OFF the wall

Sparrows populating a building site, grey mounds of concrete blocks densely placed together to look like crowded cities, boxes containing soil sediments collected from various spots across town, letters of salt against sand washed by the tide of the sea, philosophical notes on tiny grains of rice, a peephole into our living spaces, coca-cola bottle caps transformed into a 20-century chandelier, the bleeding world perched on the floor against a heap of mud, a glass-blown bottle containing a flora growing out of industrial landscapes…
Welcome to the open work of art. This is the work that manipulates the everyday object, transforming its function and unlocking its meaning to myriad interpretations. Artworks by Baptist Coelho, Tushar Joag, Vibha Galhotra, Reena Saini Kallat, Prajakta Potnis, Pradeep L Mishra, Nandita Kumar, Sharmila Samant and Hema Upadhyay, have been placed in the fluid context of JJ School of Art in Mumbai. They show how, through constant negotiation and questioning, the work of art is not removed from but is intrinsic to the reality of the everyday. Using aesthetics and awe as tools for creative thinking, the nine pieces that flow into each other become an open channel between the inside of art and the outside of the world.

Vibha Galhotra’s Missing Neighbours is a looming still of a construction site in which we see a littering of tiny sparrows. The house sparrow, the once familiar bird that occupied primarily human settlements, has almost disappeared from our cities. Referring to the disfiguration of our natural spaces, the work explores this dialectical relationship between our natural and built environment and how our natural ecosystems are being constantly compromised in the face of urban expansion and development.
As a manifestation of the fragility of human memory, Reena Saini Kallat’s photo pieces titled Saline Notations use salt as an intrinsic element to write notes on love and loss on the beach. The salty text against the sand grains is susceptible to the gravitational forces of the tidal waves. There is a constant conflict with the nature of time in the work – the transient nature of the text on sand that gets washed away combined with the element of salt which is a preservative that extends life. Time also becomes a residue of the unpredictability of our existence.
Hema Upadhyay’s What Are We? as well incorporates natural elements: a composition of rice grains where each grain carries a word. Strung together, the words forms a series of philosophical phrases inspired from the weekly signage often placed outside churches in the city. Rice is a form of sustenance and also a part of religious rituals. When they are coated with aphorisms, they quench our human desire and thirst for spirituality and meaning.
Nandita Kumar’s use of the machine intervenes as a device which transforms reality and the body of human beings into something unexpected and new. eLEmeNT: EaRTH questions whether it might be possible to create systems of sustainable living which metamorphose into elaborate almost imagined and surreal visual-scapes constructed and preserved in a glass bottle. Using components like pcb boards, she creates a magnetic field of energy and pleasure in this utopic garden breathing, growing, festering out of the bottle. Just like our living habitats that are in constant flux, so also the copper etchings slowly assume their green patina, thus becoming susceptible and receptive to its environment.
Interrogating how the expansions of a city are inconsonant with the aspirations of its inhabitants, Baptist Coelho’s Your Dream Home combines personal letters expressing the dream homes of the city’s masses. The dreams, perched atop concrete blocks that are clustered to reflect the seven islands of Mumbai, illustrate the hopes of a better life. Ironically, the concrete columns resemble buildings which can never be inhabited, much like the dreams themselves that never materialize. At the base of these columns lies a sea of paper boats made from property ads exposing the city’s rampant and unplanned construction. The organic re-making of the city is contrasted with the anarchic pace at which it is growing.
Soil sediment from 30 different areas of Mumbai, each measuring a square foot, are encased in transparent boxes. Each box is marked by the pin code from where it was retrieved and priced as per the existing property value of that locality. Placed together as a conceptual piece, the sediments vary in gradations of brown and red. Tushar Joag’s Bombay Dowry was conceived from a performance where the artist undertook a matrimonial processing as a parody to the inception of Mumbai city that was gifted as dowry by the Portuguese and then leased to the East India Company. During the procession, one square foot of soil from thirty different areas of the city was gifted to the artist as dowry that he then preserved in translucent cases, as a comment on the fallacy created by real estate speculation.
Pradeep Mishra’s use of soil on the other hand, spread across the floor and adorned with petals, alludes more to the notion of territory, belonging and boundaries illustrated in his bleeding map of the world where borders blur. Motherland explores how our natural environments and human feelings are intertwined and the artist tries to restore a pristine relationship, made by the rose petals.
Suspended from the ceiling, looms a shimmery chandelier. Historically, the chandelier was used as a decorative feature, a mark of nobility and stature. In the context of India, it was brought in by the British and is a mark of decadence from colonial times. Today, it is a symbol of status and luxury. Upon closer viewing, one discovers that Sharmila Samant’s Chandelier has been made by appropriating used bottle caps. By integrating what is commonly considered waste materials, Samant makes them the main element of her work, which gets elevated to the status of art and luxury item. The work also questions hierarchies of production, labour and authorship.
Prajakta Potnis instead plays with the notion of perception. Of gods and goddesses, cinema, cricket nudges the viewer to peep through a hole in the wall. Assuming the role of voyeur, we look through only to find a middle-class living home. It’s a typical indoor setting, with the TV, foam sofa, gaudy curtain and circling fan overhead. Made from packaging material, the artist constructs two boxes with the same furniture to give the viewer the feeling of looking through the same room from two different angles. By disorienting vision, Potnis brings the personal world of the individual to the outside, often separated by the wall. Looking through the inward almost claustrophobic space, she confronts the viewer with issues of urban loneliness and estrangement.

By critiquing the structures upon which our societies are formed, by questioning systems of production of meaning, the open work of art turns fluid, its sense ambiguous and its interpretation manifold. It becomes an uncomfortable space, where art is no longer just an autonomous and rarefied object. Rather, it is like a leaking valve that contaminates over time with new connotations, by engaging in a constant dialogue with the viewer and the public. It is in this exchange that artistic practice becomes a tool for critical thinking.

OFF the wall
Sparrows populating a building site, grey mounds of
concrete blocks densely placed together to look
like crowded cities, boxes containing soil sediment
s collected from various spots across town, letters
of
salt against sand washed by the tide of the sea, ph
ilosophical notes on tiny grains of rice, a peephol
e
into our living spaces, coca-cola bottle caps trans
formed into a 20-century chandelier, the bleeding
world perched on the floor against a heap of mud, a
glass-blown bottle containing a flora growing out
of industrial landscapes…
Welcome to the open work of art. This is the work t
hat manipulates the everyday object, transforming i
ts
function and unlocking its meaning to myriad interp
retations. Artworks by Baptist Coelho, Tushar Joag,
Vibha Galhotra, Reena Saini Kallat, Prajakta Potnis
, Pradeep L Mishra, Nandita Kumar, Sharmila Samant
and Hema Upadhyay, have been placed in the fluid co
ntext of JJ School of Art in Mumbai. They show
how, through constant negotiation and questioning,
the work of art is not removed from but is intrinsi
c
to the reality of the everyday. Using aesthetics an
d awe as tools for creative thinking, the nine piec
es
that flow into each other become an open channel be
tween the inside of art and the outside of the
world.
Vibha Galhotra’s
Missing Neighbours
is a looming still of a construction site in which
we see a littering of
tiny sparrows. The house sparrow, the once familiar
bird that occupied primarily human settlements, ha
s
almost disappeared from our cities. Referring to th
e disfiguration of our natural spaces, the work
explores this dialectical relationship between our
natural and built environment and how our natural
ecosystems are being constantly compromised in the
face of urban expansion and development.
As a manifestation of the fragility of human memory
, Reena Saini Kallat’s photo pieces titled
Saline
Notations
use salt as an intrinsic element to write notes on
love and loss on the beach. The salty text
against the sand grains is susceptible to the gravi
tational forces of the tidal waves. There is a cons
tant
conflict with the nature of time in the work – the t
ransient nature of the text on sand that gets washe
d
away combined with the element of salt which is a p
reservative that extends life. Time also becomes a
residue of the unpredictability of our existence.
Hema Upadhyay’s
What Are We? a
s well incorporates natural elements: a composition
of rice grains
where each grain carries a word. Strung together, t
he words forms a series of philosophical phrases
inspired from the weekly signage often placed outsi
de churches in the city. Rice is a form of sustenan
ce
and also a part of religious rituals. When they are
coated with aphorisms, they quench our human
desire and thirst for spirituality and meaning.
Nandita Kumar’s use of the machine intervenes as a
device which transforms reality and the body of
human beings into something unexpected and new.
eLEmeNT: EaRTH
questions whether it might be
possible to create systems of sustainable living wh
ich metamorphose into elaborate almost imagined
and surreal visual-scapes constructed and preserved
in a glass bottle. Using components like pcb
boards, she creates a magnetic field of energy and
pleasure in this utopic garden breathing, growing,
festering out of the bottle. Just like our living h
abitats that are in constant flux, so also the copp
er
etchings slowly assume their green patina, thus bec
oming susceptible and receptive to its environment.
Interrogating how the expansions of a city are inco
nsonant with the aspirations of its inhabitants, Ba
ptist
Coelho’s
Your Dream Home
combines personal letters expressing the dream hom
es of the city’s
masses. The dreams, perched atop concrete blocks th
at are clustered to reflect the seven islands of
Mumbai, illustrate the hopes of a better life. Iron
ically, the concrete columns resemble buildings whi
ch
can never be inhabited, much like the dreams themse
lves that never materialize. At the base of these
columns lies a sea of paper boats made from propert
y ads exposing the city’s rampant and unplanned
construction. The organic re-making of the city is
contrasted with the anarchic pace at which it is
growing.
Soil sediment from 30 different areas of Mumbai, ea
ch measuring a square foot, are encased in
transparent boxes. Each box is marked by the pin co
de from where it was retrieved and priced as per
the existing property value of that locality. Place
d together as a conceptual piece, the sediments var
y
in gradations of brown and red.
Bombay Dowry
was conceived from a performance where the artist
undertook a matrimonial processing as a parody to t
he inception of Mumbai city that was gifted as
dowry by the Portuguese and then leased to the East
India Company. During the procession, one
square foot of soil from thirty different areas of
the city was gifted to the artist as dowry that he
then
preserved in translucent cases, as a comment on the
fallacy created by real estate speculation.
Pradeep Mishra’s use of soil on the other hand, spr
ead across the floor and adorned with petals,
alludes more to the notion of territory, belonging
and boundaries illustrated in his bleeding map of t
he
world where borders blur.
Motherland
explores how our natural environments and human fe
elings are
intertwined and the artist tries to restore a prist
ine relationship, made by the rose petals.
Suspended from the ceiling, looms a shimmery chande
lier. Historically, the chandelier was used as a
decorative feature, a mark of nobility and stature.
In the context of India, it was brought in by the
British
and is a mark of decadence from colonial times. Tod
ay, it is a symbol of status and luxury. Upon close
r