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Interview with Shilpa Gupta

by ArtNow


Someone Else - A library of 100 books written anonymously or under pseudonyms.S.S etched books, 2011-2013. 192x8.5x72 in.

ArtNow: Can you please discuss the concept, background, context and the process of your work from the Sharjah Biennale?

Shilpa Gupta: Someone Else in an art project comprising one hundred books which have been written anonymously or under pen names over the past two centuries. Engraved in stainless steel, a method reserved for inscribing identities in museums or at entrance doors of homes, on the shelves lie some of the oldest book covers with their false names which had been purposefully taken by the writer, along with different reasons for doing so.

Be it to conceal one’s gender, often that of a woman and sometimes of a man too, or to avoid persecution by one’s own country, or for love and approval of the family, or to write in a language one knows best, for fear of being labelled the ‘mad’ protagonist, or to publish a rejected book or simply to explore multiple selves or to publish a rejected work, writers have sought freedom in being someone else.

The missing body below the book covers echo half-truths, becoming a register of impositions, vulnerabilities and fears associated by the very first introduction of the self – a name.

Someone Else.

AN: Do you think that works can reach an audience from a diversity of backgrounds, such as visitors at international shows? And how necessary do you think the local context is in deciphering an art work?

SG: No audience in any location is homogeneous and every city is comprised of small groups who are more familiar with the language of art than larger groups. In fact the ‘international’ group of visitors are the ones who are most interested and they are more likely to decipher the works than the wider local audience.

In fact, I have seen few artworks which have the ability to be understood by everyone. Just like not everyone in the world speaks in one language, so also in art, there are local codifications but these are hardly restricted to nationality. In this highly globalised world the local is not based on geography but on access.

In large scale public shows which are meant to attract a diverse group, the balance then rests with the curator as to if she/he would like to include works that are understood and also those push understanding and curiosity. Sometimes to not know it all is also a way of learning – and what works for me is a balance between ‘know it all’ and ‘not know at all’.

In several countries in Asia, where there exists a large gap in distribution of artworks in public spaces, it is normal for someone who has never previously been exposed to any art to be stumped with so much work in an unfamiliar language. But today’s art more than ever is aware of this and artists are using various tools, everyday material, language and methods to address these gaps in translation.

BlameInteractive Installation. 2002-04.
ThreatBathing Soaps, 2008-09. 5.9x2.5x1.6 in .
24:00:01. Motion Flapboard, 2012. 19min loop. 70x10x11 in

AN: In your own work, you think it is important to remember the local link, or it can belong to a world wider than regional boundaries and national borders?

SG: As mentioned in my previous answer, the local is not based primarily on geography. My own context is in the experience of the urban which in today’s world not dominated by national or regional codes. I employ a lot of text in my work which has freely translated in different languages. Another work, where I ask people to draw maps of their country have been shown in very different countries for which have received strong reactions – there is no need to restrict oneself and there is no one way of working. There can be artists whose works are extremely embedded in local histories and there are works which have something universal in them. What’s important is the context and the sensitivity with which they are shared.

AN: From an early stage you have been making works which were different from a conventional definition of an art work produced in the studio and displayed in the gallery. On the contrary, they deal with social issues in a language that does not belong to the conventional vocabulary of art. How did turn happen?

SG: When I started my early experiments with mediums from everyday life in the early 1990s, I was unaware of movements in the West which also employ of lot of ready-mades. Not much information was available freely those days. I was then and even now interested in what we see around us and how we make sense of it, and what is around us, and for this I had to use the very medium that contained and transmitted these.

[L-R] There is No Explosive in This. Mumbai Airport
Interactive Installation and Photographs. 2007.  

AN: In the context of your own practice, do you think the formal language is linked to the content of the work? And both are inseparable?

SG: The formal language is of course most important and inseparable to the work.

AN: If so, what emerges first, idea or its form?

SG: Could be either – both preceded by an emotion. And all three are integral to the process and making of any work.

AN: in your work you seek to critique the constructs of Truth, the act of blaming others and the differences between insiders and outsiders? Do you think these issues are still relevant in an age that is being transformed with the advent, spread and effect of global media?

SG: If we look around ourselves or even turn on or log into global media, there is a lot of play of meaning taking place.

AN: The media plays an important part in your work, as well as the participation of the viewers. Do you believe that an art work is created by its maker or is completed by its consumers?

SG: The artist who is the producer is also the viewer.

AN: Can you please comment upon the popularity, prestige and participation of Indian art and artists in world art. Do you think it is a long-lasting phenomenon or a temporary phase?

SG: It seems like a temporary phase.

AN: Thank you for sharing your valuable ideas with us.

Shadow 3. Interactive video projection incorporating the 
viewer's simulated shadow, 2007.

Speaking Wall. Interactive Sensor Based Sound Installation
LCD screen, Bricks, Headphone, 2009-2010. 8min interaction loop

 

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