A cloudburst of peace, harmony

For those of us who were not yet born or were lucky enough to be away from Hiroshima or Nagasaki on that catastrophic day in August 1945 when America tested its first atomic bomb, a mushroom cloud evokes distant images of a massive cloud of smoke that we have seen mostly on the Internet, television or magazines. But what if this mushroom clo-ud is re-created in the mid-st of a shopping mall? And with thousands of ordinary cooking utensils at that?

One of India’s leading contemporary artists, Subodh Gupta’s monumental sculptural installation called Line of Control was unveiled by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) at the DLF South Court Mall, Saket, in New Delhi on April 20. Measuring a staggering 36x36 feet and weighing 26 tonnes, Line of Control is one of India’s largest public installations. The giant mushroom-shaped cloud, which alludes to the debris resulting from a large nuclear explosion, is entirely made up of stainless steel utensils — tiffin boxes, bowls, pans, thalis, spoons — and is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The Line of Control was earlier exhibited at the Tate Triennial at Tate Britain, an art gallery in London, in 2009. One can only guess what it took to transport such a gargantuan piece of work from the UK, crossing as many borders. Interestingly, thus the name Line of Control. The artist chooses this intriguing title to invent poetic metaphors that may refer to contrary realities of prosperity and uncertainty — of excess and loss.
“Every country from Bosnia to Kashmir has a line of control. My work depicts the cloud of smoke that results from an atomic explosion. I believe the government should have control over this kind of nuclear energy rather than controlling borders. Hence, I thought the name Line of Control would be very apt. But this is a literal way to see the work. From an artistic point of view, every painting or sculpture that I make has a line too, and it is controlled. So there are many and not just one connotation attached to Line of Control,” Gupta says.

He uses kitchen utensils in this work to represent a cloudburst of another kind — of prosperity, peace and harmony — to a world blindly rushing to the brink of self-annihilation.

Kiran Nadar, chairperson, KNMA, says, “Line of Control is not merely unique and rare, but brings a whole set of new challenges for the museum in terms of installing, maintenance and storage. When I first saw the installation at Tate, I was overwhelmed and that impact has stayed with me. I am happy we are making it accessible for people to experience this.”

By incorporating everyday objects of Indian life, Gupta produces sculptures that reflect the economic transformation of his homeland and which relate to his own memories and experiences. “I come from a Hindu family. As a child, I was not allowed to go to the kitchen wearing shoes or sandals. There were many other rituals that had to be followed. For instance, I was not allowed to touch the herbs and spices without washing my hands. This makes a Hindu kitchen very sacred, just like a temple,” he explains.

The Line of Control is another proud addition to the KNMA’s 100-plus private collection. “I believe among all the metropolises in the country, Delhi has the worst awareness levels in art and it’s not just the youth, but a cross spectrum of people. I hope whatever we have started bears fruit and more people in the city get interested in art,” says Nadar.

Monday, April 23, 2012