The meaning in memory

Harshini Vakkalanka | The Hindu | March 8, 2016

A dialogue on the history of installation art in Bangalore reflected the learning from the time and how it guides present work

Bengaluru was one of the earliest centres for installation art in India in the 90s, with over 24 major projects created in the decade, said artist C.F. John, in his introduction to the second edition of Nenapinangaladinda: Down Memory Lane, a dialogue on the history of installation art in Bangalore organized by the India Foundation for the Arts.

“That was a time when galleries were focusing on conventional art, such as paintings and sculptures and international biennales were unheard of. Social, economic, political and spiritual aspects of the country were undergoing a change. Land and water, which defined identities, became commodities. The lifestyles, tastes and aspirations of people were changing, creating an immense churning that resulted in artists engaging and contributing to public discourse and social thinking,” he added.

The dialogue was conducted between artists John, Sheela Gowda, Pushpamala N, M. S. Umesh, Tripura Kashyap, and Raghavendra Rao, who were among the forerunners of the installation art practice in Bengaluru. Sundar Sarukkai Director, Manipal University Centre for Philosophy and Humanities was the moderator.

The dialogue, said John, would not only cherish the nostalgia of working in the 90s, but also reflect on the learning from the period and how it guides present work. “It is not about mapping the history of installation art in terms of chronology but in terms of what moved the consciousness of these artists, why they did what they did. It is about what happened when a group of people came together to be part of something different. Perhaps Bangalore itself can be mapped through these works,” said Sundar.

Raghavendra Rao opened the dialogue, describing his experience of working on ‘Silence of Furies and Sorrows – Pages of a Burning City’, a group show conducted in the Venkatappa Art Gallery in response to the 1994 communal riots in Bangalore.

The group which included John, Tripura and Nandakishore interacted with the affected communities for nearly a month before working together in artist Sheela Gowda’s studio space.

“We were angry, we were shattered. The show, however, was not a literal response to a particular incident but a response to violence, especially in connection to urban spaces. We worked in one space so we could witness and discuss each other’s works and resolve any issues. We were conscious that the affected communities would visit the show but subconsciously we also knew that we would not compromise on the aesthetics of the works. We decided that we would use unconventional mediums.”

That was the probably the first time the Venkatappa Gallery had bricks and sand brought into its space, he recollected. The exhibition also featured a sound installation/soundscape put together by Nandakishore as well a performance art piece by Tripura.

Pushpamala N. talked about her experience curating ‘Sthalapuranagalu’ (local myths) where she worked with three artists, creating three different works in places with deep local historical relevance to Bengaluru — Ulsoor Lake, the oldest lake in Bangalore; Victoria Statue, marking the meeting point between British cantonment and the part of the city under the Indian king’s rule; and the Samudaya theatre office.

“Shamla created floating objects in the lake, Ramesh Kalkur created a painted installation based on the figures carved on the Vidhana Soudha (that was finally put up at the Chitra Gallery) and Srinivas Prasad worked on a three-story structure with construction poles that featured hoardings of famous Samudaya plays as well as performances by singers. It was about exploring unconventional histories of the city to make people go across and see the other sides of the city.”

Artist Umesh talked about his experience creating his ‘EarthWork – A Time and Site Specific Art’, a piece of excavation at Kodigehalli; Sheela Gowda talked about her installation ‘Sakshi Gudda Sakshi Gode’ at an agricultural institute in Hebbal; John and Tripura talked about their work with Azis T.M. in ‘Walls of Memories – An Art Event of Unresolved Edges’ revealing the meanings and recreating the identity of a well full of memories.

The dialogue ended with a Tripura recreating her performance from ‘Silence of Furies and Sorrows’.