Game for Thukral and Tagra?

Updated: Jul 24, 2016, 21:32 IST | Benita Fernando |

The artist duo takes art off the wall, and gets the viewer to share and shred memories for their new project, Memoir Bar

On Thursday, Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra made cement look delicious. It was the preview of their interactive project, Memoir Bar, and visitors to Chatterjee and Lal tried to be on their best behaviour as they queued up (to put it mildly) to make a tile each. We were instructed to first jot down our memory on pieces of paper (called ‘memory cards’), then shred them and mix the torn bits with cement to make a hexagonal tile. Each tile looked like a cheesecake swirl with colours corresponding to six emotions related to the memories. Playfully made with poignant material, over 350 such tiles were made by Friday night, making them the first batch of building blocks for the artists’ project, Emotional Pavilion at Dubai Design Week in October 2016.

Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra. Pics/Sneha Kharabe
Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra. Pics/Sneha Kharabe

Looking back, we recall some of the tile-games we played — Scrabble, Mahjong and Dominoes. Was it just us or did Memoir Bar just pun on tile-games? Cheeky. That’s Thukral and Tagra for you.

Memoir Bar is their latest performative art project and is derived from memory-games. As one of India’s foremost names in contemporary art, the duo has already created nine projects related to games while their pop-quixotic oils on acrylic have done very well at auctions. Their first, The Beautiful Game, devised in 2011, travelled to five cities across the world. It combined billiards with ideas of safe sex. It saw 30,000 players, and went on to be used for HIV campaigns. Last year, they created Walk of Life (which also comes in a water version), at a residency in Khoj, Delhi; the project travelled to Manchester Museum last month. Two more are in the works — one in which heartbreak becomes a form of currency and a war game, which has to do with the consumption of food and the ego.

Memoir Bar

Known to play with multiple mediums, the duo is asking this question: What if the playing field was a gallery and artworks were units to toy with? “To us, aesthetics come naturally and we have a distinct visual vocabulary. However, while we make visuals, we also got wondering how to make people enter them physically — to be immersed in these visuals — and that’s what these games and performative projects are about. We want to make a new stage for people and move away from the traditional ways of approaching art,” says Tagra.

Memoir Bar

For Memoir Bar, Thukral and Tagra have collaborated with a name that pops up often when we mention heritage in the city, Bharat Floorings and Tiles. Bharat Tiles, founded in 1922, is a much sought-after name when it comes to restoration work, be it at Crawford Market or the BMC office.

Memoir Bar

Their collaboration began when Firdaus Variava, CEO of Bharat Tiles, spotted their work, Let’s Dye for Each Other (made of socks and boxer shorts) at India Art Fair last year. Variava wondered if the artists would hop onboard to collaborate on designing a tile or two, as have others.

Memoir Bar

Strangely, Thukral and Tagra were interested in the process, rather than the finished product. “We wanted to see how we could get people to interact with these tiles, explore their memories… These tiles also have to do with nostalgia. Emotions and nostalgia — these are a common currency for people, right?” says Thukral.

Memoir Bar

But Variava has a simpler explanation. “They want to make people cry,” he laughs.

With Memoir Bar, like with their other projects, the game lies in losing control to the participants. “This surrendering to audiences is the key variable that differentiates a designed object from an art object. Art has its own flow; you don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” says Tagra.

With Thukral and Tagra, their love for games and their art is tied up with each other; you have to keep looking out for clues. At Memoir Bar, for instance, they left hints to their other games. Stacks of white sacks mimicked cement bags (for the tiles), a war bunker (for their upcoming war games), or pillows to cry into (about their upcoming game on heartbreak).

Thursday also saw the preview of their “play-book” made along with game theorist and curator Prayas Abhinav. It introduces The Pollinator, “a new model that uses game design and aesthetics to formulate new ideas. Game theory has been used before in management but this is the first time it is being used in aesthetics,” says Tagra. The Pollinator, says Abhinav, could be a new intervention and a new curriculum in design theory, which has become dated in India. The Pollinator documents Thukral and Tagra’s game-projects, which keep getting added by the dozen. “We don’t know when to stop. There will be chapters and extensions,” says Tagra.

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