Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The week in art

Highlight of the week: the return of Lakeeren gallery. It's in a cramped space in Colaba previously occupied by the short-lived Farah Siddiqui Contemporary Art, but I'm certain Arshiya Lokhandwala will make the most of it. The artists featured in the inaugural show, All that is solid melts into air, showed prominently at Lakeeren's previous incarnation in Vile Parle. After soldiering on for years in that space, Arshiya left for a course at Goldsmith's followed by a Ph.D at Cornell, missing the boom years for contemporary art in the process. Her doctorate means that her exhibitions now come with jargon-loaded wall text, but that's easily ignored when the art is good (actually jargon-loaded wall text is common in many galleries, but is usually composed by us critics rather than proprietors). The highlight of All that is solid melts into air is a miniature rolling shutter by Atul Dodiya. It doesn't actually roll up and down, looks a bit like a slate-grey headstone, and displays names of mid-career artists mixed among a list of ailments: a very amusing in-joke.
Jitish Kallat provides a generous selection of four large paintings on paper, plus a sculpture. The sculpture, one of his fossil vehicles, is for me the least successful of the four I have seen so far. I'd rank them, in order of merit: The autorickshaw (Autosaurus Tripous); the water tanker (Aquasaurus); the sedan (Collidonthus); and the bull / bike on view at Lakeeren (Ignitaurus).

The effect of Ignitaurus is ruined by legs sticking out of the bull's jaw. This sort of thing is bound to happen when metaphors get mixed. Jitish started with vehicles that resembled fossils, but now, instead of leaving the dead animal bit in the background, he's attempted to merge a skull and ribs with a bike shape, leading to the anatomical anomaly.
While a skeletal train would probably look cool, the theme feels played out, and I hope never to see a ship or an airliner in this style.
Sharmila Samant has contributed one of her saris made from bottle crowns. The ones I've seen previously have never looked like saris to me, and this one doesn't either. For a piece of art to have symbolic resonance, it must first work at the most elementary level. If Sharmila's sari doesn't look like a sari, it doesn't matter what she wants to say about processes of globalisation, the work is already a failure.
N S Harsha offers one of his post-colonial tales about white guys doing bad things to dark people, assisted in their nefarious activities by a comprador or two. There's also a sheikh in the centre contemplating Damien Hirst's shark. A comment on the art market, which, incidentally, is the stated theme of the show (the market, that is, not the shark).
After calling this the highlight of the week, I've said more negative than positive things about it, but as a whole the exhibition feels substantial and features a well-balanced field of important artists.

Runner-up: Bose Krishnamachari's LaVA at Gallery BMB. Three years ago, Bose created his Laboratory of Visual Arts, a moving library stuffed with books and DVDs about art, design and film. At BMB, to fill a hole created by the cancellation of a travelling international show, he has paired this archive with some two dozen works from his personal collection which demonstrate what a great eye he has. The artists featured range from local thirty-somethings to Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha.

Debut of the week: Shine Sivan's Sperm Weaver at Gallery Maskara. Meticulously put together sculptures, showing a mature control of form, and an excellent use of found material. But who's satisfied with sculptures these days? So we have photographs and a video as well. A couple of the images are passable, like the one that has the artist swathed in wedding dress fabric in the middle of a ploughed field. The video, which shows Sivan wallowing in a foamy pond, reveals, like most artists' videos do, a profound lack of understanding of basic stuff like when to use a dissolve, when to use a cut, and how to combine the two.

Disappointment of the week: a tie between the group show Detour at Gallery Chemould and Qusai Kathawala's solo, Our Breath Concrete, at Volte. The latter has two components, a grid of LED lights hanging on strings; and an interactive work in which participants' breath causes patterns of light to move about on a table. The LEDs are pretty, but nothing more, and the table seems like a lot of effort for very little impact. Detour, meant as a centennial commemoration of an early Gandhi text, Hind Swaraj, brings together photographs, photomontages and videos from highly regarded artists. Despite some fine individual contributions, I found the show, curated by Ranjit Hoskote, peculiarly sterile in its overall impact. It might have made a better tribute to Nehru.


DS said...

Finally a post on a frenetic week in art. On the 17th when Volte , Lakeeren and Gallery Maskara opened with new shows and one walked from one gallery to another, what was remarkable was the diverse art practices on display backed by gallerists each having their own distinct vision. That is what was really wonderful.

The Atul Dodiya shutter is a tribute to the rebirth of Lakeeren and Arshiya's return to the city and an ailing art market but a headstone sounds too grave, would rather see it as a milestone.:)

Sivan's sculptures had a raw primitive aspect to them and the thorough execution of found, organic and other material in a manner harking to primitive art was exciting to see in contemporary practice. Agree with you totally on the video, just did not have that conviction seen in the sculptures.

But the real surprise of the week has to be LaVA. Liked it first time round, it's even better this time surrounded as it is by a personal collection that is as varied as is wonderful. Took a cynical teen daughter in (cos this is an exhibition that needs to be inundated with kids making use of the fantastic material available) and the headphones came off and the why Lenin, Stalin...and wow at the sheba chachi flew fast. :) I think she will go back with friends.As will a lot of us.

Girish Shahane said...

DS, it was the engraved look of the writing that made me think of headstones, but I'll grant you milestone, since you have generally agreed with my assessment of the week :) LaVA, as you say, was a huge surprise. Having seen it before, I didn't expect much from it, but the art sets off the library part really well.

Girish Shahane said...

Btw, what did you think of Detour?

DS said...

Have yet to see Detour completely ...only seen Sonia Jabbar and Dayanita S bits. One on Nehru's state the other on his house!:)

Girish Shahane said...

Yes, those things reminded me of Nehru, and I thought the Ram Rahman section was the most overtly Nehruvian of the lot, concerned as it was with modernist architecture.

Nightrunner said...

Just a few words in this discussion of 'Detour'. First, the exhibition is subtitled 'Five Position Papers on the Republic'. It takes Hind Swaraj as a point of departure, not a limiting contour. And second, the "Ram Rahman section" is not concerned only with modernist architecture. I chose 4 of Ram's digital collages and 7 of his posters. While the digital collages reflect on the development of the Nehruvian state through the medium of official architecture, as a departure from Gandhi's ideas, the posters lay out a spectrum of alternative historical trajectories and moments: Udham Singh, Bhagat Singh, the INA and the Communists among these. And third: while Anand Bhawan was indeed the Nehru home for several generations, it was also, both literally and metaphorically, home to a far broader range of people and ideas at various times in its history.

Girish Shahane said...

Is this Ranjit? If so Hi!, if not, many thanks for your note. Apart from the digital collages, the posters had a number of Nehru associations as well, no? There was quite a bit about Ram Rahman's father's work, particularly Rabindra Bhawan, and memorials commissioned by Nehru.
I'm not suggesting Detour is an exclusively Nehruvian show, just that the spirit of it seems to me more appropriate to Nehru than Gandhi.

Nightrunner said...

Girish, hi, yes, this is Ranjit! 'Rabindra Bhavan' is one of Ram's 4 digital collages, but hung on the inside of the L-wall because it's closer to the posters in texture and effect, and crosses between the two forms of production. The 7 posters have to do with Jallianwalla Bagh, Udham Singh, Bhagat Singh, Ayodhya, Delhi 1857, Gandhi, and INA via a campaign poster for Lakshmi Sahgal's (ie: Captain Lakshmi) Presidential bid -- so no, no overt Nehru associations in the posters. Cheers!

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks for writing in, Ranjit, really appreciate it.

Tushar Jiwarajka said...

Hey Girish,

I d like to respond to your post about Qusai's work by highlighting a couple of points.
1) The LED installation is a highly complex one with each LED individually controlled via wireless communication to a computer near by(the total is 600 LEDs). The idea was to have people play a game of pong using their breath and the LED grid. Unfortunately, while the game was working perfectly well on computer simulations, the actual working on 3D turned out to be much more complex than we imagined. I guess that's the nature of our projects, highly complicated, over ambitious and heroically experimental: this also means sometimes failure. The LED grid has already changed since you saw it last and will evolve further over the course of the month. We now have a demo of the game working on the grid(without the breath sensors) and should hopefully should have it working exactly the way we wanted. But even if we dont, we would rather try something really bold and fail rather than not try at all.
2) The coffee table impact is kind of lost in a loud party kind of atmosphere with loads of people around. It is almost a meditative piece where silence and contemplation is an important aspect. Also, in these interactive works, somethings work and some don't, but these things only come to light after its put out to the public: controlled tests in the lab are never enough. Qusai has completely modified the software of the table now based on feedback from the opening night, changing the interaction modes to make it a much more simple yet immersive experience.
Interactive technology works tend to have long development cycles and need to be backed by significant funding to be ironed out to be error free.
For Volte, the idea that technology can be used in different ways, especially in ways outside of increasing efficiency or to serve the industrial/miltary complex, like promoting empathy and self awareness is fascinating. Qusai's works have this sensibility and suggest a course towards its implementation, something we are really proud to support.
I d like to invite you to come back once again to experience the show properly now that it has changed. It would be great to continue this dialogue after that.
Tushar Jiwarajka

manish nai said...

dear girish,
its really interesting post,
thanks to mr.Ranjit and Ds.
nice discussion.

Girish Shahane said...

Hey Tushar,
I do appreciate what you're trying to do at Volte, certainly don't want to run down the effort, but I also feel obliged to call things as I see them. You're absolutely right that an opening is often the wrong time to judge a show; I'll certainly come to again, and take in the changes in Qusai's work.

DS said...

Nightrunner's comment as hind svaraj as a point of departure makes all the exhibits inclusive...under Nehru,the hopes that that generation had for India, the commissions put in place then and then the revisit now and current unresolved politics makes a full circle and warrants a re examining of hind svaraj.
Still have to see the rest of the show but Jabar and Dayanita S were certainly not disappointing.
Tho wondered if Mani Bhavan or Charles Correa terrific Gandhi Memorial at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad could have been fresh fodder for photographs.

Girish Shahane said...

Yes, 'point of departure' is a wonderfully useful term. The Hind Swaraj conference had a few speakers taking that route too.

Kapil Chopra said...

Dear Girish,

Saw this blog for the first time, what lovely content and analysis. Excellent comments, I love reading this as it gives me an opportunity to know what is happening in Mumbai without being there. Please keep it going.

Interesting art appreciation without the jargon, love it !



Girish Shahane said...

Thanks a bunch, Kapil!

snlsa said...

Have been meaning to read your blog for a while - now i am hooked. Saw LaVa first time and was really impressed