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Artworks Have their Own Way of Reaching Out: Jitish Kallat

Kochi: Artworks have their own way of reaching out beyond the scope of what the artist might conceive or perceive for them, said celebrated artist Jitish Kallat.

Kallat, who took part in a ‘Let’s Talk’ event organised by Kochi Biennale Foundation on Sunday, discussed, with an audience at Pepper House, his work over the past decade. Along with outlining his creative process, the artist linked each body of work to larger ideas he was exploring, and how they led to the next creative idea.

Kallat, curator of ‘Whorled Explorations’ the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014, takes on the very different role of participating artist in the upcoming edition of the Biennale – one in the wide-ranging list of names announced by the Kochi Biennale Foundation in June.

The artist began with ‘Epilogue’, created in 2010. Frames upon frames of lunar calendars appear to be depicted, displayed side-by-side in the gallery space. Kallat explained that every frame represents a lunar month, with the precise phases corresponding to years of dates in the twentieth-century. A closer viewing reveals that every “moon” is, in fact, a photograph of a Roti in various stages of being eaten.

“There’s continuous play of luminosity and darkness, abundance and dearth, that continues through the work until it draws to a close. And each of these months are dated below. It’s actually every single moon that my father saw in the 63 years of his life,” he revealed.

In another work, titled ‘Trilogy of Public Notice’, Kallat rewrote the famous speech of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘Tryst with Destiny’, as a burnt text on a warped mirror. The viewer was invited to read Nehru’s famous words and see, at the same time, their distorted reflection between each letter, implicating and involving them in the historical moment.

Four years later, In ‘Public Notice 2,’ Kallat reproduced, in large-scale, Mahatma Gandhi’s Speech during the inaugural moment of the Dandi March in 1930. “Each letter was recreated and, at a distance, looked like chalk writing on a wall. But only when you go closer, the letter appears to be a fossilised form.” In fact, each letter is individually crafted to evoke a white skeletal or bone-like form.

“It was likely that [Gandhi] could be assassinated or arrested which would lead to a massive break-out. But as a pre-emptive gesture, he called for a complete non-violence with complete non-cooperation, civil disobedience with total restraint. It seemed to me like just the opposite of the inflamed rhetoric that surrounds the world today. When nation wants to settle terror, they apply a war on terror – terror on terror,” he said.

Through the installation ‘Public Notice 3’ (2009), exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 11, 2010 to 2011, Kallat had connected events separated by large swaths of time – in particular, Swami Vivekananda’s speech delivered at the First World Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893, and the World Trade Centre attack on the same day 108 years later.

Kallat is on a preparatory trip and site-visit in Kochi before the opening of the Biennale in December. He expressed that he was excited to be reunited with Kochi-Muziris Biennale in a different context. “It’s like nine months of memories cascading through one’s mind.”

The Mumbai-based artist’s works have been shown both nationally and internationally, with solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago (2010), Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney (2015), and National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi last year. Kallat has also exhibited at a number of biennials including those in Havana, Gwangju, and Kiev.

The fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, curated by Anita Dube, opens on December 12, 2018 and runs through March 29, 2019.

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