A glittering glass skyline is an aspirational aesthetic. Most commercial buildings want to project modernity and urbanization of the glass-and-chrome kind. These slim, tall shimmery glasshouses are the future of cities, they want to tell us. It is only when we witness Pooja Iranna's sculptural musings in columns and columns of staple pins that the stark, cold sameness of our big-city experience hits us in the gut.
By building upon stacks and stacks of staple pins one over the other for more than three years at a stretch, the artist's recently concluded exhibition at the Bikaner House in Delhi sought to highlight the "psychogeography" of mindlessly constructed urban spaces. Pooja Iranna's "Silently, A Proposed Plan for Re-Thinking the Urban Fabric", along with Nataraj Sharma's 'Travel Log' was the first India show of New-York based Aicon art gallery outside of India Art Fair.
Using her most preferred medium of staple pins, apart from watercolours, ink, polyester film, photographs and a wooden box with puzzle pieces, Iranna had recreated an urban agglomeration of shiny, speckle-free monotony and claustrophobia. In one separate room of the new wing of Bikaner House, an exhibit titled "Assorted Aggregation" had sets of nine big drawings of rectangular buildings sandwiched between plastic and acrylic sheets hanging from the ceiling. Going around these sheets, with white lines crisscrossing its surface, one emerges unsettled and wobbly. A set of ninety buildings, built solely with staple pins bound together with a special glue, was amplified with mirrors in another section of the gallery, giving the impression of seamless, thoughtless, chilling expansion. To the common man, this could be New York, Hong Kong, China, Dubai or DLF, until they realize it is no longer pretty. In "Squeezed" which took four years to make, the same staples are tightly packed, honeycomb-like, as if these shiny buildings have closed in on our thoughts and emotions, choking us into despair.
And Iranna hasn't tried to embed elements of rebirth or renewal in this endless desert of glass and concrete sprouting. "Right now there is no hope. I want to place this reckless growth as a serious problem to the extent that you have to feel suffocated," says Iranna who has been articulating urban degradation with staple pins for more than 10 years now. "Unless and until we human beings don't reach the edge, we don't react. The coronavirus that has come about is a reaction to many many things, it just didn't come in a day. Till we reach a calamity, we are not ready to change ourselves," Irrana sounds a note of warning drawing attention to our complacency and how things tend to revert to an older, simpler way of living.
"Silently..." was last on view on 18 March