Given I keep ranting about art exhibitions that annoy the crap out of me, it seems unfair to not write about the last few shows that actually didn’t make me burst blood vessels. Not just that, I actually liked them. Gasp and double gasp.
How can a gallery hang a show as badly as The Guild hung the Iranian art show (curated by Shaheen Merali) and then follow it up with something like Excrescenceis entirely beyond me. I’m just glad that I caught the latter. Curated by Maya Kovskaya, this show was a smart selection of artists and the works were displayed in a way that one responded to the other. It was a solid, good and interesting show. I can’t remember the exact layout of the show anymore (sigh) but I do remember walking in and being rather taken by this large window that had a projected image of a field of mustard flowers. It looked like a stained glass window and very pretty. Turned out I was seeing it from the wrong side but what the hell, it’s a charming and intriguing visual. The first room had works by Prajakta Potnis and Wu Gaozhong. Gaozhong’s photograph, “Beautiful Eden” showed what looked like a pretty, ethereal landscape; kind of crystalline and sparkly. They’re actually “rotten organic compounds”, according to the wall text. Potnis’s photos and site specific installations are a continuation of a series she began a few years ago. The central idea is how things from the outside take over a space, deforming and defacing it but often with extreme subtlety. The un-subtle examples are the photographs with the creepy, bulbous, tumour-growth crawling over vegetables in a fridge. It’s only if you were alert that you would have spotted “Porous Walls” and “Water Mark”. I remember I really liked the solo in which Potnis had first shown this series and, years later, it’s still got my vote. Clever, delicate and thought-provoking stuff.
A number of drawings and an installation from Tushar Joag’s UNICELL project filled most of the second room, as far as I can remember. The drawings, made like enormous comic book pages, were (as my nephew puts it) “neat!” I’m not so keen on the drawings, which I thought were strictly ok, but I do like the way Joag thinks. UNICELL was something that Joag came up with when the BMC announced that they were going to force street vendors out of certain parts of south Bombay as part of a beautification drive. Joag came up with the idea of public utilities having superpowers (which is what you see in the drawings). He also had the stellar idea of making installations like a stall that could fold up to become a bright red sofa. As he had told me once, “There’s no law saying you can’t sit on a sofa in the middle of a pavement.” In Excrescence, Joag has shown his “Mumbai to Shanghai Post Box”. It looks like a post box but it opens up to have little compartments in which you can display bric-a-brac. Verrah nice.
I must admit, I can’t remember much of Ashutosh Bharadwaj’s paintings but I do remember Han Bing’s prints. Images from Chinese towns and villages — either idyllic or symbolising progress — were shown as reflections on a river. The colours pop out beautifully and there’s almost a blinding vibrance to them. Look closely and you realise that the waters are toxic and strewn with garbage. Beautiful, sickening stuff. It’s a great example of insidious criticism. Ostensibly, there’s nothing critical in these images and yet there’s a wealth of anger and finger-pointing in there.
The tour de force of Excrescence, however, is Sheba Chhachhi’s “Bhogi/Rogi” (trans. “Consumption/Disease”). We don’t get to see much of Chhachhi’s art in Bombay. As far as I can recall, her show was in Delhi and she hasn’t taken part in that many Bombay group shows. Chhachhi, like Joag, is one of those artists who has no problems injecting a solid dose of activism in her works. In this one, Chhachhi takes on a number of issues, including genetically modified food, narcissism, fascination for technology and violence. When you enter the room that has “Bhogi/Rogi” in it, you realise (or at least I did) that the stained-glass-esque window from the start of the show is actually the back of the video projection. Stand in front of the work and an image of you is projected on the video. So, for example, it looks like you’re standing in a field of mustard flowers, a sight that Bollywood movies “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge” have made synonymous with romance. In “Bhogi/Rogi”, however, that pastoral image gives way to the sight of your silhouette being filled with thick, bubbling oil. Then your form gets crowded over with rapidly multiplying grains or eggplants (clearly a reference to BT Brinjal). Fat globules of blood spread across you, looking weirdly unhealthy despite their florid colour. It’s almost like being in a video game: can you survive the onslaught of consumption and its sly cousin, disease? No, you can’t, because you’ve been sucked into admiring it by standing in front of it and letting it take over your reflection. Loved this one.