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Artist Mukesh Sharma creates a first-of-its-kind site specific art project using computer junk and other found material.
It’s easily one of the most unusual settings for an art project where an under-construction site in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area becomes the muse for Delhi-based artist Mukesh Sharma. The project is unique in several other ways too. Apart from being a site-specific project that successfully creates an alternative to counter the rigidity of a gallery space, it is the product of a five-month-long intense collaboration and deliberation between Sharma and project curator Unnati Singh who is herself an artist of repute. Indeed, it’s a curatorial venture with a difference, as Singh has been part of every stage of the art production process since its very beginning. Also, what is special is that the material Sharma uses is mostly junk computer components like keyboards, monitors and computer chips which forces us to think of the complexity of recycling the non-biodegradable and the environmental hazard created by the redundancy of technology.
So, when the project - titled A Terabyte-ing Serpentine - opens at Sharma’s on-site studio at 105, Behind Sector D-2, in Vasant Kunj on July 24, for a month long viewing till August 24, one will get to see a studio space like none before. The art he has created inside the studio space is equally ambitious in scale. An inverted tree covered with computer keys, junk computer monitors transformed into planters, a wall size mural of Sharma’s village temple, a serpentine installation of keyboards and digital prints and a three-dimensional painting doubling up like a computer monitor – this is just a peep into Sharma’s fascinating world of art which is beyond market and economic pressures.
For instance, the installation titled Inverted search for immortality is a dead tree Sharma found at the site itself. Installed upside down from the ceiling, Sharma has stuck thousands of computer keys on the dried out braches of the tree creating faux branches that reach out towards the ground like complex, tortuous arms. Says the 39-year-old artist who did his MFA in printmaking from MS University, Baroda: “I have been developing with the imagery of computer and its components in my mixed media installations, paintings and digital prints for the last four years. However, this is not a vindication of the infinite monkey theorem, there are no random hits on composition but a very deliberate construction of what I see around me. But now I have taken the idea several steps forward for this project. The idea is how we are enslaved by technology and how this simple keyboard button is taking over our lives. Rapid technology change and its outpourings alter the aesthetics of a society. In this context, it is becoming increasingly important for me as an artist to synthesize global visuals into a local vocabulary. In my journey from rural India to its rich, sinister urban cousins, I have encountered the rapid wipe out of the local art traditions and their morphing into something totally different from the way my art aesthetics were. I have always responded to art and visuals with naivety of my personal intellect. To me, art has appealed when it was totally shorn off pretences and evoked a child-like wonder and delight in me. I look around me at skyscrapers and digital billboards with the same sense of amazement as I once did while looking at my village temple or the monstrous looking aerial roots of the tree in its chaupal and the vibrant colours of clothes village women wore. My current collaborative work is an attempt to create a synthesis of my experiences of technology with my surroundings - those of my past with those of my present.”
Adds curator Unnati Singh: “Science has allowed man’s knowledge of the world to make its way up like an endless serpentine. With one invention being replaced by another in a blink-and-miss nano-second, the junk that is created is often ghastly. In Sharma’s work, he is creating the image he perceives of this vicious cycle, like some hieroglyphic symbols of the absolute. The keyboard like a serpent has entered our lives and is eating up our life, becoming much more than just a thing of usability. The way keys are taking us into a new virtual world, Sharma’s work is a new direction of seeing the real in site specificity and art that goes beyond. We also believe that the best place for presenting the work is the place it’s been produced.”
In the same room, on a wall behind the inverted tree, Sharma hangs a huge wall-sized hand-stitched blouse as a memory of his village ritual where women would throw their blouses on a tree after fulfilment of a wish. “I had visited my village in Rajasthan three years ago and happened to see this ritual outside the village temple. The imagery stayed with me and I have used this to co-relate the changes technology has brought forth even in my small village yet where life seems to sail smoothly because of simplicity of faith. It’s also a statement of how I am talking about technology but not using it for my work,” says Sharma. In an adjoining room, a video installation will take viewers through the intricate process of stitching the blouse but what will make the work interactive is when viewers will be encouraged to throw digital prints of blouses on to the tree installation as if creating a wish tree of their own.
Next to the video is one of the most intriguing works by Sharma. Titled Botanic monomania, this work is a collection of nine junk computer monitors whose top has been severed to sprout money plants. Says Singh: “These plants have grown to full height in the last five months since the project was initiated. This work forces us to think about recycling the non-biodegradable and the environmental hazards we live in. Also the artist’s aesthetics with the junk and the organic redefines the objects we see everyday and also beyond being ready made. This work also extends into an illustration and manual of how to make a planter out of junk monitors.”
In the far end of the same room hangs Sharma’s three-dimensional painting titled Chip on the Shoulder where a few men ride on horses adorned with intricately painted computer keys and chips. “Galloping into the world of technology seems easy but it’s a big chip to carry,” chuckles Sharma, while one admires the intricacy of multitudes of computer keys that have been stuck around the paintings to create a 3-D computer monitor effect.
The show stopper in the project, however, is the eponymous installation that occupies one whole room. Titled A Terabyte-ing Serpentine, the work is made of thousands of pieces o keyboards and their digital drawings that have been stuck together to entwine the whole room like a serpent. “The work alludes to a movement that is unseen, a ghost of a movement, creating patterns with the mind, digging its fangs into the nerves that rule the mankind, numbing the senses that question its path. Humanity is in the grip of this serpent getting twisted with each nanosecond. Junk keyboards are a reminder of how each time a new invention happens so much becomes obsolete and how we have to deal with this monstrous serpent that has entered our lives,” explains Singh.
As curator Unnati Singh wraps up: “If one sees in isolation, each component in Sharma’s work will be dead - or perhaps, on the contrary, down to the tiniest elements will display the same characteristic of the complete finished work. And these characteristics are produced by the interaction of opposed principles. They define, hyperbolise and transform the dialectical embryo of danger threatening not just the society but humanity.”
And yet, Sharma’s work is a thing of beauty, with each work carrying a mystical element that defines both life and decay.