Public space, public art?

Walkers and those who have walked down the Carter Road promenade in the last couple of weeks, would have probably seen artist Shilpa Gupta’s public artwork, titled I Live Under Your Sky. The massive installation, which was erected by the sea (and later moved to The Courtyard at High Street Phoenix) featured the text “I live under your sky too” written in English, Hindi and Urdu using LED lights. The intent was to spread the message of equality and national harmony.

An art installation erected by artist Shilpa Gupta at Carter Road in Bandra. PIC/Shadab  Khan

Gupta is not alone; other artists too have and continue to bring their works out in the public domain, in the form of outdoor installations. “Art is a language that is produced by individuals and for a city which has hardly any public installations, its great to have as many art projects in public spaces as possible,” says Gupta.

Artist Reena Kallat’s rubberstamp installation outside Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum

On demand
While harbouring an intrinsic desire to enable an increased number of people to examine the art installation is one reason, the nature of the artwork is another factor that determines its positioning. “Artists love the opportunity for the wider public to be able to see their work. But sometimes, the very concept of the work makes them choose the art spaces — indoor or outdoor.

Artist Shakuntala Kulkarni’s installation, Of Bodies

Hence, both types of spaces have different functions and create the desired impact in their own right. It depends on what the artist wants to address and who is the audience he/she is targetting,” reasons artist Shakuntala Kulkarni, whose installation, Of Bodies, Armour and Cages saw her don foldable pieces, which she designed herself, as she walked around in it across various places in Mumbai. Kulkarni adds that some works are intimate, delicate and hence a closed space is preferred since material and light used may not allow outdoor installation, while others might only be suitable in an outdoor space.

However, when it comes to a public installation, the opportunity for a wider public to be engaged with the work, the platform where the artist could use art to be a vehicle to make a difference to the city at large and the prospect of being able to use a variety of materials make for exciting benefits, she

Ice sculptures by Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo melt on the steps of Berlin's Concert Hall at the Gendarmenmarkt on September 2, 2009. Pic/ AFP

Familiar ground or not?
But does a person walking on the road, unfamiliar with the basics, even understand what the artist is trying to convey? Artist Reena Kallat, who has created several public art installations including Untitled (Cobweb/Crossings), which found a place on the outer facade of Byculla’s Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, has an interesting take: “The difference is that the audience that visits a gallery comes in with certain expectations that they’re seeking to fulfill whereas in case of art in public spaces, there are chance encounters where people stumble upon something that might seem strange initially but it might unfold meaning later.”

Seconding this thought is Tarana Khubchandani, owner, Gallery Art and Soul, who also heads the visual art committee for the Kala Ghoda Festival along with artist Brinda Miller. She says that each year they include themes that are socially driven for installations, and it is amazing to see the response that they get from people. People who come for the festival pay attention to the installations, read about it thoroughly and even give their feedback.

Public understanding
As far as people are concerned, the general view is unanimous and most people would like to see a larger number of installations out in the open. Children’s storybook writer Vinitha Ramchandani, who lives on Carter Road, feels that art should be accessible to more people. “It should not be the prerogative of only people who go to the galleries.

It should be installed at several places,” she believes. Ramchandani, who felt “pampered” when she saw Shilpa Gupta’s artwork, asserts that art is meant to be interpreted differently by different people. “So, the artist should put out what he/she wants and then leave it on people to interpret it. The artist should not be worried about whether people will understand it or not because each one will have a different take about it.” 

Amazing installations worldwide
>> Cloud Gate, a public sculpture by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, is the centerpiece of the AT&T Plaza in Chicago, United States. The sculpture is nicknamed “The Bean” because of its bean-like shape. Made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, its highly polished exterior has no visible seams. The sculpture’s surface reflects and distorts the city’s skyline.

>> Using boards from the outside of houses, artists Dan Havel and Dean Ruck from Houston, USA, created a large funnel-like vortex that ends in a small hole in an adjacent courtyard. The art installation was known as Inversion.

>> In order to attract attention to the earth’s melting poles due to global warming, Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo created hundreds of sitting figures out of ice. The installation lasted till the last one melted in the heat of the day. The installation was sponsored by the WWF.

>> Belgian artist Benjamin Verdonck’s giant nest installation, titled The Great Swallow was much talked about when it was exhibited in 2004. The artist created a nest on the Rotterdam Weena Tower and stayed in it for a while. 

Public display of art
Shilpa Gupta: It can be a small lane or a busy railway station. Every space that has people is good to share artworks.
Shakuntala Kulkarni: There are no ideal locations. Each artist will have to discover and choose for oneself the space, the material, and the subject and make it ideal.
Tarana Khubchandani: All over Nariman Point, Worli Sea Face; in fact, in every nook and corner of the city. I understand that there is an issue during monsoon but that can be tackled. 

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