious withdrawal from the space granted to her was seen in her work titled, Sanitised Air. Cartons filled with her experimental works and her paraphernalia, placed outside her studio showed her act of shifting out. Neha set the room, just as the way it was when seen (given to her) at the first time. She took the idea of returning a neat room to another extreme by eliminating all her possible traces, by even purifying the air, by using / choosing camphor – a substance which has a strong religious as well as scientific connotation. The need to do this rose from her experiments with fragrances and different odours. In Unknown Cell she made an attempt to recreate a temporary structure (from cloth), which looked like a structure within a structure. This to her was like the many unknown / ignored monuments dotting the landscape of Delhi. The constructed structure was in a way inspired by the small viewing gallery space outside her studio. She intended to install it in the lower courtyard, but due to technical reasons had to abandon the thought. Further she installed a fragrance in this work made by her. It was of burnt rose petals; again a fragrance to which one is familiar with, which the viewers would have to pump in-order to let it trickle. This work nearly took a different dimension as the viewers interacted with it. Though not intended but the deep red stains of the burnt rose liquid on the cloth, and some of it spilling over the floor, created an intense visual, which stood in contrast to the light pleasing fragrance which spread within the structure. A note Leave Your Trace, told the visitors to leave a written comment of their experience. The functional aspect of the work was not achieved as expected, therefore Neha intends to rework on it post-residency.
Neha Thaker has done her Masters in Painting from M. S. U. Baroda. She has a particular interest in understanding and capturing the ‘process of transformation’, in her works. Earlier she had worked with ice sculptures and has also played with the idea of senses through intangible medium like scents which she has experimented with, some which were made by her.
Rabindra Patra was another artist who strongly reacted through his works to this new space of the residency, and the experiences shared with his Peers. Rabindra who has studied his Bachelor’s at the College of Arts and Craft, Dhauli, Orissa has been working with electronic parts and sensitively conjures them in formulating his visual vocabulary; therefore the idea of power and its play seems to captivate him. The city was not new to him, as he shifted here a couple of years ago and is currently working at the Gardi Studio. He remembers the times he wandered through the city, then the presence of imposing buildings predominantly the structures of political importance, having an inherent character of immense power struck him. Further his act of wandering aimlessly and at the same time the challenging idea of search became crucial to him. According to him a search has varied connotation, from that of - patience, determination, power, to a more philosophical one, which he derives from a quote from the Bhagwat Gita – Karm karte jao, fal ki apeksha mat karo (which may be roughly translated as ‘keep working without expectations’). But re-visiting these lanes with us - a journey through the layers of Delhi, its lanes and by-lanes, the intense desire of searching, of finding the intended and the unintended, was a story which he wanted to narrate through his works.
Through the open book – reading this story, hands, etc. covered, rather mindfully set with the electronic parts, which he chooses considering is practical functionality, he associates the idea of power to that of his search (ones strength to search). And it if for the same reason that along with his works, even the simple / trivial objects find space as displayed objects – he exhibited a black polythene bag, which to him stood as a symbol for the objects searched for and found. The door of his studio covered with the photographs clicked (pasted like thumbnails) while he was on constantly on the road, capture people in a state of flux – a state in which he himself was while clicking them. The door itself acting like a structure providing / opening up, further possibilities – results, paths or even a reasons to search further. The notion of transition and non-stagnancy, energy, all to Rabindra have dominant role to play. Rabindra had partially painted his studio – an act which he feels was necessary in order to ‘set the stage’, to narrate this story of search.
It was for the first time that Rabindra had used photographs directly for his works. Speaking about experimentation, Bhavin and Sajad too used different mediums.
Bhavin Mistry’s strong point is his drawing. Bhavin has done his Masters in Painting from M. S. U. Baroda. His works carry a strong metaphysical tone. In his (earlier) drawings, he has been using ubiquitous and found-objects and further he works on them to gives rise to nearly hybrid forms. For the residency he centred his concerns on the aspect of claustrophobia (seen in his drawing too). Bhaving interprets it in multiple ways – its literal meaning - as an abnormal fear of being in enclosed or narrow places, to that of being mentally suffocated. He feels that artist we believe that they can work with a sense of freedom, but in actuality they carry a certain burden of prescribed, unquestioned and accepted rules, which strangle and suffocate one unknowingly.
In his current work he intended to partially deviate from his earlier ones, mainly, technically. He claimed to have abandoned his regular drawing, sketching and painting tools, as he worked on the video for the first time as a complete work; therefore he chose his body as his medium. The act of layering himself with charcoal, to him, is a near imitation of his regular methods. But what is interesting is that, the visual language of this work still remains closely rooted in his drawings. He engaged himself in creating, structuring, drawing a space within another. Interestingly Bhavin tried to create a similar sense of depth, and a space with a deep perspective by making drawings on the walls of his studio, a physical translation of the same was obtained by criss-crossing nylon thread around the viewing frame (for the video). He titled his works Line Form and Composition, though line and form still held relevant, the concept of composition seemed unsettled.
Though this was the final work which was displayed, Bhavin was working on the same idea of claustrophobia, but by viewing it from a different perspective, that of, survival in dire circumstances. He had designed a robe, which was meant accommodate ones necessary paraphernalia. For the same Bhavin sought help from Agat, who is from NIFT, Delhi. Bhavin through this work wanted to question the term necessary, as he looked at its constantly changing version. He dropped the idea for the residency, as he found his video work more interesting to experiment with, but intends to carry it forward later.
Sajad Malik has been persistently working on what has become his core concern - issues related to Kashmir. Sajad who has done his Bachelor’s from college of Fine Arts, Srinagar, works as a cartoonist for Greater Kashmir (a daily newspaper, from Srinagar). While working on his art works and his cartoons he makes sure that none of them overshadow each other. He refrains from employing a sardonic in his art works, which is a necessity for his cartoons and doesn’t allow the mildness of his art works to trickle in his ironic cartoons. To Sajad, who has had first hand experience of all that he tries to portray, it is not the idea of conflict, but the life within the conflict that holds a deeper meaning. There is always a stark difference in working mindfully and sensibly, and in the worst extreme selling sensitive, political issues. He says that by the time of his birth in the late 80’s, Kashmir was already in the grip of crisis, and so he has never experienced peace personally. Peace to him has always been a picture, which he creates in his mind, and re-creates through his works, through nostalgia, i.e. through the narrations of his parents. He has worked on graphic novels on the same theme.
His video titled, Hopscotch is a construction, in which he sensitively used the idea of an innocent game played by a child, to hint at the larger political issues. Here the line plays a central role – at a primary level it seems a part of a harmless game, and he furthers it by portraying its negative form – as that of one dividing nations. The motifs chosen, initially seem de-contextualised, arabesque motifs, barbed wires, innocent animals and the map of Kashimir; but these nearly detached elements slowly interwove, as the film reeled, to lend a conjoined meaning. In a short and succinct manner Sajad mindfully speaks about things which he has been living through. A shattered mirror was placed on the floor, but it somehow seemed incongruent to the sensitivity of the animation. It is for the first time that Sajad has experimented with Cel Animation, to make this 2min movie.
Agat Sharma too transformed his unkempt studio into an attractive, spotlessly clean space filled with cosmetics designed by him, like a cosmetics section within a mall, which housed his interactive work titled, I Guarantee In The Next 15 Minutes You Will Change & You Won’t Know. The work played with the idea of human emotions and sentiments through the use of cosmetics. He assigned various emotions to each of these cosmetics and assured its effect (inculcation of the quality within the user) after its use, as per the prescribed instructions. Generosity, Grace, Honesty, Elegance, Guilt, etc. were filled in attractive tubes, designed by Agat, further he chose specific colours which he felt appropriately portrayed the emotion. The design of the tube and the instructions coined by him, nearly called the viewers to pick them and read them. Agat had refrigerated these tubes to further add on a comforting feeling. The intention of the work was to actually make the viewers use the products, - use the soaps, both cakes and liquids, wash them off and to view themselves. Due to some technical problems the viewers couldn’t use the products, but nevertheless were keen enough to carefully read the instructions, and many actually asked Agat if such cosmetics were available in the market. He also hints at, rather teases, the thought of desire of the consumer for instant results, that is, a use of a simple cosmetic, can improvise a human personality, by washing off guilt, adding grace, installing optimism, expecting ease, etc.
As seen in his earlier works, the city again played an important role in his current work. He observes and analyzes the changes a city undergoes and its obvious ripple effect over various faculties including its inhabitants. Through which he addressed the idea of consumerism and human sentiments, as seen in this work too. Well packaged products, placed in a spotlessly clean space, spaces to try out the products, all focused on the idea of saleability. He feels that there exists a vicious circle – as to what a city and its residents have to offer each other, and they get invariably caught in it. Agat has done his Masters from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi, which perhaps explains why his work makes a constant reference to the human body. In his earlier works Agat studied the changes in the city and even the technology and how largely assumed and accepted notions, definitions and ideas alter drastically with different spaces.
At the end of it, the residency could be put together as more than a summation of multiple episodes and events, which had a near to causal / reactionary effect on the residents, leading to the body of works of the artist and also to the text written by me, which slowly took shape. To me it’s more like a filmstrip edited together, such that the chronology of the events loses its importance but what remains, rather crops up / out is their preferential / selective assemblage of events. The experience at the residency came to all of us as not just a different space to work in but as of a space which allowed us to take path slightly diverging from the regular one; of exploring things which would have not been possible while sitting in our respective studios. The act of moving out of our cushy territories, and to enter an un-ventured working ways, yet justifying the divergence as it still remained within their respective ideological spectrum. Then the thought of success or failure was not of as much importance as that of the mental shift and of realignment required while undertaking the newer ways of working – being ready to take its criticism (both positive and negative) in a balanced and right sense. Then the need for presenting final works (art works and texts) for the residency and the open day seemed irrelevant as, it evidently has been more of an experimental span – which witnessed the executions of ideas which were brewing on our minds, and required a neutral / unprejudiced working space, which the residency provided, than a working span aimed at achieving a specific finished work.
Critic in Residence, Peers 2010
(Masters Art History and Criticism, M. S. U. Baroda)