Art Feature> Devi Art Foundation
*An Indian By Design Exclusive*
The opening of Lekha and Anupam Poddar’s new not-for-profit art space would preempt a surfeit of words on artists and collections. But I choose to speak first of their latest commissioned work – the Sirpur Mills Building. For it is as much art as all that it holds or will hold within it.
At first look, it seems excavated from the disemboweled earth lying around; raw hand beaten metal, hand baked bricks, left to burn in the sun before they were seen fit to be showcased. The imposing Corten steel arch yawns into a wide staircase at the entrance. One is lead to a courtyard flanked carelessly by walkways, waving bricks and swaying walls (held free, yet in place by determined fingers of steel), breaking any symmetry that could have easily been.
The courtyard looks up to the skies and leaves you with an illusion of being in the open. But in actuality, is an imprisoning space that looks inwards. A Trojan horse that will trap you in its bowels with a promise of intense peace while making you restless to use it well. A four-inch thin stone wall miraculously stands tall and seems to seal off the other end, stubbornly refusing to show what’s beyond but making room for eyes that let shafts of light impose everywhere inside. The brick walls have the feel of scales, like a breathing organism resides in it. Thousands of individual bricks wave and create still moving images. Perhaps unconsciously inspiring the theme of the first showing.
The building and the art on display will thus be, always, symbiotic. It is modern in intent and Indian in its use of materials and extreme craft of hand, and thus surprisingly low technology. The details stand back to respect the individuality of works on display; quiet niches, the basement wall patterns made when the concrete was cast, car park grates that light up the ceilings poetically; yet are art themselves. So I would say no corner is bereft of art. Nor of meaning and purpose.
Still Moving Image, Devi Arts’ inaugural show, is a selection of video and photography by contemporary Indian artists. The exhibition sets side by side the works of varied minds – Aastha Chauhan, Baptist Coelho, Atul Bhalla, Avinash Veeraraghavan, Bharti Kher, Kiran Subbaiah, Mithu Sen, Nalini Malani, Navin Thomas, Pushpamala N., Ram Rahman, Rameshwar Broota, Ranbir Kaleka, Ravi Agarwal, Sheba Chhachhi, Shilpa Gupta, Sonia Khurana, Sudarshan Shetty, Surekha, Susanta Mandal, Tejal Shah, Tushar Joag, Valay Shende, Varsha Nair and Vivan Sundaram.
There were some pieces that left me cold, and some that just never left me. I was struck by how simply Susanta Mandal created drama out of magnifying lenses and lay bare the concept of focus in our busy rushed lives. There is no explanation required, what you see is literally what you get, and yet it is so profound.
His experiment with a tray of Bubbles was difficult to step away from. When seen through a magnifying glass, the fragile bubbles reveal the reality of life – constant birth and death – the bursting of preconceived notions.
Encounters by Tejal Shah had people swathed in white with long white fabric limbs that let them stretch and extend and meet one other through spaces. It reminded me of connections and how people seem to somehow find them across nations and mindsets and philosophies.
Navin Thomas’s work was bizarre and I don’t quite know what kept me hooked to it. The colours, the composition, the crow and the parrot heads. I felt drawn to it, and seemed to get it, even though I couldn’t find the words to confine it.
There were many others that intrigued me, haunted me. Meena Kumari’s face swishing through an oval display of tiny TV screens and her haunting voice reciting words that root you to the floor. Though I felt it would have been far more dramatic, had the tiny TV screens been suspended, tattered cinema screens instead. Shilpa Gupta’s human junk projection left me stuck and asthmatic. A water bag made of pig skin with a rusted knife stayed in my mind, as did the slow death of a goat and a documentary on Modi and India.
I stepped out, not for fresh air, but for a fresh perspective of the space after seeing the art. Art galleries, unlike museums, have never been spaces I noticed as much as the art. Yet this was.
The future will tell what it will evolve into. A gypsy haunt for more than just the Poddar collection, a serene art observatory or a mirror to modern India. The building belongs to Sirpur Mills, and the gallery occupies space within. But that night, it felt like the opposite. I wonder what will become of it when offices sit on top and weigh it down with practicality and talks of balance sheets. Will the energy change; will the courtyard not beg to be thoughtful in? But even in a throng of drunken chattering party people, if I could walk up and down and in and out and observe the art in my own time, in my own space, unaffected by the ‘how long it’s been’ and ‘what a gorgeous outfit’, I think those who find peace in art will still always find a space of solace here.
STILL MOVING IMAGE. August to November 2008. Curated by Deeksha Nath. Sirpur Mills, Sector 44, plot 39, Gurgaon, India. Visiting Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 11 am – 7 pm. Monday closed. For enquiries mail info (at) deviartfoundation(dot)org or visit http://www.deviartfoundation.org Sirpur Building pictures courtesy Aniket Bhagwat. Art pictures courtesy Devi Arts Foundation
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