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40 artists showcase their latest works at the Bikaner House

The ‘On Site’ exhibition is a collaboration between four art galleries, allowing people to engage with contemporary art in a physical space after a long hiatus

Naeem Mohaiemen's 'Jole Dobe Na' (Those Who Do Not Drown), 2020 Film, 64 minutes, Courtesy the artist and Experimenter, Kolkata
Naeem Mohaiemen's 'Jole Dobe Na' (Those Who Do Not Drown), 2020 Film, 64 minutes, Courtesy the artist and Experimenter, Kolkata

Some rather interesting conversations are taking place at the Bikaner House. As one walks around, one can see recent works by leading contemporary artists enter into dialogues with one another as part of the show On Site. It is a collaboration between four galleries, Nature Morte, Vadehra Art Gallery, Chemould Prescott Road and Experimenter.

The show marks a return to collaborations in a physical space and features solo projects, group exhibitions, installations and moving image works by 40 artists. “With the absence of physical art fairs and biennales in the past year, this exhibition provides the art community an opportunity to come together and engage with art in a physical exhibition after a long hiatus,” mentions Roshini Vadehra, director, Vadehra Art Gallery. “While following all social distancing protocols, we hope that our friends in the art world will enjoy this cautious coming together.”

There is a unique juxtaposition happening in one of the rooms between Jitish Kallat’s drawings and L.N. Tallur’s sculptures—both new bodies of work from 2020-21. A note by Chemould Prescott Road states: “the painter paints large exploratory sculptural images on his canvas and the sculptor prints digital images on his bronzes”. Titled floccinaucinihilipilification, Tallur has used recast, morphed and commercial antiques to create a series of sculptures. So, you have one piece with a rib cage in burnished bronze hues gleaming back at you or an elegant human form with an exaggerated brain on top in another. The idea is to create a debate about the concepts of perfection versus imperfection, finished versus unfinished and handmade versus machine-made.

Jitish Kallat's 'Wind Study (for Kepler)'. Courtesy: the artist and Chemould Prescott Road
Jitish Kallat's 'Wind Study (for Kepler)'. Courtesy: the artist and Chemould Prescott Road

Kallat, on the other hand, has created drawings called Wind Study (for Kepler), which appear like poetry in symmetry and form. The five-pointed form derives from Johannes Kepler’s ‘diagram Aa’ in his book, Harmonices Mundi. The gallery note states: “the lines are overlaid, one line at a time with an inflammable liquid and set aflame, the rising fumes record the movement of the wind at that moment registering invisible atmospheric flows.” Kallat describes Wind Studies as “transcripts, attempts to eavesdrop on a silent conversation between wind and fire.”

A similar relationship between art and science—and these kindred moments of reflection—can be seen in the set of works curated by Nature Morte, which brings three generations of artists together. Mona Rai, Bharti Kher and Tanya Goel propose abstraction as a correlative to current advancements in science. Kher uses bindis in Words Sent Hurtling Forest Through In Out Back to evoke a powerful emotive experience. A 2019-work, it treads the realm of the scientific and the mystical, with the bindis—defamiliarized from their everyday context— seeming to come together to form parts of the cosmos.

In another part of the Bikaner House, we can see yet another group of women artists, spanning generations, showcase their works. Experimenter’s Do You Know How to Start a Fire is a group show featuring works by Ayesha Sultana, Biraaj Dodiya, Radhika Khimji and Reba Hore. “[It] rests itself on transient instances of deep personal reference, that are often realized in the seclusion of their own studios, usually inhabited by experiments, possibilities, erasures and experiences that shape their work,” mentions the curatorial note. While each of these four artists have different points of departure and remarkably different voices, they come together to interpret environments of silence and sensorial stimuli.

Especially significant are the late Reba Hore’s paintings, such as Woman and Flower, which draw you in with their vibrant, fervent use of colours, blurring the lines between figure and landscape, and “underscoring a form of erasure”. Juxtaposed against this, Biraaj Dodiya’s work such as Moon Sting —also interpretations of landscapes—is calming and deeply meditative. The latest body of work is rooted in navigating nocturnal landscapes and uncertainties while playing with form through acts of abrasion or resistance.

Each section presented by the four galleries is “like a mini exhibition” as Priyanka Raja of Experimenter puts it. There are solos within the main show, such as Prabhakar Pachpute’s Lone Runner's Laboratory, a new series of works which continue his imagining of a post-mined and post-industrial landscape. There is also a showcase of recent works by B.V. Doshi, the Pritzker Prize winner, hosted by Vadehra Art Gallery. The selection features eleven works—mixed-media paintings on canvas, metal sculptures, drawings and a teakwood door originally designed for his close friend, Gunvant Mangaldas.

The titles of the various shows within the show focus on the slowing down and moments of reflection from last year. For instance, the Vadehra Art Gallery showcase, the Memory Keepers, came up when the team was looking at the images by four artists—Atul Dodiya, Arpita Singh, BV Doshi and Shilpa Gupta. “All four projects have a certain sense of nostalgia and a quiet quality to them. We had a sense of inward looking, whether with Atul Dodiya’s solitary figure or with Arpita’s ‘homeward’. Shilpa explores the complexities of mobility or the lack of during the recent months, while Doshi creates melancholic images while delving into childhood memories. The title seemed apt to unify the different projects by the four artists,” says Vadehra.

As a joint presentation between Vadehra Art Gallery and Chemould Prescott Road, artist Shilpa Gupta has created an intervention with recently developed works, which delve into distance, mobility and confinement that surfaced through the last year. “Shilpa Gupta’s 6,10.3,2 evokes an understanding of experiential distance and presence while focusing on how qualitative interruptions and subjective internality interact with the otherwise external and durational nature of time; ‘6’ refers to the minimum social distance to be maintained in feet, ‘10.3’ refers to the same distance as measured by Gupta’s palm, and ‘2’ is its conversion into metres,” states the gallery note. “These recent works explore the over-intensification of individual emotions resultant from the unexpected and in some ways ongoing lockdown due to the global pandemic. Through a series of sensory objects, she explores the frenzy of immobility as well as the density of acquiescence both emerging from a circumstantially cultivated, heightened sensitivity.”

Also pertinent to the times is Jole Dobe Na (Those Who Do Not Drown), a film by Naeem Mohaiemen, which premieres in India at On Site. The film was conceived in response to a prompt given by Raqs Media Collective (for Yokohama Triennial 2020) to think about the afterlife of caregivers.

In another part of Bikaner House, the four galleries are also hosting a Drawing Salon. “Traditionally viewed as markings, notations, and sketches—often on paper or personal diaries, the influence of drawing and the scope of the Drawing Salon goes well beyond its physical act and explores the medium as thought, as form and as practice,” mentions the exhibition note.

Even though the galleries have collaborated on a physical show, they are being cautious. But they feel shows like these are important as “art and music have been saviours in the past year in keeping humanity afloat,” says Aparajita Jain, co-director, Nature Morte.

On | Site, a collaborative exhibition project by four Indian galleries, can be viewed at the Bikaner House, New Delhi till 9 March 2021

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