“The main actor in the total installation, the main center toward which everything is addressed, for which everything is intended, is the viewer.” – Ilya Kabakov
We live in an age where we’ve truly begun to challenge and experiment with the physical, practical and technical parameters of what art is, or should be. The meaning and understanding of ‘good art’ and ‘bad art’ is fluid as the mingling of mediums brings out the (perhaps) previously unseen beauty in creations which may provide different perspectives from different standpoints.
For me, no form stands as true an example of this change as installation art. The beauty of installations lies in its incorporation of a variety of mediums. From everyday or found objects, paper, metal, and paintings to photography, video and audio, to virtual reality and even live performances – anything and pretty much everything can be part of an installation artist’s creation. Unlike other forms of more traditional art, where the audience or viewers look in as outsiders at self-contained work; here, viewers are as much a part of the creation of meaning, so to speak, as the artist.
As Nicola Price explains, the arrangement of the materials and space is the artwork. Space and settings play a key role in how the artwork is viewed. The environment is a primary aspect of the spectator’s experience as they get enveloped in their surrounding elements. They enter a space that has been created or controlled by the artist but can also interact with the objects and materials around them. And as the space changes, let’s say from one gallery to another, there is no real replicating the installation for another group of viewers – recreating the exact same experience in a different environment.
Be it a temporary or travelling piece, or a permanent exhibition, the artists’ thrill and difficulty both lie in the endless opportunities – the lack of restrictions in terms of mediums they are free to mix-up and use, yet create a cohesive understanding of it in the audience’s head can be both a challenge and a joyride. The focus here is on the impact it has on the audience’s senses – touch, sound, smell and vision, each can become an active part of how you experience the artistic space you are immersed in.
Installation artists then defy categorisation, and the growing number of incredible creators in the country are not only evolving in this arena but many are also keeping their roots in traditional Indian forms. Today, we look at just a few of the creative minds and installation artists that are continuing to fascinate viewers. While Subodh Gupta, Anish Kapoor, Sudarshan Shetty, Bharti Kher and Sheela Gowda are names synonymous with mind-bending installations today, we broaden the scope to artists whose work most are still unfamiliar with.
From political and social installations to just pure aesthetic visual landscapes – there will definitely be at least one installation here that’ll cater to your poetic imagination.
I. Astha Butail
Gurgaon-based Astha Butail’s love for fabric, Indian mythology and narratives are evident in her on-going project ‘A Story Within A Story’. What got to us though was her ‘open book project’ on the theme of Black Sun.
Each book is carefully handcrafted by Butail and no two are the same. Audience members are encouraged to add their own stories, scribbles and drawings in relation to the given prompt cards on pages coloured black, red, white and grey placed in contrast to each other. The resultant collections are then strung together and mounted as the final installation.
Each spectator plays an active role in the creation of the installation, in the sharing of stories, poems, limericks and doodles. Through the installation alludes to a past of story sharing through oral traditions of storytelling and memory preservation.
II. Durga Gawde
Having grown up in an artistic environment – her father is an artist and her mother an art manager – Durga Gawde took to art herself soon after her school days. She honed her skills first at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, in Bengaluru – where she is currently based – followed by Rhode Island School of Design, USA. Gawde ran her own studio in Mumbai until very recently and used to be visiting faculty at ISDI Parsons, Mumbai,
Her work is a postmodern take on introspections of the self, life and spirituality, from which she draws inspiration. Her metal works almost look alien; cut, bent and welded into forms that catch your eye at the very first glance. Gawde’s work has been exhibited around the world from Bengaluru to Berlin and she’s among the group of young artists that encourage dialogues with other aspirants, sharing their experiences and techniques while enabling others to explore and create their own artistic images.
The award-winning interdisciplinary artist comes from a lineage of stone sculptors whose traditions had a huge impact on his use of space and volume. Durugadda’s sculptural installations address both social and (the artist’s own) personal issues, presented at times in conjunction with performance art. He received the prestigious Rio Tinto Sculpture Award at the 13th annual Sculpture by the Sea show Australia.
Using materials like steel, concrete, bamboo, marble, aluminium, and resin, among others, Durugadda is no stranger to using new age industrial technology and techniques when it comes to creating his pieces.
The themes of twirls and whirls are evident in his interactive sculpture Whirling Man where viewers can spin the wooden creation, making it an interactive experience of art as well as his series of spinning tops called ‘Whirling Out’, exhibited at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, in 2016. There’s always a philosophy to his work that speaks to the world at large than his own personal creations. “I believe that the whole human journey has been about negotiation amongst fellow humans to be able to define - redefine how and what we value,” he states. “ I endeavour to create monumental public artworks which will outlive my life and thereby stand as memoirs of the present.”
IV. Farah Mulla
Mumbai-based Farah Mulla’s art questions the infinite possibilities of humans’ experience with their surroundings, in terms of time, space, sights and sounds. She uses her background in science in the creative practice and brings it into the lives of the viewers. Her artistic experimentations range from installations to sculptures and sound recordings.
Sound for her is art – we may dismiss noise as chaotic but Mulla find inspirations in the aural and encourages viewers to explore the same from various perspectives. But it’s not just acoustics how we traditionally understand it. Her installation ‘The Invisible Generation’ for example consists of newspapers of different dialects that are illuminated from within accompanied by recorded readings of the same which, as she writes, signifies “means of visually recording the not so transparent media.”
“The media is overloaded with the visual noise of our lives but the noise we experience every day is the one that toils inside of us. At a time in our culture where everything is so easily made visible and transparent, we often find the mediums that we choose to express ourselves are the ones making us invisible. By choosing to use a multitude of languages spoken in Mumbai (India) I have tried to erase meaning-making systems, which could be comprehended by some people but totally irrelevant to others. This socio-linguistic overlap is the noise of our culture – our acoustic ecology - the excess material left over after our cultural conditioning has churned it out as a surplus.”
The socially and politically conscious work of Rajyashri Goody is perhaps more relevant now than ever. The mixed-media artist uses found objects, thread, cloth and even people’s personal belongings, assembling them in a critical commentary on India’s segregation of people in society – namely, the caste system and untouchability.
Social activism is a clear theme in her work along with the exploration of identities and creating a sense of self among middle-class urban youth in today’s world.
Her installation ‘Skyscape’ at KHOJ’s Refracting Rooms involved 500 pairs of slippers and shoes, strung together and hung from the ceiling depicting a dark, looming cloud of discrimination. She alludes to the Manusmriti that prescribes the position of so-called Untouchables, as related to parts of the human body, as coming from below the feet – the lowest of the lows.
Viewers were invited to step into a room that held the installation and while the experiences were varied, the overall feeling of suffocation, gloom, of being made to feel unclean was common. This was precisely Goody’s intention – pointing to the fact that these are the living experiences of a large portion of our population on a regular basis. Goody does more than just criticise, she actively works to spread information and create a dialogue on how such oppressive systems can be broken down, through community projects and discussions that stem from her work.
Remember the buzz when Nike refashioned the Indian cricket teams jerseys? Then remember how the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2013 had a massive metal rendition of the jersey? That was the creation of Valladares. This was an 800-kilogram amalgamation of gears and sprockets, all coming together to stand upright and proud as the new Indian cricket jersey, it’s safe to say he ‘bled blue’ for the project.
You’ll spot his metal-work installation ‘I Am Bandra’, the ‘We Are The World’ installation and mosaic tile-work at the Mount Mary steps if you drive around the city and these are just a few of his public artworks.
The man behind Metalhead Studio, Valladares comes from a family of creative minds, but only took to exploring his own creativity following an injury and subsequent leave of absence from his then-day job working with an airline. He had travelled the world seeing incredible art all over and felt the need to explore his own talents. This is when his father suggested he take up metal work, and there’s been no looking back since.
VII. Shilo Shiv Suleman
You probably know her for her work through the Fearless Collective, but Suleman is an artist of many, many talents. You’ll recognise her incredible interactive installation from Burning Man 2014 titled ‘Pulse and Bloom’; a 50-feet-wide spread of beautiful lotus flowers standing tall with pulse sensors on the stems that make it pulse in sync with the heartbeat of a person touching it.
Suleman’s works always have a touch of humanity, so to speak, with an empathetic eye always trained the human body, its functions and our natural surroundings intermingled with magical realism and modern technological techniques.
She brings together nature and technology in her creations, and one of her projects ‘Tidal’ “bridges the gap between water bodies outside and inside us,” as she explains best. “Find yourself underneath a suspended storm of metal clouds, illuminated with hundreds of LEDs that pull from tidal data and flow in time with the river. But when you interact with a large silver moon-like bowl of water placed in the centre of the installation- you start to pull light towards you, from one body of water to another.”
VIII. Vivek Chockalingam
The very talented graduate of Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Vivek Chockalingam’s work would be familiar with anyone who has attended Goa’s Sunburn Festival back in 2012. On the beach was a giant metal squid laid out, enveloped in a mesh. Festival attendees helped create the artwork themselves by adding their empty plastic bottles to the framework of the squid.
The team, comprised of Chockalingam along with Nachiappan Ramanathan and Shanti Ganesha, would then spray paint over the bottle in a multitude of reflective colours and as the festival progressed, the installation did too. And this is far from the only project he has worked on.
Bangaloreans have probably spotted his work around the city without even realising it, such as a window grill, tables and light installations at The Local at Koramangala. He’s definitely a creative installation-maker to keep tabs on.
IX. Sahej Rahal
Sahej Rahal’s artworks are as much science fiction and fantasy as they are weird and wonderful. Using absurd characters and beings that glide past like phantasms, all playing parts in a larger mythological narrative that is constantly expanding; Rahal’s creations seem like a collision of the past and present, a seemingly foreboding future, as you question your understanding of time and space. Working with film, performances and installations, Rahal’s eclectic style has created waves both across the Indian art scene as well as internationally as he travels the world telling tales about everything from history and culture, to religion, science and fantasy.
Born and brought up in the sprawling Mumbai metropolis, Rahal graduated from Rachana Sansad Academy of Fine Arts and trained in painting but branched out into other mediums of artistic expression, mainly involving performance art and installations. Rahal works primarily with objects he finds in his wanderings around the world, which he then transforms into tools used by the absurdist beings in his performances as part of rituals in public spaces. A lot of his works have an unexpected impact on its viewers, making them particularly powerful. For this reason, and many others, Rahal’s voice is a continuously important one both in and around the spaces that define today’s art world.
It’s often hard to succinctly describe what India-born Dubai-based UBIK creates. Chaos, dissent, destruction, contemplation and self-reflection are words that would pop into your mind as you enter as a spectator into his world. It’s also difficult to put his work into a specific genre, the incredibly talented conceptual artist experiments with a variety of mediums that draw attention to the absurdity of a lot of our human, borderline mechanised routines, notions and processes with wry humour distinctive of his work. The individual experiences of his work vary and the thought-provoking installations often force viewers into active positions in the creation of the completed work – you become a central point of the process. From his growing body of work, perhaps the most controversial has been ‘Tahrir Square’. Names after a very important location in Cairo, also referred to as ‘Martyr Square’, during the Egyptian revolution of 2011.
UBIK’s Tahrir Square was a one-night-only interactive installation that consisted of a large-scale chessboard to replicate the Square in Cairo. On one side the major pieces – King, Queen, Rook, Bishop and Knight – represented the rulers or officials of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, and on the other sat the uprising ‘pawns’.
Though, UBIK explained that it’s far more complex than just a representation of the revolution at face-value. “On some levels, I’m trying to explore the urban symbolism of the Square itself; the idea that whoever controls the square controls the State. Also, by creating the installation as a game whoever controls the centre of the board has more advantage than their opponent. The square has become an official place to gather and protest now, but will this trend continue into the future, even after democracy has been achieved in Egypt? If it does, how will people relate to the Square then? On some levels, the politics of the installation questions the pros and cons of this new found freedom. The transition to democracy has become a spectator sport with the whole world watching closely.”
XI. Owais Husain
Owais Hussain’s work has a certain dream-like quality to it that is hard to forget. Unlike his father, celebrated and politically criticised painter MF Husain, he has experimented across mediums. From filmmaking to poetry, followed by his lesser-known (by the public at large) contemporary art installations.
His installation ‘For Every Horizon You Leave Behind’ seems like an innocuous black box that entices you with its mystery to peek behind the curtain at its entrance. The interior, as opposed to the exterior, takes you away to a whole other world with mirrors and lights. While the unforeseen interior is definitely memorable and catches you off guard, ‘Heart of Silence’ is what really strikes a chord.
Through light, paper, mirrors, video and his own poetry, Husain explores his own identity and notions of a homeland. As his father lived a life in self-imposed exile from India following the controversy, Husain too questions the disconnect in his own lived experiences.
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