Everything but the Girl

The apartment of this nameless, absent girl offers the delicious thrill of browsing through another person’s life furtively
Traces

She left in haste. The bed lies rumpled, sheet and pyjamas entwined, a pair of black heels are abandoned by the door. The only ‘clue’ is a note pinned by the entrance saying she had no choice but to leave. Your role is immediately transformed from casual visitor to voyeur, and walking around the apartment carries with it the delicious, illicit thrill of peering into somebody else’s life. Even if it’s all make-believe.

Her ‘apartment’ is The Loft, an art space in Lower Parel, Mumbai, and ‘she’ a nameless, fictional character conjured by the curator, Himali Singh Soin. Part of the year-long Square Foot Project, organised by independent art consultant Anupa Mehta and architect Anand Patel, ‘Reconstructing (White) 3’ is an exploration of the paradoxes of space. How it can be reinvented (The Loft, for example, was originally a printing shed in an old mill), sculpted by architecture, ‘folded’ within itself like a Russian Matryoshka doll, and represented in abstract ways through mathematical figures. Space might be public or private —The Loft is the former as much (and arranged) as someone’s home.

At Kunsthaus Zurich’s Museum of Drawers, objects made by various artists are displayed in the drawers of a cabinet previously used for storing reels of sewing silk. This challenge is repeated at The Loft; nine artists were instructed to create works contained within 1 x 1 x 1 white cubes. Here, the curator plays with the idea of a gallery as a benign, neutral ‘white cube’ space. The artworks also function as markers of the life of The Loft’s mysterious occupant. Praneet Soi’s delicately intricate pen drawing on A4 paper—a woman’s face overlaid with sketches of a foot, a hand and a torso—is displayed on an easel, suggesting that it could be a self-portrait. In the bathroom cabinet, Prajakta Potnis’ Shelf Life comprises two medicine bottles overflowing with lifelike solidified bubbles. Posing as the centrepiece in the living room is Gautam Bhatia’s The Good Life. Placed on a circular glass table, this white cube has peepholes on each side looking into the miniature living space of a couple wallowing in wanton overindulgence. Bhatia’s illustrations create an illusion of depth, and the chequered floor narrows to a distant doorway that, literally and metaphorically, leads nowhere. Nearby is Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s wooden box, elaborately carved in floral patterns. Exploring themes of memory, home and loss, this untitled work is a ‘stereo’ playing Bengali folk songs, accompanying a video viewed through a peephole. On the wall is Hema Upadhyay’s The Crazy Dream that Finally Got Over. Framed like an ornamental painting, it appears decorative, yet the strange, delicately cut-out pictures of flowers, birds, fruit, animals and human figures mirror the illogical, subconscious images of dreams.

As a voyeur, you are encouraged to interact informally with the space, unlike in a gallery. Abir Karmarkar’s To My Father, for instance, lies on the floor on a woolly, black rug. This too is a miniature house, whose roof can be taken off to reveal a gigantic plastic phallus—seemingly a symbol of domineering, restrictive patriarchy. Niyeti Chadha and Zuleikha Chaudhuri’s works occupy the slim spaces between rooms and are both deconstructed cubes—lying on the floor, the former is made of paper and crossed by elegant lines, while the other, suspended from a high beam, is a tangle of wooden frames. An artwork you might search for that no longer ‘exists’ is Mithu Sen’s Instructions for a Painting—a solid cube of ice that melted away on the kitchen counter, leaving lines of poetry on clear glass. Like Alwar Balasubramaniam’s camphor sculptures, this ephemeral piece connects presence and absence. It is about the traces our lives left on a space, as we walk, like the girl, out the door.

+++

Reconstructing (White) 3 will show at The Loft, Mumbai, till 14 July 2012