The Weird, the Wonderful and the Wired
Over the Republic Day weekend, impressive parades of people traipsed into Delhi’s NSIC grounds at Okhla, reserved mostly for plumbing conferences and tech marts, sporting shiny Rs 10 Tricolours, Fab India attitudes, crisp corporate suits and PYT chic. This formidable assortment, the kind last brought together by the Salman Khan film Dabanng, had gathered for the India Art Fair 2012. We bring you a fly-on-the-wall account of the four-day affair, complete with occasions of utter bafflement and moments of hilarity
Three mournful black jackets on white shirts and hangers trundle down into three tubs of milky fluid, and then go up again, ceaselessly. A seemly young lady calls it ‘Dhobi Ghat’, but a card on the wall says the work is untitled. A 50-something lady with the kind of lined face that is invariably deemed distinguished tells her similarly distinguished, handloom silk-clad friend that each jacket emerges with a ‘new painting’ every time it sinks into the tub. When the jackets remain chalky but determinedly painting-free after a few rounds, she says a little softly but no less decisively, “The art lies in the [beholder’s eyes]. Each viewer discerns a different meaning.” And then she turns to a third distinguished lady who has joined them, and asks, without missing a beat, “Do we see you at the 29th party?”
TODAY WILL END
Samay Singh Meena of the fire service police, who has been stationed in Hall III of the fair, crackles in fair exasperation as he watches a man with a camera carefully photograph this artwork—tiny yellow bulbs and wires on a white wall. “Iss mein toh kuchh bhi nahin thha. Sirf yeh deewar thha,” he says. (There wasn’t a thing here except this wall.) “Yahan ki electrical socket tak bhi humne lagaya.” (Even this electrical socket was installed by us.) And the artist’s point is? “Point aur kya hai? Bas ek electrical point hai.” (What other point? It’s only an electrical point.)
LOVE IS WHAT YOU WANT
Warming to his appreciative audience, Meena takes a couple of viewers along to the largest hall of the show, where another shining love installation, a pink heart sign enfolding the words ‘Love is What You Want’ in screaming orange, graces a white wall. “Yeh dekhiye,” he points. (Check this out.) “Yeh toh bilkul normal hai. Hamare yahaan toh kisi bhi electrical shop mein yeh ho jayega. Shaadiyon aur Diwali pe log karvate rehte hain,” he says. (This is such an ordinary thing. Any electrical shop near my place can do this. People get this kind of thing done for weddings and Diwali.) “Waisey,” he adds, lowering his voice to a whisper, “Quality toh bekaar hai iska. Sab Chinese maal hai.” (Its quality is useless. It’s all Chinese stuff.)
A gaggle of young men, with that great unshaven look that is so popular now, assure worried viewers that the artwork actually lies on the other side of the door. A couple of intrepid viewers turn the knob and walk into an innocuous storeroom lined with bookshelves and rolled-up sheets. A man, typing resolutely on a laptop, refuses to look up at the intruders. After the two step out, another young man goes up to them and asks hopefully, “Yeh couples ke liye khaas private room hai kya?” (Is this a special private room for couples?)
TWO LESS ONE
Two mirrors, both enclosed in thick gold frames, stand at right angles to each other. One is intact, the glass of the other is shattered. It is unclear whether the artist sought a particular design in the smashed pattern of the glass. A little girl, impressively articulate for her seven or eight years of age, tells her grandmother admiringly, “He must have calculated exactly how to break it, so the glass doesn’t fall out of the frame.” A friendly Canon executive, who is at the fair to exhibit his company’s new Canon Dx1 camera, frowns before the shattered mirror. “It is broken,” he tells his Japanese colleague, who nods expansively and says, “When there is no understanding, it is art.” Then suddenly, the man catches his reflection in the intact mirror and turns to his philosophical Japanese friend with a gleam of triumph: “I got it. There are two mirrors.”
Happily, he turns to a press photographer admiring the new Dx1 camera, and asks, “There’s a party on the 29th. Is there a corporate invitation?”
Behind them, a policeman on duty tsk-tsks in disapproval. “Kehte hai ki toote huay aainay mein dekhne se dimaag kharab ho jaata hai. Yahaan toh waisey mujhe lagta hai ki sab ka dimaag kharab hai.” (They say that looking into a broken mirror causes madness. In any case, I feel most people here are crazy.)
A Hindu belief has it that looking into a broken mirror brings bad luck. There is a similar American myth that breaking a mirror results in bad luck for seven years. Pistoletto, the artist, is Italian, though, and the myth that a broken mirror is bad news is believed to have originated with ancient Romans.
The celebrated performance artist eats an onion in great distress in her video work titled, simply, The Onion. A serious looking, bespectacled young woman stares at the video for a minute, frowns, and then checks the title card. “Is it a parody, like The Onion newspaper?” she asks, referring to the popular satirical publication. A young boy, twirling a Tricolour, is far more decisive. He barely looks at the screen before squealing, “Chhhi, pyaaz khaa rahi hai!” (She’s eating an onion!), and leaping away from his father.
A constant stream of people mill around, marvelling at Sam Jinks’ ‘hyper real’ installation works of art. An employee of UAPL, the company that shipped the works, does a careful 360-degree round with his phone camera to circumshoot a startlingly creased, life-size model of a human newborn made of silicon, resin and hair. “Taiees booth ka jo samaan unpack kiya, usme yehi badhiya hai. Poore exhibition mein mujhe yehi pasand aaya hai. Yeh kala hai. Main photo apni biwi ko bhejoonga. Paet se nikalne se pehle, andar bachcha aise hi rehtaa hai.”(Of all the things I unpacked for 23 booths, I like this one the best. This is art. I will send this photo to my wife. This is the way the foetus stays inside the mother’s womb.) He looks thoughtfully at his phone, and says, “Sirf yeh mendhak ka mujhe samajh mein nahin aaya.” (But I don’t understand anything about what these frogs are doing here.)
When a young woman standing nearby shrugs sympathetically at his perplexity, he asks, “Sunne ko aaya hai 29th ko party hai. Yahaan ho raha hai? Company se kuchh nahin bola. Humein usme bhi kaam karna padega?” (I hear there is a party on the 29th. Is it going to be held here? The company didn’t say anything. Do we have to work for that too?)
THE TEXT FOR THE FOLD MACHINE
Day after day, a lot of people at the fair stand in front of this text and fall silent. If you can tell us what it means, you win a chance to do the next fly-on-the-wall assignment for Open.
It is in the nature of flies on the wall to listen carefully, report faithfully and not ask intrusive questions about names and designations. It is very much in their line of duty to read all manner of labels, lapels and name badges on uniforms. This is enabled in no small measure by the compound vision that makes flies such valuable correspondents