Deconstructed Narratives of the Past: Artel 2017

Our collective and individual memories converge in the spaces that we inhabit together. Markets, transport hubs, hotels become these carriers of the public narrative, growing and mutating with each lived experience that occurs in the space. TIFA Working Studios, an alternative art-venue in Pune, radiates this intermingling of public and personal narrative. Converted from a block of the ‘Shalimar Hotel’ located near the central shopping street of MG Road, the oddly shaped rooms, a maze of connecting doorways and the beautiful nooks carry the weight of a hundred stories untold.

Every year TIFA puts out a call for 10 artists and 1 critic to be part of its month-long residency ‘Artel’. This year 5 Indian and 5 International artists were invited to stay and work in the space, creating artwork around their interpretations of ‘The Futures of the Past’. Artists drew inspiration from the space, its animate and inanimate residents and city around it, many of them creating multiple pieces of work over the period of the month.

The closing showcase day saw output largely in the form of intimate and well rooted pieces, reflecting the collective depth and richness of the conversations that took place during the course of the residency. A large affinity towards video mirrors the current leaning of the contemporary art world towards the medium. One fears though that the heightened global proliferation of video in art and digital media dilutes the experience of the viewer from the wonderment and novelty art can create. Taiwanese resident artist Jhouyu Hsieh does a wonderful job of breaking this by manifesting a physical presence for her video piece by dissecting it with furniture and other found objects from the space.

Jhouyu Hsieh ‘BA’

TIFA’s commitment towards giving artists space and time to push their practice forward without the pressure of commercial returns makes this perfect space for Pune’s audience to interact with experimental contemporary art. Pune now has a growing audience that wants to look beyond traditional and modernist artwork, an intent reflected brightly in viewers’ interactions with installations, videos and performances on display.

Some of the pieces stood out more for their ability to create a more substantiated connect between the personal and collective pasts united in the space of this intervention. My favourite pieces from this batch are –

Jagrut Raval: ‘Philosopher’s Wasps’

Drawing on the Japanese artform of Wabi-Sabi, Jagrut Raval from Ahemdabad highlighted and celebrated eroded chunks in the walls of the space by treating them with gold foil. Otherwise ignored, these part of the space became the heroes of his work bringing to mind large sections of our histories, often suppressed and forgotten. He tied into this concept an alter-ego he has been developing, Narad, to create a multi-layered narrative revolving around a 20th Century alchemist who stayed at the hotel studying the properties of wasps as a way to reach immortality. Combining the past of the hotel through a guest register, with new guests inhabilting two fresh wasp hives, Jagrut gives us novel eyes to look at the narratives that construct our history.

Photo courtesy TIFA

Saubiya Chasmawala: ‘Untitled’

A series of blown up photographs greet you in a half-demolished lobby space. The photographs are intimate, capturing personal moments and as they draw you in, you notice certain parts of the images have been delicately obscured from your view. Saubiya Chasmawala from Baroda, works with found photographs from her family’s archives and her own journey grappling with her Alavi Bohra Muslim identity to create a powerful and pensive series. Using surface treatments like incense, thread, and rose petals, Saubiya uses the devices of the seen and the hidden to ask questions about time and tradition from her perspective as a modern woman.

Riya Mandal: ‘Under Construction’

History is often marked by ebbs and flows. Periods of intense change are often preceded by periods of calm, contemplation, and simmering complacence. Just like a building must stop its functions, and undergo demolition before it can rise up anew. Delhi contemporary dancer Riya Mandal used a the stunning backdrop of a partially demolished 1st floor section to give personality to a movement in action. Performed along with Pune dancers Jhanvi Pathak and Makarand Pitre, Riya closed Artel’s open day with this charged performance. Accompanying the dancers was music composed especially for this piece, comprising samples of construction work and heavy machinery.

Krister Olsson: ‘Bug’

The most evocative pieces are often those that make you smile on first interaction but draw you into their darker centres as you prolong your engagement. San Fransisco artist Krister Olsson’s Bug exemplifies this playful way of looking at the worrying times we live in. As you walk into the installation room, you’re greeted by a roving eye attached to a long stem-like neck, all fixed to a small playful box sitting on the floor. The gold plated materiality of the installations makes it seem like a decadent jack-in-the-box or a child’s treasure chest. The perpetual motion of eye, constantly turning on its spine, constantly coming back to check on you starts creating a feeling of discomfort only after a few minutes. Big bug, er brother, is watching!

Photo courtesy TIFA

Notable notes: Ubik’s demonstrations of the materiality and movement of red oxide, Mansha Chhatwal’s engagement with furniture and subconscious states and Kim Myoungjae’s experiements with mirrors in video and installation.

Artel 2017’s artists have definitely given the city new ways of engaging with personal pasts and have been successful in re-navigated them into the present. It would be very exciting to see TIFA push its next set of artists to throw their vision ahead and show us maps into the uncertain futures.

Photographs by the author, unless specified