Original text by Lunettes Rouges, Translation by Miss XS
Two exhibitions with titles evocative of paths and passages are currently showing at the MAC (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Lyon: Always all ways is one, and Indian Highways is the other. Both show artists from elsewhere (hardly-known Indian artists, and a Cameroonian star living in Ghent) yet they have very different principles. The exhibition on Indian art goes across the world phase-by-phase (yesterday: London, Oslo and Herning, tomorrow: Rome, Moscow, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo to finish in Delhi), and it is enriched each time with a new curator and new artists (at the risk of becoming confusing and unmanageable).
In contrast, Pascale Marthine Tayou’s (until 15th May), exhibition (he has several of at the moment), is an artwork in itself. We do not look at the pieces individually, passing from one to another, changing our point of view and impression. On the contrary, we are taken into an ensemble, within a global ambiance where the individual pieces significantly collide and converge towards a synthesis, towards a spatial configuration of this large room. Diverse materials, black dresses, black, red and white headscarves, umbrellas, crystal, plastic bags, dishes, double sided panels (one side showing a photograph, the other odds and ends of wooden and plastic objects), shovels, spades, all of it is puzzling, cacophonous, disorderly and yet a veritable visual delight.
We seep into the room whilst foraying our way through the half-light in the midst of these suspended wooden trunks that can be described as somewhere between menacing stakes whose fall would pierce through us (the Sword of Damocles of course), and inoffensive crayons.
In the eye of the storm, we find calmness whilst plunging our gaze into the middle of the giant assembly of plastic bags (previously shown at the Moulin; massive, fragile and occupying space), we rediscover it here as tame, inviting and feminine.
The exhibition on Indian artists (until the 31st of July) is much more eclectical and prescribed, room after room, and we go through admiration, laughter, or skeptical criticism. Put simpler, we can see two different poles: the first is spectacular, flashy and monumental to achieve an effect; this Bollywoodian aesthetic where everything is too obvious, and not very sober isn’t my preference (such as the van made out of bones by Jitish Kallat, titled Aquasaurus, or the van made from steel balls by Valay Shende).
In stark contrast, there are many intelligent and evocative works that we are not amazed by, but rather, we are seduced. The brilliant 25-metre wall titled Take off your Shoes and Wash your Hands by Subodh Gupta has 34 modules containing three tiers of sparkling aluminium dishes. Dazzling for sure, but this is also a concert of variations, whereby no two modules are identical. But of Gupta’s works, I preferred by far, the neighbouring artwork titled Date to Date: a reconstruction of a 50 year-old provincial lawyers’ office. It is dilapidated and devilishly poetic with its bundles of tied-up dusty folders.
Further on, Bose Krishnamachari uses less sparkling crockery in Ghost / Transmemoir. Dull metal tiffin lunchboxes that are suspended from the ceiling contain little video screens displaying street scenes, witnesses, impromptu reports and the buzzing streets of Mumbai. This piece is antithetical to Gupta’s clean aesthetic, and it is more in spirit with Tayou’s work.
Opposite, there is a cave we can enter. 8 Feet x 12 Feet is an alcove with walls that are covered in small scale models of buildings. The materials used are very ordinary and Hema Upadhyay allows the visitor to physically feel the chaotic urbanisation of Mumbai, its towers and its slums.
On the other level, Tejal Shah revisits Dr. Charcot’s service at the Salpêtriere Hospital in Paris, Dayanita Singh photographs her dreams, the drawings and videos of Sumakshi Singh create a delicate and dream-like universe, we seep into the citadel of blackened oil cans of Sheela Gowda, we encounter the sculpture of microphones by Shilpa Gupta. However, the two pieces that retain the most amount of attention are, firstly: Growing, an impenetrable forest of incense sticks by Hemali Bhuta, whereby different odours blend together, conjugate and then dissipate over the course of time; making this a very mysterious piece, evolving over the years and presenting a garden-come-sculpture (the artwork dates from 2009). From the same artist, some very minimalist interventions on walls and plinths are on display; the specks of colour are hardly noticeable.
Finally, in complete contrast to the vans cited in the beginning, Escapement by Raqs Media Collective is a room in which 27 clocks are hung on display and, instead of displaying the time in hours, they are marked with feelings “anxiety, duty, guilt, awe, fear…” Each clock is assigned to a city, like a classic installation in the trading room of a bank, or behind a hotel reception desk. From New Delhi to Grozny, the clocks tick away and the background noises go from heartbeats to the sounds of a modem; life and technology. The observant viewer will note that three of the clocks turn back in time, with their needles ticking in a counter-clockwise direction. The cities associated are Babel, Shangri-La and Macondo: in mythical cities, time goes backwards (especially in Macondo). On the central pillar, encircled with video screens, a face turns to opposing sides, from left to right: this artwork about time and dreams is one of the most fascinating in this disparate exhibition.
In a few months, the Pompidou Centre will also present an exhibition on Indian art; we could compare them…
Pascale Marthine Tayou’s photos (ADAGP) will be removed from the site at the end of the exhibition. The visit was at the invitation of the MAC in Lyon.