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There was always a line of curious bystanders including women and children at a men’s urinal at Aspinwall House, the largest venue of the Kochi Muziris Biennale. Dia Mehta Bhupal’s life-sized construction had viewers peering closely at the public restroom meticulously built out of rolled up paper tubes, unused and on display.
Dia is a photographer and at a second venue, Anand Warehouse, she displayed four photographic prints - a supermarket, a waiting room of a clinic, a bookstore and the inside of an airplane. Each is of one of her painstakingly constructed sets. The subjects are most often public, but the end result is quiet, her work centred around private moments in public spaces.
At this venue, in contrast to the previous, we witnessed viewers gloss over the images assuming they were of the actual thing, which does not seem to faze Dia. “We are all living between reality and perception!”
We lunched with her to find out more.
Take me to the beginning of your art practise.
I graduated from Parsons with a BFA in photography. I used to photograph a lot of architecture and a lot of people, a lot of portraits. A lot of communities. When I first started my art practise, I did a lot of staged photography. I used to stage scenarios and photograph them, now I've moved on to constructing images.
What's the difference?
I think in a certain way, all images are staged because as a viewer, you always have your own narrative. You choose what you put into an image and what you leave out. Whether you frame it or pose things. Today I participate a lot more. I construct my own subjects and photograph them.
When did you start making constructed images?
I started working with the constructed image in 2011
What was the first thing u ever constructed?
The bathroom was the first thing I ever constructed.
The one from Aspinwall?
It was the first work I ever did. I originally built the bathroom a few years ago but I collapsed it and stored it. I reassembled it for Kochi. It's the first time I've ever shown a set. Showing it at the main venue was the curator Sudarshan’s [Shetty] choice.
How many have you created since the bathroom set?
I'm currently working on my 9th set. Each construction takes me fourteen to twenty months depending on the availability of the colours and the magazines. Everything I use is found.
Tell me more about the magazines. How do you create these sets?
All my images are repurposed and created with waste paper, magazines, newspapers, old cardboard boxes, etc. Close inspection of the image reveals the intricate detail. Each colour is found in a trashed magazine and cut into a strip and twirled individually, after which each roll is crafted to created a structure.
It was my first time working with paper. I think paper is very tactile, I'm very curious as to the uses of paper, it's so multidimensional an object, that it fascinates me. I tried a lot of other materials before I got to paper, but I think I resonated the most with paper for this project. I tried working with all kinds of things from wood to stone. Every material has its limitations.
What is the process of set building like?
Deciding what I want to construct is potentially my largest challenge because a lot of it comes from my personal experience and from memory. Designing the vantage point is also really important because there’s only one view of the space. That comes from how I look at a particular thing, and it says a lot about that space.
My second biggest challenge is being able to find all the colours because I don't paint or print anything. I create palettes and then after that I start constructing.
So you’re certain about the palettes you want to use?
Yes and no because a lot of times I'd like try to work with a certain palette but for some reason that colour is not available. Or I'll just put that on hold and move on to the next thing. The process is very symbiotic, it's not necessarily upto me. I have a lot of limitations given the way I work. I'm always changing, reinventing, you know, replanning things.
There’s a certain quietness to your work even though these are public spaces. What draws you to these subjects in particular?
I'm very curious about how individuals behave in a public space. You know you're in a public space, so you're very conscious about the way you behave. But they're all public spaces where you are alone. It's not like I've constructed a park where you can hang out with your friends. If you go to a toilet, you're usually alone. Or if you go to a bookstore, the purpose is to go buy a book. It's a private experience in a public space. It's not really like a bar or restaurant where it's a group event. The architectural subjects represented by my photographs are sites where public and private moments often uncannily coexist.
Bangalore has a unique phenomenon: art galleries with beds in them. At any time, the city is host to half a dozen exhibition spaces inside people’s houses.
Home Sweet Home, one of its galleries brought its concept to Kochi to coincide with the third biennale, after founder Chinar realised it could “really be anywhere, not just my own house.”
Together with artists Nihaal Faizal and Leslie Johnson, they set up 3BHK, a ground floor apartment whose three bedrooms, hall and kitchen were used to exhibit art centred around the theme of home. It also housed (no pun intended) a gift shop selling sand jigsaw puzzles, postcards and zines published by their artist friends.
We visited to chat with the curators about their show and the curious case of apartment galleries in the garden city.
How would you describe what you do?
Chinar: I’m a visual artist and I’ve been teaching at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore for almost three and a half years now. I teach a variety of courses in photography, visual arts and humanities.
Nihaal: I’m an artist and most often I work with found materials of different kinds. Most of these materials have something to do with photography or the photographic image in a broader sense.
How did you guys meet?
Nihaal: When I was a third-year student at Srishti, Chinar had just joined as a facilitator. I think one of Chinar's first classes was to come as a guest lecturer to a class I was enrolled in, to talk about photography.
Chinar: We’ve also worked together on art and curatorial projects in last few years.
How did the The 3bhk show show come about?
Chinar: The 3bhk Show was part of the Home Sweet Home project where myself, Leslie Johnson and Nihaal organised a curatorial project in Kochi during the Biennale.
It was a way to expand the notion of home beyond Home Sweet Home. Home Sweet Home generally runs out of my own apartment in Bangalore. Of late, I have been wanting to expand possibilities of home-based curatorial projects out of a fixed space. Since we do not need the white cube of a gallery, we can function out of any kitchen, a bathroom, a balcony or even an attic.
Nihaal: How the show sort of emerged is that the three of us as organisers were trying to make a show of our own work - as artists organising their own presentation. We were thinking about a common theme between our work and came up with the thematic of the home because that featured in our work one way or another. The process was then about looking at other artists, mostly our friends’ work to see what other work exists that fits.
Chinar: When we found the house in Kochi, we went on to looking for art and artists whose work would fit into the space, and conceptual framework of the show.
Tell me about some of the artists that exhibited in the show including your own?
Chinar: We had works by Eva Koch, Famous Artist which comprises of Leslie Johnson and Smriti Mehra, Irene Westholm, Franco Leidi, Nihaal and myself. Every artist responded to the house in different ways, which brought the domestic space together.
Nihaal: What I showed were two large photographs of landscapes. Both were originally photographs that came with the Windows XP operating system. There were a total of seven landscape photographs in the OS and I rephotographed them all. I made sure that in all of my pictures, the flash from my camera was visible to show that the images weren’t the originals in that sense. While I showed two prints as part of the exhibition, the entire series was available as a set of postcards in the shop.
My favourite work from the exhibition was ‘Augusta’ by Eva Koch who is an artist from Denmark. For this work, Eva shot two videos - one of Augusta, an old lady from Greenland who had shifted to Denmark with her husband and one of Augusta’s extended family presently in Greenland. The two channel installation was originally a tribute to Augusta, who was too old to travel to Greenland and was presented to her as a birthday gift. The two videos played side by side on two box TVs inside one of the bedrooms of our apartment, almost like a family photo.
Chinar: Irene’s video looks out of the apartment and sees many windows and storeys in other apartments. She shot these different videos separately and then put them together This work on one hand is a story within 3BHK home and at the same time, you look at other homes with their stories as the time of day keeps changing, which come together in one frame on an old television set.
The Famous Artist Collective created a magic carpet where one goes into a world of fantasy of ownership and real estate. Aspirations of ownership are laid out on the floor plan of the carpet.
In my own work, I explore the newly recognised European Union right to be forgotten. When all of humanity’s efforts have gone into creating tools of remembering, how do we understand the right to be forgotten as a fundamental human right. In this work, close friends and family members certify that Chinar has right to be forgotten through trophies and certificates on the wall. The work uses tools of remembrance in our day-to-day life to forget.
What led you to begin Home Sweet Home?
Chinar: In an artist’s talk once in Bangalore, someone in the audience pronounced, ‘I will give you a wall on my house to show your work and to sell’. This triggered a thought in my mind ‘I already pay rent for my house, why can’t I open my space to show works of artists?’ I realised there were so many friends and artists whose work I loved but did not get to see it in public within the context of galleries.
Nihaal, you too ran a space out of your own home before. Tell me about G159.
Nihaal: G.159 was a project space that I ran in my apartment living room as a student at Srishti. I started it with a friend when we were both 18 and quite excited about turning our home into an exhibition space. There wasn’t much happening culturally at the time in Yelahanka New Town where we had both just moved for college and this was sort of an attempt to address that. We initially developed it as a space where we could show our own work and bounce off ideas while offering and receiving critique and feedback from other friends and faculty.
What kinds of spaces do you enjoy exhibiting your work now and why?
Nihaal: I’m still most interested in spaces that aren’t conventional galleries. So far I’ve shown my work in various apartments, but also in the waiting room of a movie theatre, inside an electronics retail showroom, at a birthday party, at a restaurant, and inside a garage.
I guess there’s many reasons why, one being that there’s always a chance to encounter an audience that you would otherwise never be able to access. Another reason is that the space always brings about a reading to the work that is specific to it with each installation or each attempt. So for instance, the photographs I showed at 3BHK would be received very differently inside a home as opposed to a gallery.
How is exhibiting in an inhabited space different from a typical white cube?
Chinar: It’s very different, difficult and exciting all at the same time. With the white cube, you can create the space the way you’d like it. In an inhabited space, you have to work around an already existing space – there's always going to be a bed, a kitchen space, a bathroom space, sofas. The colours of the sofas, the colours of the wall will change the our relationship to art. Let's say you have a green wall in the house, how are you going put an image up, how will it interact with the artwork? On one hand you have to think a lot about the space as opposed to only the work and the work has to fit into the the space to make sense. It's not just a neutral space, it's a political space.
Why is Bangalore so conducive to residence turned galleries?
Chinar: I guess it comes out of a desire to show work and want to see work. Srishti is an art and design institute where students constantly explore with various materials and concepts. Many students and artists have tried to create such alternative home spaces not only to show art but also to build a dialogue outside mainstream spaces.
Is Home Sweet Home an ongoing thing?
Chinar: Ya it's very much an ongoing space. I took a break for a while since Cochin was a very big show. We are back to work this month. Performance artist Avril Stormy Unger presented an installation-based show two weeks ago called ‘Please Call the Police’. Leslie Johnson just wrapped up her show Unravelling the Doily. So we have a busy year ahead.
What are your tips for househunting?
Nihaal: Househunting? I don’t know. Is this the part where I conclude with something witty?
Coinciding with the London Design Festival this week, Indian Design Platform presents Transformation, an exhibition of objects and installations by contemporary Indian designers whose practises give a second lease of life to unwanted materials.
In curator Arpna Gupta’s words, ‘the exhibition takes inspiration from the culture of recycling and reuse that exists to the extreme in India, exploring the ways in which artists and designers have reinterpreted humble, discarded materials as design objects.’
We interviewed Nitin Barchha, co-founder and designer at Mumbai-based design studio Material Immaterial whose papier mâché lamps will be on exhibition.
Who makes up Material Immaterial? How did you begin to work with each other?
The Material Immaterial studio was founded by myself and my partner Disney Davis. We met while working together as architects in a studio and then founded our own architectural design practice 'The White Room Studio'. The main motive behind establishing Material Immaterial was to create work that could offer the end user spatial experiences and get them closer to nature through small objects of daily use. The studio aims to go beyond a definitive material or definitive process and aims to focus purely on ideas, limiting the material to be a mere medium of expression.
The studio is built on the basic principles of exploring the bare beauty of materials. As designers we are essentially minimalists and our design approach has always been of what to leave out, rather than what to put in. This reduction process is what takes one through a mirror, emerging out on the other side to discover richness, like in the subtle differences between five shades of grey or in different textures of concrete. Through our work the studio strives to challenge the purpose of material and lets design be at the helm of things.
What are you exhibiting at Transformation?
The Bell Flower Cloud lamp is ceiling mounted with clusters of bell flowers drooping down, they incorporate the texture the buoyancy and the feeling of lightness.
The Mushroom lamp is inspired by a real mushroom taking form and its intricate texture replicating gills with its stalk. The light is hidden, and only the glow visible once the lamp is fixed onto a wall.
The Trumpet lamp is inspired from the flower Angel's Trumpets. It is suspended from the ceiling and has mirrors inside which reflect and focus the light downwards. The texture on the outer surface is smooth and the texture inside is made rough.
Where do your ideas come from?
For the Organic collection they came from nature, be it mushrooms, mosses, ferns or flowers.
How are your products made?
The products are made from recycled newspapers which is then ground into a pulp mixed with glue and converted into papier mâché.
What led you to work with papier mâché?
The Organic collection is the first product line from our studio. We used papier mâché as it gives us the flexibility of use and allows us to explore different possibilities of form and texture inspired from nature.
We wanted a material that was lightweight, flexible (so that we could create organic forms) and is inexpensive (raw material). We started experimenting with paper in different forms and eventually landed at papier mâché. This was the only material that had all the qualities that I required and was also easily available.
The first experiment using papier mâché was a pen stand that still stands at my studio. Slowly over time, we perfected the techniques required trying various permutations and combinations. After about two years of continuous experimentation, the resulting papier mâché was exactly what we were looking for.
Name three local designers to keep an eye out for?
Devyani Smith studio pottery
Ajay Shah from ASDS
Aziz Kachwalla from At-Tin
What is good design?
Good design is minimal, aesthetic & forever.
Art by Rachna Ravi
Love Poem by Tishani Doshi
Ultimately, we will lose each other
to something. I would hope for grand
circumstance — death or disaster.
But it might not be that way at all.
It might be that you walk out
one morning after making love
to buy cigarettes, and never return,
or I fall in love with another man.
It might be a slow drift into indifference.
Either way, we’ll have to learn
to bear the weight of the eventuality
that we will lose each other to something.
So why not begin now, while your head
rests like a perfect moon in my lap,
and the dogs on the beach are howling?
Why not reach for the seam in this South Indian
night and tear it, just a little, so the falling
can begin? Because later, when we cross
each other on the streets, and are forced
to look away, when we’ve thrown
the disregarded pieces of our togetherness
into bedroom drawers and the smell
of our bodies is disappearing like the sweet
decay of lilies — what will we call it,
when it’s no longer love?
Visit The Alipore Post Offline, a curated weekend pop up in Bangalore this weekend Sept 17th and 18th at The Courtyard House.
See the facebook event for more details.
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