A cat peeks out from inside a burger, and cigarette stubs stand in for chocolate chips on a scoop of ice cream. Elsewhere, two men lie down with cucumber slices covering their bodies except for their eyes. A maniacal laugh startles you, while passing by three women with long hair covering their faces.
Welcome to the hyperrealist and absurdist world of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan and photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. The two founders of the renowned Italian creative studio andimage-based magazine, TOILETPAPER, are in Mumbai for their largest-to-date immersive exhibition ‘Run As Slow As You Can’ at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre. The show has been curated by Mafalda Millies and Roya Sachs of TRIADIC—based in New York City, London and Vienna—, which specialises in the conception and execution of cross-disciplinary collaborations and events.
As one walks across the four chapters of the exhibition, spread across four floors, one can best term the show as a sensory overload. A note from the NMACC states, “The exhibition challenges our existence and engagement in an increasingly virtual world, where we are constantly bombarded with visual stimuli. The duo uses photography, design and architecture as tools to bring into question the homes we inhabit, the objects we own, and the people that surround us.”
The images, described earlier, are part of the first chapter, curiously titled ‘Take A Left, Right?’. As you enter the room, you come to realise that you are in a sort of visually-charged labyrinth and have to find the way to the staircase to go to the next level. The bright pop colours and vintage feel of the images—very Mad Men in the look—seem to follow illogical juxtapositions and bizarre narratives. The second chapter, ‘Is There Room In The Sky?’, has viewers reaching a kind of dreamy meta skyscape where space and time is warped, and satirical sculptures seem to float in the sky.
The third chapter—the busiest of the lot—is called ‘A House is a Building That People Live In’, and brings forth the notion of the perfect home. But this idea of a safe space is cluttered with household utilities that serve no function. It is literally a madhouse with a crocodile in the backyard, a bathtub filled to the brim with pills, a fridge in the kitchen which opens up to reveal a grave, and even a body concealed beneath a carpet. The various visuals can only be described as artificial perceptions of what an ideal home looks like.
The last chapter, which provides a voyeuristic view of the floor below, is a deep red ‘Control Room’, which is sprinkled with objects, images and works from the studio’s headquarters in Milan.
Connecting these chapters is a staircase, which has spaghetti imagery splattered over the papered walls of the four floors—Millies thinks of it as a sort of “hard wiring of a computer”, and Ferrari believes it is a way of double-signing that they come from Italy.The photographer does not subscribe to the view of explaining what the images mean, saying that it is the viewer who ascribes meaning to an image. “My goal is to be contemporary. The staging of the images might be vintage but the arguments and discussions from the images are really about the moments we live in everyday life. A lot of the objects in the images are those that you see almost every day but we don’t really look at them anymore, so we try to give a soul to them,” he says.
The site-specific exhibition also pays homage to India with a towering Taj Mahal image on one of the walls and dome-shaped entrances reminiscent of Rajasthan havelis. “It was important for us to produce as much in India and to keep it very local. All the prints and installations were constructed locally; there were only a few pieces of furniture and some of the archival work on the fourth floor that was shipped from elsewhere,” says Sachs of TRIADIC. “We wanted to tell the story from an Indian perspective and with the culture here being so rooted in craftsmanship, we wanted to showcase that playfulness in the narrative,” she shares.
‘Run As Slow As You Can’ is on display at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai till 22 October, 2023.
Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based art and culture writer.
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