Monday, June 30, 2014

India the colour of art in St Moritz Masters 2014

India - Art 


New Delhi
The colours and the diversity of Indian contemporary art will come under international arc lights at the St Moritz Art Masters 2014 in the picturesque Alpine valley of Engadine in Switzerland —  a municipality in the district of Maloja in the Swiss canton of Graubunden. The highest summit in the Eastern Alps — the Piz Bernina — lies a few kilometers south of the town.     
The 9-day festival of art from August 22-31 promises diverse artistic positions from the contemporary Indian art scene — ranging from the young to established artists presenting a diverse range of art works that will include site-specific interventions to Indian classical modernism.

In addition to a high-profile program of Indian, national and international contemporary art, the St Moritz Arts Masters will host special curated shows and walks of art a well that will connect various venues from Maloja to S-Chanf. The venues are culturally eclectic touching public spaces, churches, private homes and galleries of the Engadin.

A spokesperson for the festival said the top international modern masters who will showcase their works at the festival feature names like Pablo Bartholomew, Paresh Maity, Jayasri Burman, Riddhibrata Burman, Pratul Dash, Smriti Dixit, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta,  M.F. Husain, Gigi Scaria, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Ranbir Kaleka, Nalini Malani, Manish Nai, Mithu Sen, Hema Upadhyay and Soony Tarapoorwala.     

The Indian contemporary artists will address pressing questions of the times by linking ritual, myth and everyday life in a creative expressions that will speak of the country’s traditional artistic and cultural roots. The vibrant field of contemporary Indian art reflects the nation's rapid change and contrasts, giving Indian artists a unique voice within the international art scene.

This edition of the “masters” will infuse the programme with the essence of cross cutting streams in the art and culture scene— a phenomenon that has dictated the artistic essence of the contemporary movements in post-colonial Indian art. Indian art, despite being increasing global in its practice and mediums, has retained its connection to the traditions of aesthetics that began in the caves of hunter-gatherer and travelled down the Indus Valley settlements to the temple walls and the artists’ contemporary canvas.  

A soulful portrayal of “Indian Megalopolis” is the theme that Paresh Maity explores in his installation ‘Mystic Abode’. a monumental installation of 8,000 brass bells, that signifies human desire and yearning for spiritual peace, a universal need in today's time.  Burman will be presented at the St Moritz Masters’ by the Art Alive Gallery.    

Artist Jayasri Burman (presented by Art Alive) will exhibit ‘Dharitri’, (Goddess Earth), a sculpture representing in the best sense tradition, reinterpreted, re-invented and re-imagined for India of today.  Another major highlight of this year’s festival is a photography exhibition by a young Indian fashion photographer Riddhibrata Burman, who has made a mark in a field of innovative photography.

Having worked with leading photographers like Mark Seliger and Steven Klein, his works will showcase an interesting play of objects with light and shadow. Taking from the basic realities of his surroundings, he simplifies his pictures and shoots ideas and situations, creating intriguing stories. The exhibition will showcase 18 photographs from his four ongoing series. Riddhibrata will be represented by Art Alive Gallery.

Over the years, Indian contemporary art has been finding greater space globally with exchanges, residencies, international expositions and growing international market for Indian art which is not qualitatively diverse – but relatively affordable in the international market. The arrival of concept and post-modern in the practices and thought processes in the art scene has opened the two-way doors between India and the world.

Critics and art historians say the journey of Indian contemporary art to the west and even the east  began post-Independence with the formation of the Bombay Progressive Group in 1947-1948 — a agglomeration of leading contemporary Indian artists, most of whom studied art in Mumbai and Maharashtra. These artists rejected the domination of European influences in pre-Independence Indian art and developed an indigenous Indian language drawing on folk genres and traditions. But in the process, these artists developed an universal language of their own expressionism and abstraction as founders of the movement like F.N. Souza, Tyeb Mehta, V.S.Gaitonde, S.H Raza, M.F. Husain and several others were exposed to western art on the strength of their training outside the country and their exhibitions abroad.

Indian art began to travel abroad in the decades of the 1950s- and the momentum picked up in the 1980s and thereafter. India has been participating in art fairs around the world since the 1970s –sporadically with selected gallery shows. Three years ago, the country sent its first representation to Venice Biennale with an official showcase and inaugurated its first biennale in Kochi in Kerala in 2012.

-Madhusree Chatterjee      

Sunday, June 29, 2014

When Dalit hamlet Kilvenmani burnt 46 years ago in Tanjore, it was a flashpoint. Author Meena Kandasamy revisits


 New Delhi
 A horrific tale of the massacre of 44 Dalit families of landless rice tillers on the Christmas of 1968 in Tamil Nadu morphs into a modern allegory of tragedy, conflict and caste indignation – through a retrieval of a slice of India’s complex history of Dalit (marginalized community) struggle for empowerment and the Left movement in South India by Chennai-based poetand  writer Meena Kandasamy in her debut novel, “The Gypsy Goddess”. The novel was unveiled by the author at a discussion in the national capital this month.

Kandasamy turns her spotlight on Kilvenmani— a tiny village of marginalized and the down-trodden Harijan community of agricultural workers — which became a killing field when an armed militia, reared by a local landlord, Gopalakrishna Naidu  and his landed associates —razed the settlement of tillers and butchered the residents for daring to defy the whip of the landlords. The Dalit tillers had sworn allegiance to the Communist Party; moving away from the Paddy Producers’ Association, an umbrella of landlords who owned the vast tract of rice land in the Tanjore (east) district of Tamil Nadu.  The upper caste-dominated East Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu was the cauldron of the state’s abortive encounter with Communism in the 1960s — which tried to ride on the resentment of the socially and economically backward castes against the Brahmin (placed on the top of the caste hierarchy) and the upper caste land owners on the lush terrain that was “said to grow the best paddy in all of south India”.  

The Communists, a group of educated and progressive intellectuals, failed to counter the fire of the upper caste stranglehold over the agrarian economy. On the night of December 25, 1968, a mob descended on the village and torched the huts. The triggers were a series of complaints by the Dalit tillers at the local police station against frequent atrocity by the landlords, poor wages, forced harvesting of paddy at night by agitating tillers, inhuman working hours and clash of political ideologies between feudal capitalism and fledgling Communism that relied on rhetoric rather than armed struggle. Two other conflicting movements — the identity and the self-respect movements (the latter launched by Periyar EV Ramasamy) clashed with the political space of Communism – arresting the growth of the Left movement in Tamil Nadu.  

Kandasamy chooses the historic city of Nagapattinam or Tranquebar, one of the earliest centres of the east-west encounter in south India — and the village of “Kilvenmani”- which married itself to Communism — as the locales of her plot. The story of Kilvenmani  massacre is a much-told tale — but in Kandasamy’s novel, it becomes a personalized acoount of loss, caste ignominy and redemption by the rejection of everything to do with “caste enemies” including justice.  “We told them we did not want compensation. We also did not want their justice”.  

Kandasamy used the a variety of literary devices like a fairy tale opening, folk lore, transmission narrative, time warping, direct participation, absurd prose and a non-linear and deconstructed narratives that do not adhere to the conventional format of literary fiction.

The novel begins with a historical backgrounder of Nagapattinam – the conflicting influences that the port town was subjected to and the events leading to the stirrings of Communist thoughts inspired by Karl Marx rather than Comrade Mao.  The chapters negotiate an unpredictable path.  The history of Nagapattinam ends abruptly as it begins,  making room for Kandasamy to accommodate her mercurial creative process. She searches for a suitable one-liner as the prelude to the grotesque tale of Kilvenmani  — “once upon a time, in a tiny village, there lived an old woman”. It is a sentence she plays over and over in the segment of her book, “background” to create a take-off point for her narrative. The old woman in the beginning of the Kandasamy’s book, in whose village the landlords script their drama of caste and violence against the marginalised in blood, is the village witch doctor’s wife Maayi, whose anchors the story.  She tends to the sick, dying, demented and maimed. Kandasamy looks at the history of Kilvenmani through Maayi, probably the “Gypsy Goddess”, the title of her book.    

The writer, a poet of repute, employs prose-poetry as a technique to describe the attack of the December 25, 1968, glossing over individual details but conveying the overall impression of horror and death— the collective screams of agony, the gradual numbing of senses and dissolving of charred bodies into headcounts.     

The writer uses “the artist’s broad canvas” to paint the caste sacrilege on the lush of paddy on the Cauvery delta. She enters the story as a participant – a scribe in the service of the villain Gopalakrishna Naidu hired to draft his petition. She tries to understand his side of the story- but the defence falls through the cracks. The landlords’ alibis are carefully concocted to give the court benefit of doubt.   The accounts of the victims are dismissed as “incoherent”.

Nearly 46 years later, Kandasamy, still in her thirties, fails to dredge up the anger surrounding Kilvenmani, she makes up for the rage with her “sorrow, hurt and sentimental rejection of the verdict – how the media and the world related to the event and enacted it on the greater international stage”.

Kandasamy said the idea for the novel germinated in 2003 when she was translating Dalit literature. Kilvenmani was the heart of her research-based study and translation. “But I knew about the story,” she said. Kandasamy later visited Kilvenmani in 2009 to speak to those who carried the memories of the massacre. “The victims of Kilvenmani did not get justice like the victims of Lakshmanpur Bathe and Bathani Tola caste massacre in undivided Bihar). The battle is against the system of justice that fails to dispense justice to the victims,” the writer said. The narrative does not change much — across the country’s heartland where caste and land are the core of social disparity and silent conflict between the “haves” and the “deprived”. Kandasamy ends her story with the suggestion of an insurrection fir justice — Naxalism, a radical avatar of the Left movement that took to arms to fight the well-entrenched feudalism.   

"This is exactly what happened to Communism in the early 1940s. The Communists' wish to unite the peasants (including the Dalit peasants) could not go beyond the politics of parliamentary parties. The judiciary failed, the media failed and politicians failed. But I don't think history should absolve the bad and cruel feudal landlords," Kandasamy told this writer in an interview.         
She imbues her prose with a magic realism, subtle nuances of literary fiction writing, an element of fable and experimentation with the absurd and the abstract.  But the narrative manages to flow through the insane chapters as if by magic – giving the first time reader a riveting feel what happened on the fateful Christmas night of 1968 in Tanjore."It is what you can describe as a non-fiction novel," Kandasamy explained.   

-         Madhusree Chatterjee

The  book has been published by Harper Collins – Fourth Estate.       


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Private comes to India – James Patterson, Ashwin Sanghi matches might

India –Books

 New Delhi
The “Private” has touched down Indian shore in Mumbai. Creator and popular whodunit writer James Patterson, of the iconic Alex Cross and the Private investigation series, is readying to unveil “Private India” together with co-writer Ashwin Sanghi to the delight of the millions of private fans in India. It is the eighth book in the Private series that features a cross-cultural cast of writers and characters with Patterson in the country the writer takes it to.  The book has been published by Random House-India and Cornerstone.   

Sanghi, one of the leading contemporary historical thriller writers in the country, worked around the plot for more than four months to create an Indian “Private” Santosh Wagh, an ex-Raw agent to lead Jack Morgan’s crew in India team.

“The only common figure across all the Private novels is Jack Morgan. All the characters have been developed from scratch for Private India. The central character is Santosh Wagh, a battle weary ex-RAW agent who is the lead investigator. Dark and brooding, Santosh has many secrets hidden inside of him. Fleshing out the character was the most interesting part and the most challenging…,” Patterson’s co-writer Ashwin Sanghi told this writer in an interview.

Private, comment readers and critic, is Patterson’s answer to Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot. The thriller mastermind, who had made it to the New York Times best-seller list with his titles like “The Thomas Berryman Number”, “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider (of the Alex Cross series portrayed by Mogan Freeman onscreen)” created the “Private” series for international readers in the decade of the 2000 (around 2010)  to bring a slice of adult spy games to young adult readers. The books spin their tales around the central character Jack Morgan, who runs the private detective agency with branches all over the globe. Patterson entrusts his Private team with the secrets of the most influential men and women on earth – who came to him regularly to use the “world’s most advanced forensic tools of trade to crack their cases”. Jack, an intelligent tracker, however, has a knack for courting romantic troubles. But he manages to stay above board with his instincts of survival and quick thinking.

Private cruises around the world with a cross-over crew of co-writers and different lead investigators in a quaint “international cultural kinship over forensics”. In “Private LA”, Morgan investigates the disappearance of the biggest superstar couple in Hollywood while in the “Private # 1 Suspect”, Morgan withdraws all his resources which he was using to probe NFL gambling scandal and the mysterious murder of 18 school girls  to investigate the “murder of his former lover, his best friend’s wife, who is found murdered on his bed”.

Morgan becomes the prime police suspect. Patterson connects the three conflicting stories for a final denouement as Morgan goes after the killer of the former lover. They are bound by a thread. In Private Berlin and Private London, Morgan’s crew traces a missing Private agent in Berlin and an unknown terror stalking a American student in London respectively. Private Games takes a look at the safety of the 2012 London Olympics hosting participants from more than 200 countries where Morgan’s team is assigned to security services.   

“This series is about a global detective agency which is called to solve cases that baffle the police,” Sanghi said. One of the striking characteristics of the series is the local-global collaboration – Patterson tries to requisition one local writer from the country he is writing about to give his readers an experience of international thrillers. He rarely takes geography into account o create solidarity between writers and readers of the thriller genre that is often denounced as “inferior” compared to literary and mass fiction.

“Patterson has co-authored all the books in the Private series so far – like Private London with Mark Pearson, Private # 1 Suspect with Maxine Paetro, Private Berlin with Mark Sullivan and Private Oz with Michael White.  All the books have deadly criminals being tracked down by Jack Morgan’s team in different parts of the world,” Sanghi said. Private India is an extension of that extension of that franchise in India. The story is set in Mumbai – and “attempts to convey the full impact of the maximum city through Bollywood, the mafia, godman, politics and business tycoons”.

The collaboration between award winning writer Sanghi and a internationally-feted Patterson happened early last year when one of Sanghi’s friend, who works in Random House India, recommended “his name to a colleague who was handling Patterson’s account after reading all three of his books, “Rozabal Line”, “Chanakya’s Chant” and the “Krishna Key”. The books are thrillers in the historical and political genres in what has been described by critics as a cross between Dan Brown, Sherlock Holmes and several western masters of the genre in an Indian framework.                    

“The fact that all my previous three titles were thrillers with short chapters, compelling pace and unexpected hooks every few pages – traits that are amply visible in James Patterson’s writing – the fit was a natural one,” Sanghi said.   

The two discussed the issues involved for about a couple of weeks and topped it off with a signed agreement rather quickly. “The process of collaborating was a new one for me. James provided a guideline as well as an existing set of international characters that need to be woven into my story. Using his guideline, I developed the plot outline. We discussed the outline in detail and froze it after amendments. I then proceed to write the first draft while James wrote the final draft. All this happened with periodic interactions over email. Once both James and I were done with the story, the editors at Random House took over. Working with James has been a refreshing experience. My focus has always been on research and plot while the Patterson formula is pace and character. This book has given us a chance to combine our respective strengths,” Sanghi pointed out.
Writing thrillers is not only about inspiration and imagination but also about craft, Private India’s co-author said. “There are a few simple rules that make a good thriller: amplify character traits—make them larger than life; eliminate fluff; build twists and suspense ever so often; never compromise pace; build conflict until the very end. Achieve these few objectives and you should have a delicious thriller. There are some chapters in this book that are just about a paragraph long. It stems from the Patterson style of saying absolutely nothing that does not advance the plot. That is the key take away from this collaboration: less is more,” Sanghi said.

 With his previous titles (which were thrillers in the mythological or historical genre) the suspense, mystery and thrill emerged from a piece of research, a historical nugget or a hitherto unexplained theological connection. “Private India on the other hand is a purely contemporary crime thriller and hence the need to stay true to the craft,” the writer explained.

Indians have had a long tradition of storytelling but for many thousands of years this tradition was oral rather than written. Wandering bards would weave stories while sitting under trees in the villages and these stories would be passed down from one generation to the next, Sanghi said. “Narrating a story necessitates the use of extra words and sentences to prolong the suspense. That particular sensibility still prevails in our writing. Look at Indian architecture… usually it's a delightful riot of arches, pillars, colors and materials. Contrast that with western architecture that is increasingly about straight lines and minimalism. The comparison between Indian commercial fiction writing and western genre fiction is similar. I always joke… to become a good paperback writer, start by penning Haikus!”

Sanghi was familiar with Patterson's work having been a big fan of his Alex Cross novels. However, he read some of his Private novels before getting to work on Private India as his homework. “The ones that I read included Private Berlin, Private Games, Private London and Private No.1 Suspect. I wanted to get a sense of Jack Morgan's character as well as the workings of the fictional 'Private' detective agency. I then spent around four months writing the plot outline (it was one of the most detailed outlines that I have ever written). The time spent on the plot outline included research into Mumbai and the police department. I also had several long interactions with a private investigator, who operates in Mumbai,” the writer said, throwing light on the preparation and the process of building the characters and the narrative of the thriller.

“I had to get an authentic feel of Mumbai as the city on the edge like any other western megapolis,” Sanghi said.   

Defending the need for the collaboration and underscoring its importance in the growing Indian publishing, Sanghi said commercial writing in general did not take off primarily because of “our snobbish attitude towards commercial writing”.

“Most Indian authors were busy churning out literary fiction and publishers continued actively searching for the next Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, or Jhumpa Lahiri. They could hardly be bothered with finding the Indian equivalent of Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, or Tom Clancy! Satyajit Ray would not have given us Felu da if an Indian market for mysteries, suspense, adventure and thrillers did not exist. It’s sad that we allowed ourselves to cede space to foreign authors in these genres. I’m happy to see that this is changing rapidly now. We should have our own versions of Miss Marple, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot!,” Sanghi said.

The order of mergers and collaborations in the intellectual markets has just taken another new stride with Sanghi and Patterson marrying their quills. The Hollywood-Bollywood days have arrived in mass publishing. 

-Madhusree Chatterjee  


Friday, June 13, 2014

Indian contemporary architecture - a look at Raj Rewal's legacy


New Delhi
The contemporary architecture of India has remained obscure amid the hype over the country's historical built heritage that spans more than 3,000 years of aesthetic evolution - synonymous with the dawn of the modern civilisation in India.
A couple of odd names like Charles Correa and Le Corbusier, architects of western origin, have been the most visible faces of India's contemporary built landscape, giving the country its first wave of what can be best deacribed as the ultra-modern "air-space-light" and sandstone abstactions, post-Independence. The abstract buildings that sprawled across vast acreage with their open roofs, towering blocks and green houses carried a universal image of Indian modern architecture to the world that sustained on the power of natural elements like light and nature.
The new buildings that opened to natural light around the roof and overflowed with greenery in compatability with the large stone geometric architectural blocks - marked the transition from the gothic and art deco architecture of the pre-Independence era to one of minimal spartan utility of the post-Independence era.
The Indian national capital of New Delhi witnessed an archietctural deluge - in the five decades between 1950-2000 - when the government expanded the footprints of the Lutyen's Capital complex to build intsitutions, large offices and a chic diplomatic enclave at Chanakyapuri - a cluster of 153 foreign mission buildings that reflected the cultural signatures of the nations they represented both in architecture and decor. The result was a liberating and culturally vibrant architectural destination that brought the world to India with the framework of the Indian aesthetic, urban, cultural and environemnetal sensitivities.
The journey of India's architecture post Indepdence has been essentially one of freedom and an assembly of influences from the post-colonial repertoires of the west — especially the north America and Europe. It became a curious script of the old and the new, an assimilation from political and social histories and the glass-and-light edifices in America that stormed into public consciousness with their aspiring heights in the first decades of the 20th century. It was a haphazard fusion of styles that we still cannot define as Indian. 
Two expositions in the national capital — "Raj Rewal- Memory, Metaphors and Meaning in his Constructed Landscapes" - a retrospective show of built art by noted architect Raj Rewal at the National Gallery of Modern Art and "Delhi's Diplomatic Domains (a display and book about the Chanakyapuri diplomatic cluster) at the Alliance Francaise in New Delhi brought selected panoramas of Indian contemporary architectrure that are distinct in their architectural influences and yet homogenous in their global outlook - completely in sync with the greater modernist movements in built traditions around the world.
 Raj Rewal's retrospective at NGMA is a chronological presentation of his buildings and conceptual designs — of an odd range of instututional, private and comeptition models that are symbolic in their eclectic influences.
Rewal, who is known for conceiving the elegant Parliament Library building adjacent to the Indian Parliament, a national conclave pavilion at the Pragati Maidan, the capital's biggest exhibition ground, the Asian Olympic Village at Khel Gaon in New Delhi, the Indian Embassy in Beijing and several other vital education and research facilities around the country, contributed to the pioneering site-specific architecture in contemporary India that recalled the rich spiritual landscape of ancient India and the creative use of natural elements like stones in natural textures, greenery, glass and solar panelling to capture energy, light and the maximum space.
Raj Rewal's affinity to stones, geometry and juxtaposition of material like steel and stone lent his buildings a solid monotony that has stood the test of time - broken by pergola-style open domes on the roof or the glass topped Islamic or Buddhist cupolas that caught the sun to add sparkle to the stone blocks. The architect addresses the concerns of a modern India - where premium space, utility, multi-use, landscaping, site-specificity, economics, cultural relevance and aesthetics occupy creative space.The iconic Parliament Library is an example.
An intricate prototype of the library in wood and metal - the original plan - was the centre of attraction of the exhibition at NGMA. The library, as the architect explained to a group pf visitors during a curatorial walk (on June 7, 2104) last week,  was designed like an ancient mandala on a 10 acre plot. It took on the point of departures from the existing Parliment building with precedents such as Adinatha Temple in Raunakpur and the Datia Palace in Madhya Pradesh.The library is expressed as a central fold structure with surrounding courtyards that are enclosed by built structures on the perimeter. The low structure which clings to the plinth accommodates within its 50,000 square metre an auditorium, library stacks, reading rooms, exhibition space and media facilities. The sepulchral glass, steel and cement domes that punctuates the roof gardens are made of a combination of craft and high technology.
The architect, in the last five decades of his career has displayed a rare empathy with natural energy sources. Rewal uses solar panelling to a strange ornametal impact - woven like Islamic lattices on the roof of buildings as in the Visual Arts International campus in Rohtak and at the Coal India headquarters in Kolkata. His residential apartment plans, however, digresses from the innovative standalone institutions - to comment on community kinship, common use areas, cluster dwellings and green lungs where one inhabitant can connect to the other in homes that are intertwined into each other.      
"Light plays an important role in my buildings," Rewal explianed last week. In springs from the 18th century western concept of enlightenment - an idea he he came across during his academic years in Europe in the early 1960s. "The photovoltaic panels that I use in my buildings symbolise the arrival of clean energy," the architect said.
Curators of the exposition A.G. Krishna Menon and Rahoul B. Singh pointed out that Rewal's "work displayed neither a dogmatic adherence to the canons or the texts". They are modern while responding to local conditions. "Rewal's architecture is the product of a self-reflective considerations of both his foreign an indigenous roots that foreign critics have valorised as 'critical regionalism'- a critical adaptation of the principles of European modernsim, the curators pointed out. After his return from Europe in 1962, Rewal spent his formative years understanding the historical architecture of the country.  At the same time, he began to explore the emerging architecture of the Sixties "transferring memories through metaphors to provide meanings to constructed landscapes".  
"The ontological significance of the process of culture formation (through architecture) has seldom been vigorously examined  in India by either architects and the public for whom they provide services. Of course, the issues involved in such evaluations are complex - but the retrospective offers us an opportunity to evaluate how Rewal negotiated these issues," the curators said in their note.  
Rewal said "his architecture was expressed in motifs and symbols from another era transported into the present". "Architecture in the contemporary India should address the problems as they exist," the architect told this writer. Explaining his influences, the architect said "some aspects of the past were important to him". Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and the European enlightenment converged in him contouring the landscape of his architecture, Rewal said — highligting the necessity for "site-specific sustainable architecture in Indian cities and villages".
The architect straddles worlds across the barriers of class consciouness in architecture. The housing project for the British High Commission is an example Rewal's "European aesthetic sensibilities drawing on the Indian colonial traditions of tropical living". The cluster dwellings of 12 staff quarters (that he built in the 1990s) with three bedrooms units in two sizes combines the elegance of Lutyen's Old World heritage and the utility spartment blocks of contemporary India. Each dwelling has a private enclosed garden at the rear - an example of traditional British terrace housing. The roof of the second floor made a specofic concession to diplomatic living with gracious terrace "chhatris" for intimate parties. "I love designing homes and apartments," Rewal said.          


This old world of Lutyen's colonial Delhi meets the new official architectural guidelines of the Chanakyapuri's Diplomatic Complex, home to at least 153 foreign missions spread in precision files along the landscaped green corridors of Chanakyapuri in the heart of the capital. The area is an architectural kaleidoscope - flaunting archetypes and building traditions from all corners of the globe after India opened diplomatic engagements with the world post-Independence in 1947 as a sovereign republic.
A showcase at the Alliance Francaise, "Delhi's Diplomatic Domains", which opened  last month (May 2014) brought more than 50 frames from the missions - from England to Ghana — capturing their architectural and cultural doversities in colourful shots by gallerist and lensman from Puducherry Lalit Varma, when spent three months in the national capital photographing the missions. He collaborated with  Gladys Abankwa-Meher-Klodt, wife of the former German ambassador to Delhi, in compiling a pictorial volume of the buildings and their histories. 
"I was struck by the rich diveristy and the eclectic architecural styles that  various countries' representaional edifices embody. The Polish mebassy residence - which was unexpected in its granduer — was the beginning of my wonderment to know more about the buildings. I looked through the shelves of the bookshops for literature that would reveal the stories of the diplomatic  communities' unique and historic buildings, Gladys Klodt said. Her quest drew a blank - firing her with zeal to rummage through the archives in India and at the missions to unearth the architectural history of the Chanakyapuri Diplomatic Enclave.
The photographs elevate the missions to works of built-art with complex play of light, shadows and architectural oddities that become symbols rather than living necessities. "I wanted to get the essence of the places like the way the light came on the table, casting reflections of the trees outside.It created a new image," Varma explained to this writer. The Hungarian embassy plays majestically with the interiors - creating divine presence in the living rooms, Varma said.
Every mission has a history of engagement with India some which spans more than 400 years when the European made their first landfall in India in the 15th century. The French Embassy is one such mission that walks through time - its diplomatic history beginning with its colonisation in the 16th century. The country opened its formal diplomatic relations with modern India in 1947 with the arrival of envoy Alexander Daniel Levi. The first embassy was established on 2, Aurangzeb Road. "As result of property requisitioning, the residence of the Maharaja of Balrampur on 16, Hardinge Road served as the ambassadorial residence for 35 years. A new U-shaped building in pan sandstone was built on Chanakyapuri in the mid-eighties for the mission. Varma's lens moves through the stones, histories  built facades and decors of 153 such buildings," narrator Galdys Klodt said.
 The embassy of Argentina plays on the theme of India's historic ties with the Latin American nation - immortalised by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who visited Argentina in 1923 at the behest of his muse Victoria Ocampo, an Argentinian intellectual of noble lineage. She inspired Tagore to paint as he composed his "Purabi" poems at her residence. Scholars say Tagore had christened Ocampo "Purabi" — the whiff of the east in a a new interpretation of east-west confluence of cultures. The embassy, which was originally located in Kolkata before moving to New Delhi, draws on this heritage to make itself relevant to India.            
Several of Varma's frames are studies of stairways suspended in surreal motions of ascent inside the misison quarters. "I love the stairway. They remind me of climbing systematically — step by step. Some are shaped like a question mark while others are like crescent to the truth," the photographer said. His photographs do not address surficial surface of the architecture, he looks for deeper meaning, strademarks, peculiarities and complexity of designs.
"Most embassies definitely represent the country, but at the same time remain universal," Varma said.

-Madhusree Chatterjee           


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Parcours in Art Basel to explore clash between art, man and urban ecologies

New Delhi/Hong Kong, June 7, 2014  

An array of site specific installation, Parcours, will be on the top of the list of new-age site-specific art at Kleinbasel during Art Basel 2014, one of the most prestigious showcases of contemporary art in Europe. 

The art show will begin in Basel, located on the border between Germany and Switzerland, from June 19-22. More than 300 leading galleries from Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa will exhibit a wide range of works across genres spanning — paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, multiples, prints, photography and performances. Parcours will be sited at various locations around the Rheingasse in Kleinbasel featuring a total of 15 site-specific art works by internationally-recognised artists, Francesco Arena, Darren Bader, Gottfried Bechtold, Pierre Bismuth, Jean Luc Blanc, Chris Burden, Ryan Gander, Mario Garcia Torres, Mark Handforth, Iman Issa, Joao Penalva, Seth Price, Eva Rothschild, Guido van der Werve and Zeng Fanzhi, officials said in Hong Kong.             

The site-specofic works will try to engage with Basel’s past and present by weaving artistic interventions into the fabric of the specific location, each edition inhabits. Florence Derieux, director of FRAC, Champagne-Ardenne, will curate Parcours for the second year. The sector will open to the public with Parcours Night on Wednesday, June 18, and include special one-off performances by Guido van der Werve and Mario García Torres. The works will be bound by threads of clash and disparities between man in a conflicting natural and psychological environment. The artists will try to gauge reactions through perceptions of the temporal, spatial, surreal and the abstract— studying the relationships between void and material, silence and motion in diverse spaces.       A work by Francesco Arena’s "278 km (as a letter of Nietzsche)" - will be presented by Kadel Willborn. The work created in 2014 sees performers, one at a time, walking the perimeter and diagonal axes of a room until they have reached a total distance of 278 km - the distance that separates Basel from Turin, and the length of the journey that Nietzsche's friend Overbeck negotiated to bring him back to Basel in an attempt to help Nietzsche recover from mental illness. The performance will be staged for seven consecutive hours each day. 

Sadie Coles HQ will present a performance by Darren Bader "itled, ‘The Gardeners in Paradise’, the fifth and final iteration of the artist’s lawnmower-based works, and a sequel to "The Gardeners", first realized at the London gallery in 2012. The performance was a engagement between culture, technology and ecology featuring well-known cultural personalities, who operated blood-powered garden tools. The "Gardeners in Paradise" sees Bader set forth an absurd paradise, in which the gardening implements seen in his earlier project achieve their perfect afterlife, performing surreal actions indefinitely. Galerie Krinzinger will host "Panamera" (2007-2013), Gottfried Bechtold’s most recent Porsche project – a hybrid artifact that oscillates between a classical sculpture and a functional object. The work is the continuation of the artist’s interest in and exploration of the notion of sculpture. It will be shown in Basel’s Manor department store. Bugada & Cargnel will present a project by Pierre Bismuth, "Performances, Works In Situ", (2014), — a series of new performances staged in various public spaces, hardly distinguishable from the ordinary activities of passers-by. The series with humour and minimal aesthetic intervention will try to destabilize pre-established codes of perception and push the viewers to scrutinize the reality around them. 

Art :Concept will exhibit a new painting by Jean-Luc Blanc, ‘Un peu étroit’ (2014). The artist, in his work, redefines the idea of desire by operating a detachment between his subject and its context while at the same time introducing a notion of absurdity.

 Chris Burden’s "Holmby Hills Light Folly" (2012), presented by Gagosian Gallery will consist of four intricate cast iron benches and four rare cast iron lamps from the 1920’s. The four lamps are placed in each corner of a room with the benches placed between each lamp, creating a quiet space in which to sit and reflect. 

Lisson Gallery and GB agency will present "Make Everything like it’s your Last" (2013) by Ryan Gander, a playful advertising campaign of posters that reflect life within an imagined utopian society. Galleria Franco Noero will host Gavin Brown’s enterprise, "The Modern Institute" while Galerie Eva Presenhuber will jointly present "Tilted Shadow’ (2013) and "Magenta Torque Moment" (2014) by Mark Handforth, two monumental horseshoe sculptures that will be displayed in a public and open context, entering into a dialogue with one another and with the pre-existing urban space. Shaped like delicate paper cut-outs in a composition that appears as simple as a collage, the sculptures fight against the natural weight of the metal they are constructed from, conveying a sense of monumentality with the lightest touch. Rodeo will show "Proposal for a Crystal Building" (2003) by Iman Issa, an urban planner, architect and designer, Issa will present a proposal for a crystal structure, which would theoretically be placed in a central urban environment. Though architectural in appearance, the plans and models are offered without information on the scale or purpose of the structure, leaving the work somewhere between what is functional and logical, and what is bizarre, or even surreal. 

"Men Asleep" (2012) by João Penalva,  presented by Simon Lee Gallery, is a collection of photographs which began with the artist’s first purchase of a 1940s family snapshot of a man asleep in an armchair, and which has grown into a collection of over three hundred photographs of men who have fallen asleep – in public or private spaces – rather than in their beds.  Seth Price’s audio work "8-4 9-5 10-6 11-7" (2007) will be jointly presented by Petzel Gallery and Galerie Gisela Capitain. The artist edited together a single, eight-hour mp3 track of continuously mixed dance music from the last 30 years. The "song" will be played in its entirety at 11 locations throughout Kleinbasel over an eight hour period each day, the length of a typical working day. The title of the work refers to various working hours one might find in radically different contexts: union labour, office work, art world labour, or the department store.

 Galerie Eva Presenhuber and Stuart Shave/Modern Art will show Eva Rothschild’s sculpture, "This and This and This" (2013), a combination of three triangles intertwined to create an angular structure, seeming to be resting seamlessly upon each other. 

Gagosian Gallery will present a new sculpture by Zeng Fanzhi, "Untitled" (2014)- a plum tree branch covered in a thin layer of snow, the work heralds the advent of a broader aesthetic and thematic direction for the artist and reveals his ambition to incorporate refined elements of traditional Chinese art into contemporary practice. The opening Parcours Night will feature two special one-off performances in addition to late-night openings of all Parcours sights. Artist, composer, filmmaker and triathlete Guido van der Werve’s 45 minute requiem, ‘Home, a Requiem’ (2011-2012)", presented by Luhring Augustine and Marc Foxx Gallery. It will be performed by a 20 string orchestra and 28 strong choir at Clara Kirche at 10 pm. The performance is presented with the support of the Mondriaan Fund, Amsterdam, and performed by the Orchestra of Europe, Switzerland. The requiem was created to accompany the artist’s latest film work, ‘Nummer veertien, Home’ (2012), which will be shown at Art Basel. 

Jan Mot and Proyectos Monclova will jointly show ‘The Schlieren Plot’ by Mario García Torres. The work is a lyrical essay that re-imagines the works artist Robert Smithson planned, but left unfinished in Texas between 1967 and 1973. Through a montage of moving images, sound, music and a voice over, the film claims that the Texas’ climate, history and subjectivities actually realize the works and make them exist, possibly as testimonies to a deliberate forward thinking by Smithson. The work will be screened at Kino Cinema, with an introduction by Mario García Torres and Florence Derieux. 

-Staff Writer