Jitish Kallat's Somerset House Art Exhibit Examines Our Place In The Universe

 Jitish Kallat
Jitish Kallat Jitish Kallat

Throughout history, art has been admired from a distance. Be it watching a play or movie in the theatres, admiring a painting or sculpture at an exhibition, or watching a dance performance on stage. We can physically touch the artists but never the art. No matter how physically close we can go to a painting, we can never be inside it, can we? However, those lines were recently blurred when an exhibition called Vincent 360 took the viewers inside a three-dimensional immersive world of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings through technology. Slowly but surely artists are creating, especially through the medium of installation art, art that can be viscerally and physically experienced by the viewers and not just as a visual treat.

This brings us to the new courtyard commission , London from the Mumbai-based contemporary visual artist Jitish Kallat. It is his first major public commission in the United Kingdom. The gigantic artwork, called Whorled (Here After Here After Here), is inspired by a seismic ripple or galactic whorl, with the piece aligned along Earth’s cardinal north-south axis and its spirals rolling outwards from the courtyard’s center, about 30 meters in diameter. This striking outdoor installation comprises two intersecting spirals, each spanning 168 meters in length, that echo the signage of UK roads and connect the iconic neoclassical courtyard to locations across the planet as well as the distant universe. As you step inside and walk through the interlaced spirals, it feels like a space-time warp.

Placing the location of Somerset House at the nucleus, the signages read its distance starting from places nearby in London, to other cities across the globe and even celestial bodies such as the Moon, Mars, and distant stars. The work also features places that have borne the brunt of rising sea levels and also places that are at risk of submersion in the near future. It reverberates London’s own proximity to the River Thames and the risk of flooding. The circularity of the installation will prompt you to meditate on our relationship with the planet we inhabit and the eco-footprint we leave behind against the backdrop of the ever-looming climate change threats. Kallat has incorporated his own visual grammar while selecting the locations that feature in the spiral. The installation art has themes that are recurrent in his work — layering ideas about past and present, earthly and cosmic, sacred geometries, alchemy, and geography.

An Indian artist’s work featured at the prestigious Somerset House is a proud moment for diasporic art. However, climate change is a global issue that transcends man-made boundaries and that is the central message that Jitish Kallat seeks to evoke in the viewer’s mind.

The installation art will be on view at the Somerset House, London, UK from 16 February – 23 April 2023. It is being presented in partnership with the Kiran Nadar Museum, New Delhi, with additional support from Malik & Azmina Karim, The Ruia Foundation, and SANTI.

You can find out more information about the Somerset House and its works here.