I am Sutradhar / Archana Hande @ Alibaug

Monday, August 20, 2018

The above images are works of Manasi Bhatt from the show 'I Am Sutradhar' conceptualized by Archana Hande together with artists Sachin Kondhalkar, Gayatri Kodikal and Mansi Bhatt. The project was installed at the Guild Gallery, Alibaug. It was one of my favourite installations amongst all others, for its subtle surreal quality. It alludes the cultivation of body parts for a variety of consumptive purposes. One sees hair, skin, noses, eyes, fingers in different shapes and sizes for different needs grown in the kitchen garden of a house in alibaug along with other vegetables. The works need to be nurtured, cared and cured for those to whom it may deem fit. On one hand the relationship between body and burial are inversed whereas on the other, the reality and artificiality of life are simultaneously invoked. The ease with which the work is presented was commendible! I thoroughly enjoyed!

Mumbai Modern :: Death of Architecture

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Rupali and I had vaguely discussed to do a project on documenting the modern buildings in the city of Mumbai for the sake of several visitors - architectural or otherwise. Inspite of knowing several buildings of interest, often we would find ourselves struggling with names when asked to recommend a friend. Besides, much travel books on Mumbai end up focusing too much on either the ancient heritage - the caves, the temples, the churches or else, the popular - Marine Drive, Nariman Point, Fort and so on. A whole range of built works that one passes by almost everyday comes to be grossly overlooked by visitors, or even architects for academic study. In Mumbai, studies of historical precincts have been done for long now. Entry points in understanding space through history in architectural academic discourses often don't work well given the new spatial orientation through which students associate with the built environment today. It takes a good amount of work to open students to certain characteristics of built settings that they often tend to take for granted, or even undervalue due to the overriding market-driven "cleansing" narratives. On of the initiatives in our History-Theory program at SEA was thus to make students look at their everyday neighbourhoods, their surroundings through a strategy of defamiliarization. I was keen to take this one step further into looking at specific buildings which shape Mumbai's modernity. "Let's do a 'Mumbai Modern'", came the idea.

Two years ago, our third year studio put together a study on about 24 modern buildings of Mumbai over the last 100 years that are often overseen as projects of value. The work culminated in a poster bringing together drawings and photographs of our modern heritage. The poster deliberately skipped some buildings like Kanchanjunga (by Charles Correa) and instead brought to light his LIC colony (in Borivali) and the Portuguese Salvacao Church (in Dadar) which often get missed out. Correa has done significant work in Mumbai - including the SNDT campus and the Dadar Catering College which do not get discussed as much as Kanchanjunga. Similarly, academia has missed discussing Uttam Jain and Kanvinde who contributed buildings like the Indira Gandhi Research and Development Centre (Goregaon) and Nehru Science Centre (Worli) respectively. One wonders why don't we take these projects seriously? The project thus became about creating a repository of everyday-modern buildings of Mumbai, and culminated into an A0 poster!

Early this year, Rupali got me to present the work at the Death of Architecture exhibition that opened in Mumbai. I was a bit confused about how it would fit within the premise of "Death of Architecture" and because I was also unclear about its curation. But in beginning to make meaning, several things opened up and settled within the frame pleasantly. The fact that the work was presented in one of the buildings the poster included, the celebration of architecture, and the subversions on modernism had already created an uneven ground for its discussion. I took the opportunity to premise the relevance of the study through the mapping of a certain change in the idea of public space - seen in the built forms of a socialist-nationalist India, their communal disposition and a certain honesty of expression - to that of a consumptive, bounded, insecure enclaving of the city, covered in shiny masks and false skins. The work became an index of buildings that traced ideological transformation of space through architectural engagement. 

In such foregrounding of the work, I proposed three points of relevance for the discussion of the project within the framework of Death:

1. Death of anything/anyone inevitably brings us in to a state of contemplation. It creates a moment of rupture which allows for thought and reflection. The Mumbai Modern offers an opportunity to trace the transforming spirit of space, the changing face of architecture, and puts us in a position to decide what we really come to value within our architectural environment. 

2. When thinking of death, one is compelled to recall an anecdote by Charles Correa, and one of the things he admired about India as a country. He said that "India grows in its own decay." It is much valuable to think of growth and decay as a continuum. And to think of built environment through the metaphor of the "swamp" is particularly interesting, for it elevates the work of building as an eco-system, which regulates itself through simultaneous rejection and acceptance of emerging values. A thousand deaths collapse, and several births reappear simultaneously. Such a consideration brings architects in a unique position with death.

3. Having said the above, the city we live in appears to be an emerging ruin, not because of destruction, but because of its constant evolution. The landscape of incomplete structures, left over mosaic and morphing redevelopments characterize a unique setting of a ruin that awaits itself to complete forever. This lack, or incompleteness is what brings us closer to the city, for we witness its growth, we witness its transformation and embrace its change. And here, one begins to think what possibility do we come to imagine when we look at the built environment through the putative anxiety of the death of architecture? 

City-Ruin 1

City-Ruin 2

City-Ruin 3

When is Space?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Incidentally, I have not mentioned anything on this blog about the major architectural exhibition that I worked on early this year: When is Space? - that which was curated by Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty, commissioned by Pooja Sood, held at Jawahar Kala Kendra. The exhibition took place during 21st January to 21st April 2018. The reason why nothing came to this blog is because I put together an entire separate website for the event (www.whenisspace.in). I contributed several writing pieces on the whenisspace blog. Besides, as the Assistant Curator, my responsibility was to put together the exhibition catalogue, the exhibition placards, overseeing the content and design and lastly conducting the seminars and conferences as allied events. Alongside, I was also made responsible for putting together what came to be called as the 'Jaipur Room' - the one with all historical documents of the city. Often it becomes very difficult to ascertain what one's role has been in putting up an exhibition when working in a creative group. Several of our energies went together in creating many parts of the exhibition. My effort was to become a lubricant which could help mobilize the entire exhibition towards its completion.

Prasad's pre-planning for the exhibition layout.

Pankaj Sharma with the Curatorial Team, on Jaipur Archives

Jaipur Winters with the team

The curators involved me generously over the entire planning - taking me together for site visits, studies and archives. I have to commend Rupali and Prasad for their persistence and hard work with which they envisioned ideas into reality. I feel too insignificant of my contribution within the entire process as compared to their work. I merely tried to "fill in" where some directorial purpose was required as they focused on other more important things. This was more circumstantial than intended, for I was quite occupied assisting Riyas Komu for Serendipity Arts Festival's 'Young Subcontinent' Project in Goa. There was substantial traveling and research involved along with significant amount of coordination that went into bringing and installing artists from across six countries of South Asia for the Young Subcontinent Project. Within this, there was my teaching at SEA along with visits to Jaipur. It was useful to be informed about the developments in person, however, my initial involvement began from refining the curatorial note and then working on the graphic material for the exhibition, eventually robustly taken over by our project assistant Dhruv Chavan.

Pooja Sood, unknowingly, although perhaps rightfully qualified 'When is Space?' as one of the largest exhibitions of architecture in India. While one had preliminary doubts, one was compelled to believe in her pre-assessment on seeing the works manifest on ground. Which other architecture exhibition brought five live installations, life size scaled models, room full installations and a range of drawings and models together in once space? In addition, the exhibition also boasted of two conferences along with a dozen curatorial walks. Such an ambition clearly brings the scale of the exhibition at par with either Vistara, or The State of Architecture. The project almost became a mini-biennale. Originally intended to run for three months, it was extended by another month.

One of my biggest learnings was in the process of translation of the text in Hindi. The work opened me up to some really exciting conversation with our translator Sveta Sarda, and led me to the undertaking of my next important class project on translating the wonderful catalogue of Vistara exhibition (one that was curated by Charles Correa) as a part of my History class. As a translator / editor, one is constantly struggling between what essence to retain, and what to let go. It also opened me up to the rich internal contemplation on the idea of space as conceived in oriental philosophy.

To just shift behind the scenes, Prasad, since much beginning prefaced four ideas on space (something I think he learnt from Lefebvre's 'The Production of Space'). It is important that they are noted down for architectural consideration, and to remind oneself that architects play a role in steering the discourse on space. These four propositions, observed by Prasad from his research on understanding of space include four categories in which it has been understood and intervened so far:

a. Euclidean space: The mathematical understanding of space, through geometry and eventually cartography - taken ahead through endavours of Newton and Descartes in order to locate objects in reality. In essence, they imagined space as a container for events in life.

b. Einsteinian space: Einstein worked through folding space and time (and everything within it) into a continuum, indicating that we are aggregates of time and space. In some ways, it is an empirical extension of spiritual teachings of vedas. His famous mathematical equation E=mc2 also brings together life as energy that is constituted of light and matter.

c. The Kantian Space: Kant suggests that 'space' is something like a lens that one wears to see things (in a most basic manner). He suggested that human beings are born with certain 'apriori' idea of space and time.

d. Lefebvre's space: Lefebvre believed that space is a cultural phenomenon, and that it is produced through the constant act of social process. Thus, for Lefebvre, space was a social entity.

On reflection, one finds three important guiding principles that came to structure the exhibition. Incidentally, these were also points that I had raised in my critique of 'The State of Architecture' exhibition held at NGMA in Mumbai during 2016. These include:

1. The Idea of Practice (and not projects): The 'When is Space?' exhibition attempted to focus on the ongoing inquiries that individual architects are pursuing within their practices. The projects included in the exhibition were seen merely as sharp pointers that exemplified these questions. Thus, projects do not become an end in themselves for a practice, rather another opportunity to experiment with the ongoing questions that it tries to engage in over a longer term. The exhibition was thus, not a collection of architectural projects, rather a bringing together of contemporary inquiries on space hidden/latent within the architectural practices across the country.

2. The question of Space: Everyone on the team worked with the understanding that space is a produced act. It is not a default "given". The curatorial endavour attempted to provoke and ask the question of space as a historical condition - what it is, and what it means today. It thus did not differentiate between architects, artists, philosophers, intellectuals, theorists, students, and many other 'practitioners of space'. Thus, architecture was located within an expanded field, and the question of space was central to the curation. The exhibition asserted that space is a shared entity, and it is co-produced, where architects play the role of sharpening its ideological dimension. It is here that the exhibition also attempts to address the "when". People and space produce each other through a series of engagements, and certain configurations of space characterise key moments in time. The exhibition attempted to ask what regimes of thinking 'space' have existed, and how does one locate contemporary architectural practice within it?

3. The Paradox of Exhibiting Architecture: What methods does one employ to exhibit an entity that encompasses our very lives? The exhibition experimented and brought together a range of ways in which architecture gets experienced - through drawings, models, installations, mockups as well as the virtual. Further, it brought audiences to consider intangible elements like light as well as sound (music and spoken word) structure our experiences in a given space. The exhibition pushed people to create their own associations by throwing them into a gamut of carefully curated sensorial environments, punctured by historical and contemporary readings. In doing so, it provoked the viewers to think how life shapes up through sensorial interaction and consumption; how we become inhabitants of the world, and what, after all, is the nature in which we inhabit the world today?


Some memories:

Planning Spatial Toys. Drawing by Dhruv Chavan under the direction of Milind Mahale.

Making frames for hanging the mounted photographs

Teja Gavankar's installation in process

The meticulous planning behind the House of Five Gardens by Samir Raut.
Vipul Verma working the construction of the endless cloth pieces in order to create a large enclosure within the volume of JKK, for Sameep Padora's installation
Bringing the tallest staircase on campus!

Reams of cloth...

The first iteration of the Floating Roof, by Dushyant Asher, held over his work desk at the School of Environment & Architecture

Please visit www.whenisspace.in for more information!

Shakuntala Kulkarni / Julus / Chemould Prescott Road

Friday, August 10, 2018


published in Art India, July 2018

Women at War

Ornaments and items of armour in Shakuntala Kulkarni’s works present a measured tension between tenderness and aggression, claims Anuj Daga.

Ornamenting the self is an act of de-familiarization. It rearticulates the surface of the body into new outlines. At Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, in Julus and Other Stories, Shakuntala Kulkarni mobilizes these aspects of the ornament while also exploring its other characteristics like protection and decoration. The show, from the 13th of March to the 7th of April, comprises chalk drawings, photographs, cane armour and ornaments along with a video within which the artist inhabits these idea-forms.

The viewer is greeted with an array of cane armour objects and adornments presented like disembodied parts. Masks, cages, shields, headgears, bands, earrings, laces – all woven in cane in variegated shapes and forms – suggest different ways of covering and securing the body.

The use of cane domesticates adornment as well as armoury. Their exchange or utilitarian values are removed, making them amenable for the everyday. The work quietly blurs questions of sentimentality and security within each other. It brings us to consider the politics of adornment and armoury in unintended but clever ways. In several cultures, for example, strategic parts of clothing are embroidered so as to ward off the evil eye. If such an analogy is extended to ornaments and their location, decoration and their bodily fixation, it creates a space of distraction through which a politics of defence may be softly mobilized. On the other hand, locating cane armour within several delicately woven jewelleries at once mellows the aggression contained in the objects of war. The measured tension between tenderness and aggression begins to mediate a new understanding of power.

The wall-projected video animates the objects and drawings and brings them to life. The artist’s enactment – assuming new postures within the sinuous cane frameworks – gives rise to the experience of the female body adorned as well as trapped within the creations. Perhaps, it is here that a larger commentary on the subject of gender emerges in the artist’s work. Within which kinds of apparatuses is the narrative and social status of women enmeshed today? How does one challenge these frameworks and what kind of orientations can these questions have towards action and re-identification? Kulkarni’s chalk drawings offer studies presenting histories of ornament usage; they also trace the transformation of the ornament into a weapon on the path of claiming the powerful, performative self.

Madhusree Dutta / Cinema City


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