Photographs of rotis that look like lunar landscapes. Sleeping dogs sprouting grass on their body surface. Ceiling-height mirror installations that look like cracks on a wall from a distance.Falling rain up-close.JitishKallat has spent the past five years creating and exhibiting art that has blurred boundaries between installation, sculpture, photography and painting.
While Kallat has shown at galleries and art fairs, his big solo shows have largely been restricted to museums on account of their massive scale. ‘Circa’, at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, in Melbourne, ran for six months, from October 2012 to April 2013; ‘Tomorrow was Here Yesterday’ was shown at DrBhauDaji Lad Museum, Mumbai, for five months; ‘Public Notice 3’ was at The Art Institute of Chicago for an entire year; and ‘Around The Table’ was displayed at the San Jose Museum from September 2013 to April 2014.
His last show in India, the 120-part sculpture ‘Fieldnotes: Tomorrow was Here Yesterday’, which captured Mumbai in all its painful glory, was also within the confines of the 134-year-old DrBhauDaji Lad Museum, a building built in the Renaissance Revival style in the late 19th century. He appropriated its architecture and spread the installations in between the museum’s display cases, creating a dialogue between the centuries-old permanent exhibits and his art. “Architecture is like a notepad. You are making notes on a paper. When you enter a museum, the entire space, from the movement of people to the ceiling height, the way sunlight moves through the day, everything is part of the experience,” he says.
Kallat calls museum shows a “happy coincidence”, but the fact is that there are very few art galleries, particularly in India, that can accommodate the immense scale of his works, some of which span 200 feet. “Scale is merely one of the many tools one can deploy in the creation of meaning. Decisions such as big, small, life-size can be taken to help create meaning or for aesthetic considerations,” says Kallat. “Museums and art institutes allow for a play between contemporary work and old art. The institutional framework [of a museum] also centralises your project in the cultural ecosystem of the city in a more direct manner.”
Since most of the museum shows are long-running, the artist believes they allow him to not just engage with a larger number of people, but also lead to collaborations. Among the collaborations he particularly remembers is the one involving poets of the Spoken Word poetry events in Chicago. “One of their mentor poets put forth the idea that the poets would interact with the artwork. They produced interim public notices or small poems that responded to the work,” says Kallat. “We closed the show with ‘Louder than a Bomb presenting Public Notices in the form of Spoken Word poetry’, in which the poetry was read out. Such collaborations allow you to contemplate your work with a wider network of creative minds.”
While works like ‘Public Notice 3’ and some part of ‘Circa’ were site-specific given their nature (text installations in the case of former, mirrored cracks and dogs made from clay in case of the latter), the 39-year-old artist creates his large-scale works in his studio in Mumbai, which are then transported to the city he is showing in. Much of his art has found a home in collections of museums such as The National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi), Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), Singapore Art Museum, The Saatchi Gallery (London) and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, in Japan.