ODE TO A CITY

ROTIS, COM­MUTERS, ANGER, FRUS­TRA­TION AND GRIDS MAKE UP JI­TISH KAL­LAT’S BODY OF WORK, IN­SPIRED BY A LIFE WELL LIVED

India Today - - ART - BY CHINKI SINHA

E ight weary, sleep­ing men, their faces rest­ing on each other’s shoul­ders, while their hands hold on to their bags. They are strangers. Their eyes never stop dart­ing around, in be­tween that suspended mo­ment of sleep and wake­ful­ness, a city dis­solves. It then be­comes the stage.

You see them at shoul­der level, which is what the fo­cal range of view­ing the world is, ac­cord­ing to the artist. Part of his ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion called Here Af­ter Here Af­ter at th eNG MA, opened in New Delhi last week. The in­stal­la­tion called Syzygy that means align­ment of ce­les­tial ob­jects, is an at­tempt to im­mor­talise the city scenes that he grew up witnessing. Ji­tish Kal­lat, one of In­dia’s big­gest con­tem­po­rary artists, says it was the sub­tle and pe­cu­liar ten­sion be­tween be­ing asleep and wake­ful­ness in the eight com­muters on a lo­cal train that in­spired the in­stal­la­tion. Even though he al­ways wit­nesses the com­muters on the lo­cal trains, yet the artist in­sists his work isn’t about the city, although it is lo­cated in a city. Even as they sleep with bent heads, the fig­ures clasp their bags, re­veal­ing a de­gree of rest­less­ness and aware­ness of their sur­round­ing even in a state of near-sur­ren­der, reads the cu­ra­to­rial note.

A CITY IN TRAN­SIT

“They are partly un­der sur­veil­lance. We think they are trav­el­ling but there is a pe­cu­liar ten­sion be­tween be­ing asleep and hold­ing on to their things. Here, it is not about the train but things that we don’t see. There­fore, the work is about the themes of life that un­fold in a city—

time, death, mor­tal­ity and sus­te­nance,” he ex­plains. There are grids rep­re­sented in the scaf­fold­ing, which are in­dica­tive of change.

“It is ei­ther go­ing up or go­ing down. It is about tran­si­tion. Cities are noth­ing but many, many peo­ple, more than what the land can hold. Here, themes get ex­ag­ger­ated,” Kal­lat adds.

There­fore, cities also be­come the play­ground for hu­man en­deav­our to im­mor­talise things like bridges and trains. These are prod­ucts of imag­i­na­tion too. A city is a repos­i­tory and has its own lan­guage, which is what the artist is try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate. This is lo­cated in many cities. This is also from one city, as a child wakes up to a city in a sub­ur­ban neigh­bour­hood and wit­nesses daily life of ever-chang­ing rhythm and cadence and tries to make notes through draw­ings, paint­ings and sculp­tures like when he freezes a child sell­ing mag­a­zines on the streets and in­stead of his feet, there are blocks to in­di­cate the homelessness and at the same time, there is a sense of be­long­ing to the street, where he lives and works. That’s how el­e­men­tal and sen­si­tive his work is. Im­pec­ca­ble in its doc­u­men­ta­tion of the mun­dane and search­ing for meta­phys­i­cal themes in a lived en­vi­ron­ment, a city of­fers anonymity.

And then there is the bur­den every­man car­ries in his pocket. Bulging with phones, IDs, money and who knows what else, these com­muters carry them along.

“All these im­ages come from my lived en­vi­ron­ment,” Kal­lat says. “These are im­ages that come from shoul­der height. That’s the scale at which we see the world. One might look at the roti which could be­come the star fields or gal­ax­ies, a dense nar­ra­tive of lives. It has got ev­ery­thing to do with that ques­tion— where do we come from?”

NOSTAL­GIA AND META­PHYSICS

Kal­lat’s em­pha­sis is on re­turn­ing hal­lu­ci­na­tions to the world. In Con­di­tions

Ap­ply, which traces the phases of the moon, the artist has used nostal­gia in or­der to im­mor­talise what his fa­ther, who is no more, wit­nessed. In Eter­nal Gra­di­ent, 365 rotis doc­u­ment the wax­ing and the wan­ing of the moon. They span the life­time of his fa­ther. “It is the life and death epi­logue through the moon my fa­ther saw. It per­me­ates the self, the city, the na­tion and per­haps the cos­mos,” he says. “This kind of cycli­cal in­ter­play of time con­tin­ues.” The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures Kal­lat’s vast oeu­vre rang­ing from his paint­ings, pho­to­graphs, draw­ings, videos and sculp­tural in­stal­la­tions. These rep­re­sent 20 years of his work.

Kal­lat grew up in Mum­bai in the sub­urb of Borivli. But cities ex­pand and dis­tances close in. At 14, he was in­ter­ested in meta­phys­i­cal ques­tions about life and death.

“I might say I am try­ing to con­vey noth­ing. Ob­jects are forms of in­quiry,” he says. It is the gaze of the artist that de­fines his work—the dif­fer­ent fo­cal lengths co-ex­ist in his work. Like most, he is also in­ter­ested in the ques­tion of time. He is in­ter­ested in its col­lapse, its den­sity, its co-or­di­nates. In his 2005 work ti­tled Artist Mak­ing

Lo­cal Call, a 34-feet-tall, 360-de­gree panoramic view of a street in Mum­bai, one can see him stand­ing in a phone booth. In the photo, two peo­ple are cross­ing the road. There are two shad­ows in the image as well. The point is to show the col­lapse of time. “It is am and pm at the same time,” he says. “There is a rick­shaw and a taxi col­lid­ing or seem­ing to col­lide. The panorama was made of many pic­tures. It is an ur­ban march. It is con­densed time. Hence, col­li­sions.”

Cather­ine David, the cu­ra­tor, says it is the per­ma­nent ten­sion be­tween the pro­saic and the other themes that mark the works of the artist. “They mean many things. It is all about the sub­tlety,” she says. If noth­ing else, the ex­hi­bi­tion truly makes you won­der about the bur­den of the uni­verse. The works con­jure those peo­ple in our heads. They make for our cities in our mem­ory.

Con­tem­po­rary artist Ji­tish Kal­lat’s ret­ro­speC­tive ex­hi­bi­tion spans 20 years of his worK in­Clud­ing aquasarous, eplilogue and syzygy among oth­ers at ngma

The 42-year-old arTisT has delved inTo The lives of com­muTers, labour­ers and se­cu­riTy guards as a parT of his lived en­vi­ron­menT

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