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A tile for every memory

Thukral Ukral and Tagra's ongoing project drives people to become part of the process of art-making

Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra stand before the exhibits of ‘Memoir Bar’. Courtesy Thukral & Tagra
Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra stand before the exhibits of ‘Memoir Bar’. Courtesy Thukral & Tagra

Artist duo Thukral and Tagra seek to create a library of preserved memories with the interactive work Memoir Bar. Write down a memory on a piece of paper, tick any two of the six emotions—love, sadness, happiness, fear, excitement or anger—which define your memory, then shred the paper and watch it being made into a tile. Helpers at the Memoir Bar assign colours to each set of emotions. Happy and excited gets you yellow and white, while love and sadness equals white and blue. “Using your memory as your currency, you obtain the power to relive it through the object at will," say Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra. The idea is to create an “emographic" map of the cities that Memoir Bar will exhibit in.

Part of the special projects at the recently concluded India Art Fair, the Memoir Bar drew huge crowds, with people excited about playing a key role in the enquiry and creation of an artwork, rather than being passive spectators. “The project aligned with our ideas of creative outreach. We have always been thinking of ways of getting people more involved with art and the process of art-making. Memoir Bar was a perfect fit," says Vidya Shivadas, director, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (Fica), which presented the project at the fair.

It all started when Thukral and Tagra were invited last year by the Dubai Design Week to participate in an exhibition around the theme of the human senses. They were part of a series of six pavilions at the Design Week. “Memoir Bar was born out of conversations after I hired the fantastic duo to curate the India Pavilion at Abwab 2016," says Rawan Kashkoush, head of programming, Dubai Design Week.

Thukral and Tagra chose to make an emotional pavilion by using Indian materials rather than craft. “A lot of labourers from India work on construction sites in Dubai. They leave their memories behind. Hence, we saw the construction sites as an interrogative space rather than as a banal raw space," says Thukral, on what triggered the idea. The space featured cotton-filled sacks, which could be seen as a war bunker, creating a barrier between the private and the public.

Performative and participatory is how Mortimer Chatterjee of Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai, describes Memoir Bar. He showed it at his gallery as a two-day pilot project before the duo headed to Dubai for the Design Week. “As a gallerist, I know just how difficult it is to get the audience to engage with art. It’s almost like there is an invisible wall between the viewer and the work," he says. “Though there have been participatory works in the past, the audience has remained more or less passive, almost expecting something to happen on its own."

It’s this thread of the performative that runs through all of Thukral and Tagra’s new work, including the exhibition Play Pray Play, which is on view till 15 February at the Bikaner House in Delhi. The show explores the idea of God through a game of table tennis. “There are three parts to the exhibition—preparation, past and present. It’s like a ritual when you enter. You cover your shoes with a sleeve and prepare your mind to enter a sacred space. Inside, there are conversations with the past. TT tables are hung on walls, offering a re-engagement with the 10 avatars of Vishnu. They form a part of your past," explains Thukral. The floor is studded with 80,000 balls to signify a path through the room. “But there is no one guiding you on which direction to take. You follow the path and reach the room of the ‘present’," he says.

This project also carries forward the duo’s Walk Of Life games, which were first showcased at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum and at Khoj Studios in Delhi in 2015, and at the Manchester Museum last year. They may take the games to the Southbank Centre, London, in May.

As for Memoir Bar, its fourth iteration is likely to take place in Bahrain, after which it may travel to Palestine. There is talk of travelling to other cities in India, as well as to the US.

I ask Thukral about the maps that have emerged so far. “In Dubai, we saw a lot of dark tiles that have to do with sadness or fear. In Delhi, however, a lot of yellow and white tiles emerged. The emotional state of the people was more happy and excited. I think that had a lot to do with the location," he says.

Having said that, he maintains that it’s hard to gauge a clear result, as some people use this opportunity far more seriously than the rest.

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