The new houses of art
Genesis, which is on display at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, and more such installations and artworks form a part of Publica, a public arts festival, initiated by the Floodlight Foundation, a non-profit organisation that helps artists market their works. “Publica has helped people engage with art in their comfort zone,” says Surbhi Modi, founding director, Floodlight Foundation. “It aims to bring art outside its traditional context of museums and galleries to high-traffic areas so that more people can enjoy it in a less intimidating manner,” she says.
Art is still a niche concept in India confined to museums and galleries, so what makes public arts initiatives like Publica tick for the artists? “The very idea of taking the art to the people appealed to us from the very start. Art, as we know it, has usually been confined to galleries and events that usually cater to small gatherings of art lovers, etc. Here, we could reach out to everyone,” says Vikrant Sharma, adding, “We expect the intrigue and the inquisitiveness toward art among people to grow regardless of where they come from. We expect this experience to last with them much longer and make them more open and curious towards the art scenario in general.”
“I think it’s in everybody’s interest to get more viewership and patronage for arts in general, so that art becomes more accessible and even artists want and need that,” says Modi. “The artists also understood our ethos and the fact that this was a unique opportunity to reach out to a new audience in a secure environment. The venues themselves were quite unusual and presented an interesting challenge for the artists involved. Some of the artworks were generously loaned by galleries and they shared our vision, and also felt that today’s viewers could be tomorrow’s buyers.”
However, the concept of public art remains constrained in India and not without incidents of vandalism.
Says Threshold Art Gallery’s Tunty Chauhan, “It has to do with our small-minded nature. We think of our home and not about the street outside...look at the palatial corporate buildings in Delhi and other places in India and the sorry state of the roads that lead up to them. Similarly, hardly any attention is given to the aesthetics of a space. Architects and galleries can easily rectify this. Art needs to move out of the intimidating gallery space into our public space.”
“If you look at the public arts space in the world, be it the US or the UK, the government is always involved in such initiatives,” says Modi. “In India, we don’t have that kind of support. Therefore, there is no sense of ownership or security. The artworks should be bought by the government,” she says, adding, “We just want people to understand the importance of public art in beautifying our city, to make it a cultural destination. The public art space is a fairly new art market in India. It’s at a nascent stage. We have taken the first step...”
During the month-long Publica festival, which is scheduled till March 1, works by Indian and international artists will be on display at prominent hubs of cultural and commercial activity in and around the capital such as the India Habitat Centre, Select Citywalk mall, The Great India Place mall in Noida, DLF Promenade mall in Vasant Kunj, among others. Later, more venues, such as the Indira Gandhi International Airport and Central Secretariat Metro station, among others, will be added to the list. Talking about the choice of venues, Modi says, “The premise was to look at high footfall areas that could be secured and where the venues understood and supported our vision. A mix of government, private, non-art and cultural venues were chosen to bring in new viewers, but also keeping the seasoned art enthusiasts in the loop. We hoped that people who frequent these locations would become opinion leaders for a strata below them.”
Publica has roped in many Indian and international artists such as the London-based Jeremy Hutchison, identical twins Lydia and Phoebe Lake, popularly known as The Lake Twins, Israel-born Achia Anzi, and Indian artists such as Sandip Pisalkar, Mangesh Rajguru, S Thiru and Vikrant Sharma, among others. Interestingly, there is a common thread running through all the artworks. They have been created in a way to make them “environmentally focused, socially interactive and community driven”.
Asan, a double-headed scooter sculpture by Mangesh Rajguru at the Sabyasachi@Carma store in Mehrauli, depicts the side-effects of technological developments. Rajguru has welded two scooters to give it the form of a chair. “The seven silencers of the scooter are depicted in the form of the sheshanaga, considered to be lord Vishnu’s aasana,” says Rajguru. “Vehicles of transport today have become an integral part of our lives,” he says, adding, “However, these vehicles are massive contributors to air pollution, which we need to control. I have used the scooter as a vehicle and have given it the form of a chair, which speaks the position of power, authority and politics. We enjoy power, authority and convenience over hard work, but we must not forget the side effects brought by these technological developments.”
Sandip Pisalkar’s Human Enemy Killer (HEK), on display at the MGF Metropolitan mall in Gurgaon, uses a canon, which was used to kill enemies, as an object to kill mosquitoes. “My personal experience of suffering from malaria gave me the inspiration to create a kinetic sculpture of a mosquito killer by blending technology and art,” he says. “The historically important canon, used to kill enemies, has been manipulated to have a utilitarian purpose of killing mosquitoes, thereby making the public rethink about its gory past,” he says, adding, “Whenever I see an object of ‘historical reference’, I wish to transform it through the use of technology. That means the practical context and historical references are still there, but I only try to manipulate the way of seeing that object. It enhances the expression of that particular object and thereon the viewer starts rethinking about it.”
Asked if there are any plans underfoot to turn any of the displayed installations into permanent fixtures, Modi says, “Right now, we don’t have any such plans. One reason is that for that to happen, the artworks have to be very durable. For now, we just want people to appreciate, comment and give us feedback,” she says. “The objectives of Publica are to broaden the base of arts viewership and provide an unparalleled opportunity to participating artists, so that they can become household names. We intend to make art viewing a part of popular culture and envision the city as a gigantic, dynamic museum, where art is not a destination but coexists with us,” she adds.
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