Mindspace for art: Art Bengaluru makes room for conversations, sensitising audiences
Art Bengaluru 2019 might well be a festival of contrasts, irony and diverse practices, but the festival’s biggest achievement is in making room for conversations about art.
In the spirit of a shopping mall experience, let’s get the jokes done with first. Overheard at the ongoing Art Bengaluru festival at UB City were a number of startling, even revelatory statements — some of which were rightfully amusing and did help to lighten the mood, while most others served to place things in context.
Straight off the landing of the central escalator going up, and turning to the left, we couldn’t help but take in a jolly exchange, albeit garbed in the manner of polite discussion.
When a young usher found herself pointing out to a guest — “Sir, the Citibank ATM is not a part of the exhibition,” we had to take a step back, force back a belly laugh, and rethink the after-effects of so much newfangled contemporary art going around that it can leave new viewers completely confounded.
At another point along an informal art walk, we turned into a defenceless audience, unwantedly subjected to an enlivened argument about the worth and merit of a particular photograph, mounted as it was with a sheeny, HD glossy finish.
As inadvertent eavesdroppers, we noted the one-sided exchange as follows (roughly translated from a mix of Hindi and Gujarati): “Yes, it’s a nice photograph... it looks like a plasma TV (laughs). It costs about a few lakhs, no problem. It will look really nice in your living room.”
That about summed up all the bad humour for the evening, and it was a good thing that the hosts of Art Bengaluru took care to include specially-led walks through all the displays, informing patrons and art crowds about the works, sensitising them about the artists’ personal backgrounds, and explaining the new streams of emerging art forms that the festival is bringing together.
Far from the de rigueur wine-and-cheese openings, the posey air-kissing and rubber-necking around cordoned-off displays of ornate frames and prized sculptures, Art Bengaluru 2019 appears to have come a long way, for a festival that was once deemed a mere art show in a mall.
The single-most important difference, it must be pointed out, is in the efforts being made to actively educate the crowds about the art.
More to glue your pupils to
The direct contrasts, to observe, are many at Art Bengaluru 2019. For one, the first large-scale mural that your eyes land upon, at the venue’s entrance, speaks of a world far removed from that of glazed countertops, inviting storefronts and swish sets of bargain hunters.
The Dutch photographer Daan Oude Elferink does grab your attention straight-up at the festival, with his eye-popping visuals of desolate buildings, abandoned mansions and run-down shambleses.
And the irony is hard to miss — of celebrating a sense of startling decay in the midst of UB City’s gilded opulence.
It isn’t long before you realise how Art Bengaluru is carefully demarcating a safe zone for art — between the glamour of a bustling way of life inclined to all things commercial, and a quiet, restrained mode of genuinely appreciating works of art. The informative art walks go a long way, in this heady, often choatic milieu.
But the fact remains — just as you’d find an annoying number of seemingly unavoidable signage reflections in many social media posts, and of glowing neon displays reflecting against the frames, in photographs from the event.
This is where the works of artists from the city like Alayna Zaid, Pradeep Kumar DM, Rekha Krishnamurthy, Rupak Munje and Venugopala HS get to rub shoulders with the Ferragamos, Louis Vuittons, Lladros, Canalis and Bottega Venetas of the world.
You might choose a hushed tone to suggest the following — but purists be damned, this is how art from the city really needs to be showcased, in glowing terms, placed right alongside some of the biggest, most recognised brand names from around the globe.
It’s a hard-nosed sales pitch, if you will, but there’s a lot more to glue your pupils to, at Art Bengaluru 2019.
Works like jewelled timepieces
One of the highlights and more popular displays was of the kinetic sculptures made of electronic scrap by Haribaabu Naatesan, from Mumbai.
Statedly inspired by the music of Pink Floyd, with some of the works featuring titles riffing off the rock band’s songbook, Naatesan’s intricately assembled creations tend to resemble enlarged clockwork mechanisms, and can have you deeply engrossed for hours together, navigating their elaborate arrangements.
A central piece titled, The Other Side Of The Sun, held the attention of many a crowd, all seemingly hypnotised and transfixed by its mechanical movement, quite like you’d be after repeated listening of a Floyd album.
Art Bengaluru 2019 does make room for a fair amount of traditional works as well, such as in the lavish and spectacular canvases of Vijit Pillai from Hyderabad, expressly inspired by classical Mughal art and architecture. Pillai might just be aiming to be a bit of a new-age Hieronymus Bosch from the subcontinent with his heavily detailed, and diligently portrayed paintings.
In keeping with the times, Pillai employs textures, filters and digital techniques to lend a contemporary touch to his works of acrylic paint. The effect is mesmerising, just as you might consider settling into the neighbouring Mont Blanc store, to sit down and pen your own compelling scrolls of modern history.
The new-age idiom comes through expressly in works by Harshit Agrawal, who’s known to introduce elements of Artificial Intelligence, drones, sensors and augmented reality in his new media creations.
You could think of him as something of a ‘cyborg artist’, says the artist, and if you’re interested, he has a lot more to share on concepts of what he calls, the ‘human-machine creativity continuum’.
An interesting counterpoint to Harshit’s concepts is in the sculptural installations of Harsh Nowlakha from Kolkata, who weaves in an assortment of traditional materials, textiles, ceramics and even glass making into his works.
The artist speaks of a universal quest — that of time as a metaphor for human experiences, and creating artefacts that bring ‘a sense of stillness and serenity to the viewer’, all the while questioning the relation between nature and the automated, industrial world.
It’s another thing entirely that Nowlakha’s work at Art Bengaluru stands in front of the Rolex show window, in a way that each gleaming pearl-like element of his work seems to reflect in the jewelled timepieces next door.
‘Some relationships last forever’
Afrah Khan from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia offers an altogether different extreme in terms of her personal artistic motivations — being an EDM producer, a working DJ and a visual artist.
Her digitally manipulated, audio-visual works make for highly persuasive arguments in the sphere of ‘planetary futurism’.
Without having to venture into encyclopaedic excursions, you could still find yourself being a bit lost, right around that mystifying ATM booth.
Gazing into the metaphorical distance between a work of art, and the time and space it occupies, is easily done when you’re peering into the pictures of Pierre Poulain of Menahemia, Israel — trapped as his images appear to be, in a loop between the subjects of photography and philosophy. Reassuringly, the bottomline for Poulain is that “some love relationships last forever”.
Elsewhere at the festival, the long view is captured in unusual ways by Jordan Sitzer, from Los Angeles, who’s now based in the city. Sitzer’s pieces are inclined towards scientific explorations of the principles of nature, even as he seeks inspiration in the oceans, mountains and deserts, creating pieces that can be fun for young viewers, and illuminating for academic minds.
The festival hosts have very thoughtfully showcased a handful of artists who play up the therapeutic aspects of art, such as in the paintings of Shoeb Dastagir, Sanjna Srikanth and Rupak Munje. Just as Venugopala HS places nature at the core of his paintings, Hariraam V explores matters of the universe in his simplistic creations that are defined by geometric shapes.
And while Chandrahas Y Jalihal of Gulbarga takes such reflections of nature a step further, Anni Kumari from Delhi lends her own experiential observations specific context, at different geographical locations, even as she toys with the idea of ‘female aesthetics’.
Across the floor, Anil Ajeri from Bijapur skilfully combines painting and printmaking in his frames that are highly intellectually driven, and revolve around the environment, the inevitable presence of technology in the modern world, and resultant human emotions and feelings.
Tucked away in other parts of the festival zone are works by Sruthi Kumar from Chennai, once again playing with the fluid shapes and forms of the natural world. Alayna Zaid, a 12-year-old and the youngest artist at the festival, offers a perspicacious sense of clarity and freshness to the proceedings, with her own experiments of a growing mind.
The festival’s pieces de résistance and sure-shot collector’s items, meanwhile, are being shown in the top-floor space of Sublime Galleria, in a delightful collection of new works by RM Palaniappan from Chennai.
The noted artist’s renditions of the fine line, held in between abstracted expanses, are sure to have you question every studied notion of positive energies and negative spaces, in a way that can be extremely liberating.
Thankfully, Art Bengaluru 2019 also gives you ample room, to walk right along into the open courtyard, where you might celebrate the finest art form of all — that of personal exchanges and conversation.
The Art Bengaluru 2019 festival is being held at UB City until November 30.