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The 1x1x1 foot white cubes of this art show mimic the space constraints that Mumbai lives with.
Once upon a time it was a space that housed a printing press in a mill in central Bombay (as it was then). In more recent times, it has morphed into The Loft, a gallery fostered by arts consultant and curator Anupa Mehta.
In a new experimental project, the space has been re-staged as a studio apartment, part of what is known as The Square Foot Project. Curated by Himali Singh Soin, the show can be seen as a comment on the time-space-density issue that the city of
Mumbai (as it is today) lives in every moment. This interesting exhibition is called Reconstructing (White)3. It is made up of cubes, each one foot by one foot by one foot in dimension, each a "paradox of space and its foldability", each interpreted in a unique and edgy manner by contemporary artists Hema Upadhyay, Mithu Sen, Abir Karmarkar, Prajakta Potnis, Gautam Bhatia, Zuleikha Chaudhari, Niyeti Chadha, Praneet Soi and Chittrovanu Mazumdar. And what does it say to the (like me) rather bewildered visitor? What is the concept of white cubes all about? And why here, now?
Soin explains, "The idea of the white cube was coined by Brian O' Dougherty in a 1980s Arforum issue. Anupa and I were intrigued by this idea of both substantiating and subverting this concept, which symbolises not only the sterilised, blank slate created by museum and galleries as a condition through which art might be viewed with a neutral, unconditional lens, but also the larger strictures of society and its control. You close your ears to the sirens outside and enter these little dream worlds of image and ideas. " Time has no real significance and the delusion of neutrality that the White Cube provides becomes "a blank slate, a grid for the laying out of impulse. The show deconstructs this perfect cube - and reconstructs it - giving artists an important constraint: to create a work of art that exists inside - or leaks outside - a 1x1x1 white box fabricated from a material of their choice". And this space constraint was perfect for the larger context of Mumbai as a congested megalopolis, Mehta felt, allowing for creativity inspired by circumstances and a greed to use each inch of canvas available.
With a framework in mind, the participating artists were selected. The 'final composition' by each is laid out inside the cube, and the viewer looks in through peepholes, as a voyeur would through a keyhole. Soin has a three-month dialogue with each about concepts and how it would all be done in the process. "Because the white cube is not only a physical, architectural aspect, but also an interior, psychological condition, I chose artists that used ideas of space both externally as well as internally, but all in idiosyncratic, displacing ways. Gautam Bhatia may be much better known as an architect, but his art includes quirky, severe and humourous critiques of society through the larger rules of architecture: perspective, light and function. "
Untitled by Chittrovanu Mazumdar turns living on its head, in a manner of speaking. As he explains, "I've tried to address the white cube by problematising it, complicating it. The ideal of the white cube is to create a space emptied of memory and history, associations and affect, a space of careful distance and objective viewing, in which 'Art' is selectively and exclusively displayed under controlled conditions for the viewer who enters the space with these expectations. It is about enclosure - it encloses all that is important and significant, and excludes all that is irrelevant and distracting - and about making the experience of viewing easy, smooth and uninterrupted. My piece inverts these assumptions. The outer wall, far from being immaterial to the art within, is itself heavily and intricately worked;it has its own value. This piece is about connections, flux, the unexpected and uncontrollable juxtapositions of melody, image, indeed, experience, that daily life offers us and that living is all about. The strange magic of the quotidian, of the human everyday. " And Mazumdar's cube beckons, inviting the viewer to peer in to someone else's life and style in a kind of sound-and-light show. "You hear snatches of melody from different musical traditions - Eric Satie layered with a sentimental Bengali love song - a huge distance of two very different cultures and philosophies simply traversed by two interwoven melodies.
The title, Soin explains, "is written as a formula. It is purposefully not 'deconstructing', as this show is not about the fall of cities due to congestion, but about how all life and art grows outward and adapts to its spatial environment".
For Gautam Bhatia's The Cube: The Good Life is his way of trying to "address the idea of the dissolution of domesticity, an absence of conventional spatial definition. The Cube captures the nefarious multi-tasking moments of the Good Life. The walls of the cube are defined in a painted landscape of a multinational couple living a home life of affluence, leisure, indulgence, hyperactivity ..." He divides this existence into Living Room: Vice and Device;Dining Room: Gluttony and Excretion;Bedroom: Dream and Desertion and Bathroom: Privacy and Pretention. It feels sort of intrusive to peek into this one, as if you are catching someone on the potty or drawing in eyeliner.
Praneet Soi's (Untitled) interpretation is more simplistic and graphic. For Soi, "The sense of unfolding lies in the drawings that went into making the image that are shown transposed upon each other. Thus the hands, the head, the shoes are fragmented views of the same subject. The A4 becomes the cube as in the studio the most simple format to work with is A4. "
Soin describes her curatorial baby with a certain parental pride and a fairytale charm: "Anupa and I have each conjured a character in our heads. It's this poetess who lives in the house, a 'global' woman, a shy woman. She had to leave immediately, and left her life open for us to peer inside. She is eccentric, in an intriguing way. Things are a little astray in her house, but only a discerning eye can tell the semblance of her chaotic mind. . . So with this logic, I've created the show. I always think to myself, would 'she' have done this, before I do it. We've become her, or she, us, a little bit. "
The exhibition is on at The Loft at Lower Parel, Mumbai, till March 2013.
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