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On an ‘Encounters’ trail at Art Basel Hong Kong

In a special curated segment at the fair, artists from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Japan, and more, present 16 installations, which engage with ideas of time, belonging and shared humanity

A view of 'Wind Study (Hilbert's Curve)' by Jitish Kallat at Art Basel Hong Kong. Image: courtesy Galerie Templon

By Avantika Bhuyan

LAST PUBLISHED 28.03.2024  |  04:00 PM IST

Art Basel Hong Kong is nothing short of a labyrinth with nearly 242 galleries and thousands of works on display. And yet, if you spend enough time walking through the displays, spread across levels 1 and 3, threads will begin to emerge. You will begin to carve out your own trails—is it feminist works that you want to see, or ones that are purely textile-based, or are you interested in different stages of practices of masters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso? I, for one, begin most of my days following the ‘Encounters’ trail. 

Curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, who also holds the position of executive director at Artspace, Sydney, this section features 16 installations by artists from India, Nepal, Japan, Philippines, Pakistan, and more, including 11 new works, which are premiering at the fair this year. These are spread across the two levels, and are themed under ‘I am a part of all that I have met’. “I found myself reflecting on how each of our personal and subjective experiences are connected to the local and, by extension, to the global to form an often fragmented universal perspective. When the world reopened after lockdowns, we had no idea what we would encounter," writes Glass-Kantor in her curatorial note. “This year under the theme ‘I am a part of all that I have met’, Encounters is an invitation to engage with the multiplicity of art, and an acknowledgment that experience shapes perspective." 

I would not have believed it possible to have an intimate viewing experience with each of these installations in such a large public space. However, there is enough room for the visitors to have their own little rendezvous with the work on display. Karachi-based artist Adeela Suleman’s When you had enough of Paradise features three suspended metal screens made of interlinked sparrow motifs. Each bird also seems to be armed with a gun. The screens also act as diaphanous curtains, allowing you to view the world through the spaces between the metal sparrows. Each day, these jaali-like curtains present a different perspective: are they symbols of liberation, allowing you a view of the outside world, or are they cage-like, confining you behind the metal sheets? The artistic process adds another layer of interest to this work. In her curatorial tour, Glass-Kantor mentions that each segment of this sheet is made from hand-beaten stainless steel using the repousse technique, which references the traditional art of chamakpatti in Karachi and the finely-worked silverware of the Mughal courts.  

Also read: Indian galleries bring a sense of intimacy to Art Basel Hong Kong

Just behind that is Wind Study (Hilbert’s Curve) by leading Indian contemporary artist, Jitish Kallat. In each of the three six-metre long drawings on display, he drew a line at a time replicating the order of the fractal form first described mathematician David Hilbert in 1891. He then layered each of the lines with flammable liquid. Taking the drawings outdoors, Kallat set the lines aflame, allowing the wind to take its course. Whether it is Wind Study, or Kallat’s previous work Rain Study, in each it’s fascinating to see where an artist’s agency ends and nature’s begins. "I didn’t have to invent a structure. Rather, I inherited it. Hilbert’s Curve, which is a speculative self-similar form, a mathematical construct, in turn became a form for me," says Kallat. Soon after, the artist began surrendering one like at a time to nature. “As I set each line aflame, the wind left its mark, almost like a residual signature of time," he elaborates. Each day, the nature of the wind would be different—depending on the atmospheric asymmetry. Just like for Wind Study, Kallat seeks to create studio rituals, which would allow him to enter into a dialogue with the elements, with both nature and the artist leaving their mark on the work. 

The idea of a passage of time can be seen in New York-based Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto’s work Talking in Circles in Talking. Eight metal bowls are placed on the floor. Just above these, chunks of ice are suspended by a thread, containing found objects—zip ties, shoelaces—which are repositories of people’s memories. With the passing of time, the ice melts and the objects fall. The sound of each water dropping is further amplified by a microphone, which filters it at low frequency. Watching time leave its impact on the work is really meditative—almost hypnotic.  “Through this installation, Talking in Circles in Talking, Sasamoto ultimately questions the extent in which our innate humanness can be transformed into a physical object through our consciousness and into the afterlife," mentions the curatorial text.

Also read: Jitish Kallat creates a numerical biography of Nelson Mandela

Another work that you must not miss is No Land: The Water Ceremony, which is a series of five massive sculptures shrouded in paper cloaks, woven from vintage atlases and maps discarded by public libraries. There is something ritualistic about walking through this installation by Catalina Swinburn, who works in Buenos Aires and London. No Land stands out for its feminist take on ceremonial garments traditional to Andean culture, which have been presented as a symbol of collective and female resilience. 


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The writer is at the fair by invitation of Art Basel Hong Kong