THE BOAT AND OTHER THINGS
Museum of collectibles from home and the universe
IDON’T THINK about what I collect. I just collect,” says artist Subodh Gupta. Like the root he bought in Kochi or the figurine in a little antique store. A gold-plated potato, used utensils, entire kitchens bought from slums, boats but no river, and statues and figures from his native Khagaul in Bihar and elsewhere.
He has built massive structures in steel and brass, played around with cowdung. The associative power of his works is what gives them the scale they have attained.
He might buy his utensils in wholesale markets, but they have lost their particularity. There is rural and global, nostalgia and industrialisation. You can capture the tension only if you have had that prolonged struggle with self and identity.
Yet, he won’t indulge you with a narrative. The art must be abstract at all costs. His abstraction is bent on drawing out the essentials, almost squeezing them to communicate the intangible.
All his life he had wanted to get away from the small railway town where he grew up. He escaped finally, only to find the past informing everything that he does in his present.
“I started my work with whatever I had seen in my childhood,” he says. “Who knows who we are? Our mind has so much power. We are holding everything within us.”
His museum is a liminal space. It has everything from the past that is getting transformed into the future. Like the book of recipes where he is currently documenting the memory of food.
“I find my planet on my plate,” he says. He is in communion with his universe that is a collection of objects soon to be lost to history. Like the mixing bowl in his studio. Cast in stone, it has a red and white chequered cloth, a gamcha, and kneaded dough. It sums up the churning of the universe in a utensil, the turbulence, the thickness of identity, the malleability of form and shape. And yet it is as simple as saying it is part of where we come from.
“It is part of us. A memory. An ongoing thing of archiving which is so fleeting,” he says. Memory has poetic licence. It goes back and forth, it edits and reconfigures. His museum then is a nostalgist’s landscape.