On entering Gallery SKE for the current exhibition Make/Do which runs through August 24,I had a distinct feeling of being lost. The white wall gallery located amidst the volatile hub of Connaught Place exhibited the work of sixteen artists in a group show called “Make/Do”. I entered the gallery with the expectation of seeing and interacting with utilitarian objects that artists use in the process of creation, only to be thrown off by the aesthetic nature of these everyday objects. Contemporary art demands one thing: make it new. The exhibits in the group show came to exemplify for me this process of making a new.
The group show explores the tools and objects that artists like Astha Butail, Somu Desai, Sakshi Gupta, Megha Joshi, Martand Khosla, Ritesh Meshram, Sumedh Rajendran, Niharika Rajput, Raqs Media Collective, Ayesha Singh, Masooma Syed and Asim Waqif use in their studio so that from lamps, pillows, chairs and time boards to reclaimed blenders and repurposed prams all form a part of the exhibition. It is a playful assemblage of the “intimate” lives and workings of the contributing artists and moves away from the historical concept of an art show exhibiting art and not objects. In general, questions of use and aesthetic innovation become as important as the cultural and historical relevance of art and objects. When does an object become a subject of an art exhibition? The tools and objects found in these artists’ studios are not your everyday items but are de-familiarized through innovation and design for reasons of both utility and aesthetics.
These custom-made tools and furniture make the functioning of an artist easier,like the time board by the Raqs Media Collective or the wood working tools of Ritesh Mesharam to eccentric improvisations that personalise the studio spaces like the reclaimed blender used for storing paint brushes by Kumar Kanti Sen or the repurposed pram to be used as a workstation. Even a chair does not remain an object of mere utility but bespeaks of originality of design and technique. The proverbial bed of nails comes to materialise with Martand Khosla’s wooden chair in which upholstery is substituted with inverted nails such that the flatheads make for a smooth surface both innovative and rustic. Niharika Rajput’s used wire meshing, Masoom Syed magazine prints whereas Martand Khosla used megaphones to create inventive lamp designs. The usage of these different media wire, magazine and megaphones is made to create something of utility entirely different from their original purpose. Herein lies the crux of the exhibition. Objects are not all that they seem but can be used, aestheticised, or made like art from other objects to serve a purpose entirely different from their intended one. When the distinction between creating and making diminishes, the disparity between artist and craftsman is challenged and contour between conceptual art and utilitarian objects becomes a porous one.
Astha Butail’s seven square stools placed progressively and Ayesha Singh’s Pillows are interactive installations appealing the viewer to sit around and strike a conversation in the sparse gallery space. Singh’s pillows shaped variously like a sitar or a bowling pin carry graphic images of shattered glass, continuing with the artists’ own pre-occupations with violence below the surface and cracks of pleasure and comfort whereas Butail’s square inspired from the Rig Veda provides her with a feeling of focus and being centered in her studio.
The de-familiarised objects, the absence of any information regarding the exhibits except the name of corresponding artist scribbled in pencil on the walls makes for a sparse but effective exhibition. If the curator Sayantan Mukhopadhyay was hoping for a show that makes the viewer want to interact with the exhibits without clouding his mind with information about the title or the utility he has succeeded remarkably. What Mukhopadhyay has also made possible through this show is the challenging of rigid categories separating art and object. In contemporary art, object becomes art by making it new. This also raises the question as to the difference between creating and making; if anything is original at all and not a pastiche, a palimpsest of what already exists.
One can always question if the making of each of these objects has a personal story behind them or if they were created solely for the purpose of the show, if the scuffing on the pram or the used brushes in the blender or the “Had a bad work day” on the time board were personalised statements of the process of making art both physical and mental, or are these artistic representations and installations of the very same process. The exhibition is very aware of itself, almost self- reflexive.
The artistic process, the grueling behind the aesthetics, is exposed only to confuse the viewer. This too is self-consciously created keeping in mind the audience and its gaze.