In Public Interest
Delhi has always been considered one of the world’s most dynamic and complex urban settings. In a city where the frenetic pace of life doesn’t allow its citizens to actively engage with their surroundings, public art is one way to forge this connection and facilitate interaction. The city was first exposed to public art on a grand scale in 2008 when the Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan and GTZ organised the immensely successful 48°C, making people conscious of the entire dialogue of contribution, participation and working towards communication that defines public art. This year, Khoj Studios has taken this effort forward through its multi-dimensional art project, titled, In Context: Public.Art.Ecology.
Emerging out of a six-week residency programme, the project features prominent artists from India, Germany, Japan and the US. Supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in India, the work can be viewed at multiple venues including Khoj Studios, Select Citywalk and 20 Barakhamba Road, until 16 April. “Unlike 48°C, this project is on a much smaller scale. We have tried to look at different urban spaces such as malls and shopping complexes. The ambition of the project is to interrogate the teetering ecology of the city through the prism of contemporary art,” says Pooja Sood, curator and director of Khoj International Artist’s Association, an organisation that has been facilitating dialogue in the field of visual arts since 1997.
The various projects range from mapping weather patterns and effects of climate change to examining the significance of trees in the context of road zones. From each experiment, it is evident that the artists have stepped out of their comfort zones. Take Austrian artist Sylvia Winkler’s project, for instance. Along with German artist Stephan Koeperk, she will take visitors on a ride through Select Citywalk on passenger-propelled rickshaws (PPR). The aim of the project is to emphasise the crucial role that PPRs will play in sustainable cities of the future. Then, there is a unique 4.2 metres high sculpture created by artist duo Thukral and Tagra out of cast resin bottles, commonly found in supermarkets around the country.
Veteran artist Navjot Altaf has taken her project Barakhamba in 2008 forward by examining the significance of trees in the context of road zones. Her work attempts to make a difference by planting new trees, looking at the state of soil and working towards ecological sustainability.
Another intriguing idea is Object of My Extension by Namrata Mehta, Aliya Pabani and Tejas Pande, which tried to map the social exchanges that connect the workers of Chandni Chowk with the executives of Gurgaon. The trio has come up with two objects—one meant to collect people’s memories and the other meant to collect their aspirations. “Popular perception associates Chandni Chowk with nostalgia and memory while Gurgaon is associated with aspiration. But according to our research, Gurgaon is also a place of memory for people who have watched it change over a period of time. And since Chandni Chowk is constantly evolving, it is a place of aspiration for people who work there,” explains Namrata.
Many of these projects are not simply art works, but rather interventions aimed at bringing about change. “There is a fine line between activism and art. This is a concept that artists have been straggling with for the past several years now. I feel that art must work on a social premise. This challenges our notion that art needs to be beautiful. Who says that art can’t be meaningful and aesthetic at the same time?” concludes Sood.