OFF THE RECORD: Meditations on the Photographic Image

Curated by Vidya Shivadas

Participating Artists : Krrishen Khanna, MF Husain, Anju Dodiya, Babu Eshwar Prasad, Atul Bhalla, Charmi Gada Shah, Showkat Kathjoo, Juul Kraijer, Susanta Mandal

28 October - 2 December, 2015 | D-53 Defence Colony, New Delhi 110024

Installation Shots

This exhibition brings together a group of nine artists who have diverse engagements with the medium of photography within their practice. The presence of photography, both latent and manifest, has been a condition of artistic production since the early 20th century. And since the 1970s, in the post medium era of conceptual art, artists have worked with an extended notion of art to incorporate various technologies and media.

The exhibition engages with the photographic paradigm – it present a series of images about images, that speak of relationship between photography and painting as much as photography and ephemeral art forms like performance art, and installation and the moving image. Off the record, quite literally engages with the photographic trace and presents a dialogue on the nature of the record produced through the lens of the individual practitioners.

We begin with an apparatus by Susanta Mandal that presents his ongoing obsession with the Magic Lantern, a device for optical projection used for education and entertainment in the Victorian period. Mandal deconstructs and reconstructs this outdated contraption to think about fragility of image and memory. The photographic record has its own aesthetics and significance in the works of artists Atul Bhalla and Showkat Kathjoo who turn to it to document their lone process and performances. The city and a destroyed library are the chosen sites for their enactments. Kathjoo tries in vain to make sense of the decimated, illegible piles of rotten books at the library of the Srinagar Institute of Music and Fine Arts, which was submerged in the 2014 floods. Bhalla visits various locations of water bodies in Delhi, many of which are now dry, and pays silent homage to them. The images hardly present any kind of concrete evidence but are about the artists’ pointing to absence, loss and invisibility.

In Dutch artist Juul Kraijer, who turned to photography after many years of drawing, it becomes a way to emulate the otherworldly qualities of Renaissance portraiture while employing the conceptual techniques of Surrealism. For Anju Dodiya, whose work is to a large extent a dialogue about the act of painting itself, the photograph becomes a point of investigation about points of departure and transformations. A series of jewel like images and photographs are presented together and they form a moving account of memory and time and how the artist processes them.

Babu Eshwar Prasad’s collage pieces together various elements of industrial landscapes. The accumulated forms construct an ironic monument of our times from construction machinery and sites, hi tension cable wires, the abandoned junkyards of industrial relics and building equipments. The video work is a further extension of the digital print where the still photographs are animated with sound and movement.

Charmi Gada Shah’s practice engages with the passage of time and the subsequent shifts that have occurred in the meaning and function of architecture. Employing different media, including drawing, sculpture, photography, film and architecture, she formulates a network of correlations that play on notions of memory, destruction and conservation. Here a scale model of a facade and a drawing are reconstructed with the help of a reference photograph.

The two senior artists MF Husain and Krishen Khanna, are also represented in this exhibition with iconic series from the 1981 and late 1960s respectively which bring in formalist and materialist antecedents with the medium. Between 1969 and 1973 Khanna experimented with photographed projections of images in his studio and the iconic crow series are a result of these ‘to let the world into the studio’. The large nine feet panel is an ambitious photomontage that Khanna made in the late ’60s when he visited the Bailadila iron ore sites in Chattisgarh on the invitation of the public sector undertaking MMTC. It was exhibited at Expo Osaka in Japan in 1970.

Unlike Khanna’s formalist experiments, Husain's photo series Culture of the Streets from 1981-82 present a lively account of the public sphere. Husain’s own beginnings as a banner painter in Bombay in the 1940s led him to this very insightful document on the larger than life role of cinema in Tamil Nadu. We have also on view Husain’s delightful film experiment from 1967 titled Through the Eyes of a Painter in which ‘he tackles the film medium with the feelings of a painter.’