Entering Experimenter’s new address at 45 Ballygunge Place, the viewers trudge through its white chambers to find myriad corners of indulgence as they experience the ongoing exhibition, “Drawn from Practice.” The show aspires to re-imagine and re-invent drawing – not only as a skeleton for the practice to be developed but also as a vital practice in itself, as “conceptual art.” In a world beaming with products, the viewer loses sight of the manifold resources, structures and processes which go into making the product possible; Drawing, in this exhibition becomes that element which, with its fluidity, holds the potential of setting one free from the anchor of blueprints. It features an array of works by Abir Karmakar, Ashish Avikunthak, Aveek Sen, Badal Sarkar, Bijoy Jain, Kanishka Raja, Padmini Chettur, Rahul Jain, Sahil Naik, Srinath Iswaran, and T.M. Krishna being showcased in both the galleries of Experimenter.
Entering the white cube showcasing Abir Karmakar’s large oil canvases of many doors and gates – “Door”(s), “Stack” and “Collapsible”, the spectator feels being inside the Borgesian labyrinth of a garden of divergent paths. The quasi-illusion of such a space is sharply undercut with the visual notes on the adjacent desk, with sketches and pattern drawings for the viewer to form a connection between his installations and their evolution. Sahil Naik – known for his architectural body of work, offers insights into space and scale as his “Modernist Facades for New Nations” open up as a composite space with graphite drawings and incisions in them. At the same time, his brass models and patterns speak of his evolving praxis with sculpting and building methods, and on his experimentations with our supposedly modernist perception of scale and reality.
The exhibition curates an array of works from various media with the connecting thread of drawing with a pun – drawing which is the supposed beginning of a process – the bridge between thought and action, and drawing as a process itself developed in and from practice. Rahul Jain, for example, delves deep into the interconnections between pattern drawing and textile making, as stills from his Varanasi workshop, his drawings, and the rare and fine piece of Ottoman Velvet demonstrate. On a related note artist and architect Bijoy Jain, offers a set of untitled expressions of banana fibre paper and cement sheets which demonstrate the keen interaction of natural materials and different shapes and motifs.
Kanishka Raja’s work occupies both the gallery spaces bringing together weaving, scanning, printing, embroidering and other such methods to create inter-connected, composite and complex pieces which critically view the politics of the visual field. “Fuck Yeah”, “Pagoda Study” and “I and I (Ornament and Translation)” hint at the accurate and yet multitudinous process an artwork has to go through in its formative processes. Image maker and photographer Srinath Iswaran, on the other hand, translates the etymological roots of photography (broadly translatable as “drawing with light”) quite literally as he uses light as his medium of drawing, with a set of images in black and white, exploring a curious juxtaposition of the visible and the invisible.
The celebrated avant-garde writer-director late Badal Sarkar’s productions “Michhil” and other pieces of third-theatre are excavated from the archives for people to experience audio-visually; his notes, drawings of stage formations, interviews and writings are showcased alongside to hint at the unique workshop-based theatre practice of his. Sarkar, famous for the collaboration between his actors and audience, here too entices the spectator to engage in a participatory transaction as they re-invent the pieces from the multi-pronged archival resources. In the other corner of the room stands the installation of dancer extraordinaire Padmini Chettur. Her contemporary dance piece “Beautiful Things 1” being played alongside a display of the sound directions which has been carefully visualized, and her journal of notes with stage directions, light designs and other ephemera, is carefully kept for the spectator to soak in.
The first in the Beautiful Things series, the audio-visual masterpiece is an exercise in exploring the body, space and movement, binding them in a performative economy. As the dancers move over precise parts of the stage to the sonic background with intermittent directions “right shoulder, left hip, centre, right shoulder,” they not only demonstrate the formative stages of a performance, but of the performative practice itself – by forming a narrative weaving sound, body, movement and space together in balance. While this piece augments the audience with a time-based experience of diverse elements, for Chettur, this is also an exploration into the heart of the performative practice itself. Commenting on the show, Chettur welcomes the gallery spaces opening up to performance arts and other genres, which she believes, can reach a larger audience; at the same time, she cautiously emphasizes on the need for performative arts to move beyond the pre-existing tropes of the visual in order to truly create diverse dialogic spaces.
Another performance art practitioner – vocalist and thinker T M Krishna with his “Manodharma” lecture demonstrations, books and performance pieces help the spectator form an intellectual, philosophical and historical insight into the world of Classical Carnatic music. As one turns the pages of Reshaping Art, one finds how Krishna emphatically resonates throughout the exhibition – of taking drawing and its generative value beyond a skillset, as he says “art – a constructed, structured form – enables unshackled freedom.” Krishna’s lectures seamlessly venture to his performance and unfurl the structural links between the specific processes of notations, Tanam and other musical elements and their interaction with the final musical renditions.
Filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak’s 2013 film Rati Chakravyuh, set up in the inner cubicle of the Ballygunge Place gallery, is an existential journey in itself. It is an experimental, single-take film which is an exercise into carefully woven conversations amongst six newly-wed couples in the night of a lunar eclipse, set in the “Durga-Dallan” of Latu Babu-Chatu Babu’s house in North Calcutta. For Avikunthak, the process of creating Rati Chakravyuh was a practice of excavating through his conscious and subconscious memory structure, as he seeks to produce the experience of temporality in his films. Inspired by the idea of “A story without a beginning / A story without a middle and an end / A story that begins but does not end / A story with an end but no beginning / A story with just the middle” – the dialogues of the film are open-ended, making his cinematic venture not a teleological advancement of a story, but an existential exercise into time.
At one corner of the gallery floor at Ballygunge Place, stands thinker-writer-curator-critic and teacher Aveek Sen’s writer’s studio – as he opens his “writing practice to a working and living space,” recreating his own study. The writing studio is full of books with inscriptions, with familiar pieces of furniture and a pastiche of varied images on a La Dolce Vita picture board; even the published reviews of J. M Coetzee, from Sen’s Art and Life columns have been further corrected by Sen himself, with changes and corrections suggested. For Sen, the remarkability of such a studio lies in its contingency, its uncertainty – as the art-scribe makes his way into the gallery space from his recluse. It is a space that is neither frivolously public – as he spends time reading and making notes – nor solemnly private, for there is always the potentiality of people to visit, dialogues to take place, laughs to be shared. The interplay between the indeterminacy of the space and the ephemerality of the dialogic process is also indebted to the adaptability of the space of the gallery – which is at the same time Sen’s ancestral home, that transforms and is transformed in the act of building these conversations. Drawn from Practice, for the writer, comes forth most exquisitely as Sen asserts, “I’m not here simulating the act of writing. I’m much more intrigued by the process of creating rather than in the end product.” Picking up a postcard from Sen’s treasure trove is like drawing a tarot, creating one’s own chance to create a dialogue with Sen who is the most comfortable in defining himself as a conversationalist, as he claims, “My medium is conversation.” On Sen’s insistence, as I pick one from his post-card box, I involuntarily choose a postcard with an illustration of Ophelia, titled “Ophelia, distracted”, quoting verbatim the stage directions of Hamlet (Act IV, scene V). The card, congruent with the exhibition motto, hints toward the written skeleton to be seamlessly translated onto the stage, or toward the space of the stage actively transforming the written – and yet, for the spectator, the card imagines so much more.
These fragments in the show, which flow into each other, make Drawn from Practice alive; it frees drawing from its limitations onto a space of imagining “how practices evolve” as the galleries observe the permeation of time, space and action.