Against the backdrop of a well-lit, swanky Marks and Spencer showroom stands a fish, cordoned off but bang in the middle of a crowded passage through which scattered crowds pass by every minute.
The fish has plastic bottles for its scales and a styrofoam plate for an eye. Patches of blue peep from its feeble brown skin that is made of cloth. One of the many such surprising finds at VR Chennai’s vast corridors, the fish is artist Karthikeyan’s attempt at portraying sustainability in a tangible manner. Another is the authoritative human figure (with folded hands) made entirely with a wooden chequerboard. On him are pawns, some on the verge of being knocked over, while others stuck firmly to his body. This creation of artist Yuvaraj Velu, the Strategist, thus explores the universal phenomena of good and evil.
The second edition of Madras Art Guild is a collaborative effort mounted on a scale larger than the previous year’s, with art works and installations flanking every 100 metres of the mall’s ground floor. Centered around the theme of sustainability, the public art initiative, which will span over a month, is an attempt at making art accessible for artists and connoisseurs alike, and encourages active participation of the student community across Tamil Nadu, along with veteran artists. The installations, designed to invite passers-by to engage with them, are often met with confused faces, who finally resort to clicking selfies. Many linger while some miss them altogether. However, the idea welcomes people from all walks of life to stop, take a pause and reflect. Which is also why they are not distanced from the viewer through vitrines or encasements. Though cordoned off, viewers are expected to approach and observe them closely.
While the ground floor is dotted by installations from collectives, art students and veteran artists alike, the Fine Art Room in Madras House displays the canvases and paintings. “It is incredible how all the artists who have participated have come onboard with the theme,” says curator Sumi Gupta, adding, “Not just in terms of the concept, but in terms of materials — made from found objects, brick, wood, garbage and so on.”
Another idea was to expand the spectrum of art by going beyond fine art and installations, and to include a fashion show featuring ‘wearable art’ by students of National Institute of Fashion Technology. These creations will later be displayed on mannequins as part of the festival. “Other than the fine art, sculptures and installations, we will be having art cinema screenings and conducting workshops for children and adults, all centered around this topical theme,” says Sumi.
A lot of collaborations this year were born out of the response received last year, she adds. Premier institutions like the Government College of Fine Arts in Chennai, College of Fine Arts in Kumbakonam, Cholamandal Artists’ Village and Chennai Photo Biennale have come onboard with students’ and alumni contributions. Indian Garbage Collective, a team of young artists who collects junk and transforms them into installations — imagine a dragonfly, whose parts are made from discarded PVC pipes — has displayed quite a few works. These installations stand alongside works of reputed artists like Seema Kohli, Parvathi Nayar, Jacob Jebaraj and Michael Wegener.
“Traditionally, art is restricted to galleries, and is associated with socialising. We are trying to break that notion. Public art has the ability to transform the environment. Whether you like it or not, you will still have a reaction to it. In that sense, having such a venue, and the space that comes with it, is important,” says Sumi.
The idea is to engage with the art, in a way that every single viewer finds comfortable. But does the essence of an artwork get lost in the chaos associated with the space? “On the contrary, I think it gets magnified. Amidst the noise, you can concentrate on an element of beauty, thought and craftsmanship where you least expect it. In a gallery, you are almost desensitised. Here, it wows you,” she adds.
Madras Art Guild will be on view till February 23 at VR Chennai. For details about upcoming events, visit vrchennai.com