July 27, 2012

Installation Lives

Reading this article made me recall my first encounter with installation art in the Delhi-based artists' centre that I visited several years ago - and how my fascination has endured since then...

Fallen leaves...
I arrived there at 7am on a warm April morning; the scorching Delhi summer heat was yet to make itself felt although majority of the trees in the garden-museum complex were in various stages of leaf-fall, their branches sorely depleted of leaves. I was experiencing a curious confluence of autumn and winter in what was otherwise spring!

Perhaps, notes about the trees that I jotted down in a journal that I kept during my time there will more accurately capture the atmosphere then:

"[Here] the various types of trees baking their leaves and then, dropping them on the porcelain-like cracked earth, making the place appear like one giant kind of installation art. I have never been to a place before where even falling leaves from a tree can be a work of art. I can even see leaves falling! If I try hard enough, I can even hear them fall. 

Trees shorn of leaves look so severe, classical, streamlined in nature (pun intended!); new leaves really do soften them, like a person whose make-up has just recently been washed and cleansed away."

Wish Tree - Installation Art

In midst of the sea of denuded trees, I did not notice that particular tree until much later in the day though; during the evening of my first day, after I had had unpacked and made myself home in my quaint little studio, I took a walk around the place, exploring my surroundings. One of the first trees - or rather, works of art - that I stumbled across was this wish tree although I did not pay it more attention then. I entirely assumed that it was present in the garden-museum complex in the same capacity as that of a little shrine on the premises and that it held similar ritualistic significance; the presence of the gold and silver-leaf covered stone with a goddess' piercing eyes painted upon it [as commonly found in goddess' temples and shrines] further contributed to the effect. It was only much later that a fellow artist told me that a resident British artist had created this tree as a piece of installation art and gifted it to the centre (if my memory serves correct). But I did not know then that it was a work of art; as it happened, I briefly folded my hands and inspected it for a short while before finding myself drawn towards the other art works dotting the place.

However, after having learnt that it was in fact 'art', rather than an actual 'wish tree', I was nevertheless surprised to find flower offerings placed in close proximity to the tree; someone had chosen to accord the tree a reverential status and the boundaries had blurred to such an extent that I myself could not help but treat that space as a sacred one. The tree was no longer performing as a wish tree; it had in fact become a wish, or sacred, tree.

There is a strong sense of theatricality to such installation art pieces; they are telling stories while simultaneously and dramatically transforming the environment in which they are placed. In other words, the space which installation art pieces inhabit become theatres and the art pieces performers; if you, the spectator, were to step inside that space, you too would be a performer, participating in the narrative, becoming a part of that art-work. The art-work and the spectator/participant share an inter-dependent relationship as in the contours of their relationship ultimately motivate how the narrative moves ahead - and the art work is perceived. For me, it is almost  excitingly akin to being part of a film - and yet, you are the one motivating your performance because you are deciding which part to play and what narrative you choose to fit yourself into.

I was in such awe when I discovered this review of multi-media installation artist, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's show, The House of Books Has No Windows; these were intricately, meticulously, and fabulously constructed examples of installation art, deriving inspiration from varied sources such as cinema, music, and even Kafka. For me, this art was not necessarily something that I would want to engage with on a daily basis; rather, the experience would be all about witnessing bold, extravagant story-telling through exaggerated performance art, momentarily suspending me in an alternate reality. I would take away a chapter of that story with me, having left the exhibition; I would leave behind a piece of me embedded inside that story. We would both shape each other over the time...


Over the years, I realised that I too have been narrating stories albeit through different media: poetry, short stories, and image-text pieces. I have articulated stories through articles; I have presented stories in form of blog-posts and photo-essays. I would shortly like to embark upon a novel.

Yet, what compels me now is the possibility of merging the written word with such examples of installation art; I would find it thoroughly exciting to embark upon a project in which the text merges with multi-media to create a stunningly narrated story.

And now, I turn to you, dear readers: if you are so inclined and have been working in similar projects, would you be interested in a collaboration art-work? If you do...drop me a line and I would love to hear from you. It would be wonderful to give birth to innovative new art forms through the medium of this blog!

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