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It's all temporary, transient, transitory. Much like life itself. Or a light bulb that can be switched on and then off in a few seconds. A flash, as it were, in the visual pan.
Shilpa Gupta's latest creation is a larger version of something that has fascinated her for a while. "One is very attracted to space, " she says. "We work in gallery spaces. When you want to do a large outdoor work, it takes effort, networks, resources, money, energy. " She is also drawn to light, much like the proverbial moth to the flame. "Light is something you see in the darkness;it also has a momentary existence, transitory, temporary, switched on and switched off. "
Adding it all up, she has created Today Will End, an installation that combines light with the outdoors, making it a unique piece, even for Gupta, who specialises in out-of-the-box ideas. The 36-year-old artist lives and works in Mumbai, creating pieces that have elicited comment, questions and applause. She uses technology and electronics in a thoughtful and thought-provoking way, presenting her notions on issues of global importance and local significance with sledgehammer force and delicate precision. Gupta combines videos, interactive applications, objects, photographs, sound, light, props and performance to make her point. Her work changes as you look at it and as you start to comprehend it, it evolves from weird to likeable with every facet revealed.
Her last show at the Chemould had a conglomeration of microphones that emitted eerie singsong sounds. It was called Singing Cloud. Another work consisted of a pale honeycoloured brick wall with the word THREAT etched into each brick. "It made you step back a tiny bit, cautioned, just a tiny bit afraid, until you are drawn back in, " was how one viewer reacted. The bricks were not made of clay or mud, but of something fragrant - sandalwood, perhaps? It was bath soap, Gupta says, specially made for her in a soap factory, and please, do take one. She explains the rather startling offer with clear logic: "As the wall slowly eroded, with people taking away bricks so does the THREAT carved into each one. And, slowly, like the soap, with everyone becoming part of the erosion process, any threat too can be dissolved into nothingness. "
Her latest work, located in Switzerland, is more solidly pragmatic. Gupta's light installation will overlook one of the busiest locations in a small town in Switzerland called Clarens, on the shores of Lake Geneva. Situated near a train station - Clarens is a one-hour train ride from Geneva - is an old silverware factory that will be the site of Apo-Calypse, an exhibition that will bring together 28 visual artists exploring the theme of doomsday.
Apo-Calypse opened on November 16 and will run through December 21 - prophesied to be the day on which the world (as we know it) will end. It features photography, video, sculpture, ceramics, drawings and installations by artists like Ai Wewei, Jonathan Monk, Hans Op de Beeck, Erwin Wurm and Gupta, with 20 works created specifically for the exhibition.
"I wanted to do a lightwork called Today Will End - in fact, I did a small piece earlier - and always imagined that it would be an outdoor installation, " says Gupta. "I spoke to the non-profit art collective in Switzerland about it and they were keen on including it in this show. I was thinking about it in relation to time, how we perceive things, people, time, movement. "
The setting for the work is the gabled roof of a building just next to the railway station. People passing by in the trains or walking past, or even driving along will see the installation at the top of the building spelling out Gupta's message in running script - Today Will End - in lights. "It took five or six months for it to finally happen. We used scaffold, installed the piece with lots of jugaad and stuff. "
Today Will End may sound like a dire doomsday message, but it also came "in response to a kind of extreme energy and intensity, the association with time and space, how everything must happen now, here, in the moment". For Gupta it is about "the fragility of time". Today Will End is dire, but it also says, 'Hey, look, there is a tomorrow!'
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