When you enter Kiran Nadar Museum of Art's latest exhibition, Delirium/Equilibrium, on video, film and kinetic artworks from the museum’s collection, prepare to be besieged by a sense of uncertainty and displacement. Bukowski's book title Tales of Ordinary Madness might flash through your mind's eye—not because the show recreates wild and weird stories from a city's dark underbelly, but because it feels like an apt description to simplify a group of bewildering works which play on light, sound, shadow, noise and speech/moving objects, images and gibberish. The result is a strange, funny, complex techno-dystopic maze stretching into the inner reaches of a dark and semi-dark gallery. The experience can only be equated to wandering lost and confused in a cavernous hideout, but persisting all the same for the many fascinating finds its many nooks and crevices hold.
As curator Roobina Karode explains in her note, "The world today is disenchanting and distraught, yet alluring and demanding, desiring poise and equilibrium." The show wants to respond to our collective drive towards "mechanisation, technology and and scientific knowledge", and the need to construct new architectonic forms in a “rewiring of the world”. But could this assemblage of disconcerting animation works, mechanised objects, echoing speeches of leaders and quiet, determined acts of resistance as performance, also speak to the dizzying political and social climate of absurd priorities and cacophonous disinformation? Or is this the future trajectory of art, when new media will more prominently collaborate, intervene and upstage in an age of post-human development? With another mainstream gallery (Nature Morte) in Delhi already hosting a show on art and artificial intelligence, this merits some contemplation.
The exhibition presents a selection of interdisciplinary explorations, including Nalini Malani’s experimental films produced in 1969-73 during the seminal Vision Exchange Workshop, Amar Kanwar’s Such a Morning, co-produced with the Kiran Nadar Museum Art, and Naeem Mohaiemen’s Two Meetings and a Funeral (first shown at Documenta 17, Kassel). There are works which are on show in India for the first time. Among the many curiosities, there's an eight-channel video installation, 45 feet long projection, an 85-minute long film and a 24-feet table-top scattered with kinetic objects whirring, screeching and jangling like on opera of machines. Essential viewing among the 16 artists participating in this exciting new exhibition include:
The video work Forest has characters and figures perform ostensibly random acts in the strange wilderness of a fogged-out forest. Pieces from the video include a self-flagellating old man, a lion guarding a book-shelf on fire, lost limbs growing back, a young boy coming under a hail of arrows etc. "These disconnected metaphoric events look like fragments of a lingering dream, guiding one into the interiority of wakefulness, as if experiencing epiphanies of a restive mind... the viewer is invited to be an actor and a part of this dreaming body-apparatus itself," is the official explanation from Kaleka. Very David Lynch.
The South African artist has created a playful, immersive installation in I am not me, the horse is not mine, a Russian proverb which indicates denial of guilt and responsibility. The phrase is also mentioned on the transcript of the session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, spoken by a Bolshevik revolutionary. Well versed in Russian modernism, Kentridge has installed eight projections in digital HD, 2K and 4K video to "build a bridge between the absurdism of Russian author Nikolai Gogol and the avant-gardism of Dmitri Shostakovich’s operatic adaptation of The Nose (1928)". The large projection room becomes a 360 degree blur of comical black and white images with chairs placed on the carpeted floor to bask in the social and military shenanigans of Tsarist Russia. The films which constitute the whole artwork are titled as His Majesty Comrade Nose, Prayers of Apology, A Lifetime of Enthusiasm, Country Dances I (Shadow), Country Dances II (Paper), That Ridiculous Blank Space Again (A One-Minute Love Story), Commissariat for Enlightenment and The Horse is Not Mine
The table-top installation titled Small, Medium but not Large has an array of broken gadgets, mechanical spare parts, scrap and home appliances, including a deliciously red rotary phone. These junk machines are rearranged to perform "a delirious opera", a 30 minute interactive soundscape. It is meant to recall the peculiar protagonist of Ritwik Ghatak’s film Ajantrik, who becomes attached to a car like a friend. Kaushik further stretches this unusual friendship by romanticising the do-it-yourself approach, where the focus is on scrambled parts, exhorting us to reject "our fetish with the finished product".
Pakistani-American contemporary artist Shahzia Sikander’s Parallax is an experience in itself. Originally created for the 2013 Sharjah Biennale, and borne out of her road trip through UAE, this large video installation consists of hundreds of watercolor, gouache and ink paintings, with traditional Indo-Persian miniatures, all interwoven with drawing and animation into a three-channel immersive artwork. The haunting music score is specially done by Chinese composer Du Yun who mixes new poetic compositions in classical and colloquial Arabic by three contemporary Sharjah poets. The result is a tense, eerie slow-burn sound art which features many ant-like creatures on video. The power tensions surrounding the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important transit chokepoint for crude oil exports in the Middle East, is the more immediate inspiration behind the breathtaking Parallax.
Choksi's Iceboat is an uncomfortably powerful performance art. Dressed as a devotee of an imaginary sect in plastic white dress, with her head shaven, Choksi rows a boat of solid ice on Lake Pawna, near Lonavala in Maharashtra, until it completely melts, releasing her into the depths. This hour-long performance was captured in a single shot and attempts to interpret the commonly used dictum ‘stay afloat’.
The exhibition Delirium//Equilibrium is on view till 30 October at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi.