A Metal Playground: Visiting Amin Gulgee’s Studio


A Metal Playground: Visiting Amin Gulgee’s Studio

No one, other than his assistants, are allowed inside Amin Gulgee’s workshop. It is his realm, where he alone must be the thinker and the maker. The W

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No one, other than his assistants, are allowed inside Amin Gulgee’s workshop. It is his realm, where he alone must be the thinker and the maker. The Willy Wonka of his factory, and perhaps just as eccentric, Amin chooses to unveil his masterpieces only once they complete.
Amin’s studio is situated between a busy hospital and the forted Bilawal House in the Clifton area of Karachi. Hidden within the compound, amidst concrete constructions and under shades of Banyan trees is an iron gate adorned with green and amber glass bottles, ceramic pots of various shapes and sizes, tiny mirrors and a robust lock.
He held the lock in his hand and introduced me to all that looms beyond- a place apart that exists in its own world; where anything can happen.
“There are two sides to my life,” says Amin, “The act of living, which I find very strange, and the act of making work, which is what interests me. This is why there is always a lock in my workspace,” he explains.
He recalls how his late father, renowned artist Ismail Gulgee, would advise him to only show him work after its complete. “You cannot be a student forever. At a certain point you have to let go,” he would say to his son.
Thus, Amin enters his workshop everyday with complete uncertainty. He doesn’t just oversee the work; his experience inside his workspace is very pure. Hands on objects are created, destroyed and scattered all about, as he constructs his exceptionally intense, grand sculptures.
One is most often likely to find Amin covered in grease, spread all over his work, hammers and grinders in vigorous operation, as FM 89 blares in the background morning till dusk. Something is being built while another is broken down. And as new works replace old ones, Amin’s studio is constantly pulsating with a hard-to-miss energy, similar to that of the artist himself.
He sees his studio as a space of possibility and play where one has to be involved with the process of work in order to inspire ideas. He does not draw on paper; instead, his entire work process can be described as a drawing. Nothing is pre-meditated, for the most constructive things take place in interstitial spaces when least expected. Instead of engineering outcomes, Amin focuses on finding solutions and making ways through chance procedures and occurrences. Sometimes a series being worked on continues endlessly and the sculptures keep on increasing in scale. As ideas appear and materialize, work is constantly being pushed backward or pulled to the fore.
He talks about how the workshop always entering the realm of performance. Amin’s performances, often radical and extraordinary were initially worked out or rehearsed in the workshop; whereby the space would be packed with fashion models while objects and sculptures featuring in the act where simultaneously being crafted within.
Set up in 1995 by the artist himself, Amin’s workshop is maintained on two floors- of which the second story was added in 1999.While a majority of the production takes place on the upper level, the ground floor is divided into rooms or enclosures where his materials are stored. Scrapped metal melted into odd shapes, bottles, work boots, boxes, crates and barrels containing old works, equipment and material are placed here and there. All in all, Amin’s entire workshop places the invisible circumstances behind every art production onto the foreground.
Taking each day as it comes, Amin stays inspired. “My life is full of accidents,” he says.
In fact, as a student, he never wanted to be a studio artist. He graduated from the Yale University with a double major in Economics and Art History. Fate had it play such that today, Amin is a renowned artist, performer, curator and jewelry designer. After returning to Karachi, he began his practice as a sculptor, working mostly with cooper and bronze because of their everlasting quality.
Interestingly, before his studio came into function, Amin claims to have acquired his skill off the road – working in car service workshops on Jail Road, Karachi. It was there that the artist practiced processes such as welding, buffing, etching and so on. Using these skills, Amin not only let creative energy and ideas take physical form but also used them to train and guide his assistants. The five assistants who work closely with Amin were not taken as artisans. Instead, the artist trained and coached them from scratch. One of his assistants was initially hired as a chauffeur. “I recognise their potential and then expect everything from them,” says Amin. While all of the assistants play an important role in the work process of his art, to Amin they are also acquiring knowledge that they could further exercise elsewhere.
It would be hard to visit the workshop and not notice its steely character. Metal of all sorts is sprawled all over the place. Stretched out in every nook and corner is heaps of tools and equipment alongside gas cylinders, gloves and goggles. The studio is solid while at the same time organic. Furnished with cage-like shelves and a spread of sturdy tables, the workshop is organised, yet chaotic. It’s active even when no work is taking place. It’s a playground, but also a battlefield.
“This is why I don’t bathe in the morning,” he mentions while talking about his work routine and use of material. “I like to create a mess in my studio and then lie with it.”
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