What is it that makes me ‘me’ and you ‘you'? Broken down to the basic unit, rounded off to the last decimal point, what of us will remain if our being, this Sisyphean burden we bear daily, is removed quite out of the blue? A few strands of hair on the bed we sleep in, the smell of skin under the sheets, our well dug footprints on the soles of shoes, tossed indelicately once beyond the familiar threshold of home.
And perhaps a note. Poignant in its brevity and aptly mystifying.
But will these things, this ‘stuff’ essentially, knickknacks which we lend meaning to and which lend meaning to us, finally be enough to accumulate and reconstruct ‘me’ in my absence? Can the book I left unfinished and the music I left playing be added and multiplied and divided to give the audience (strangers who will walk into my house while I am gone and try and sniff me out) a clear picture of who I think I am? Or will they notice the chair for the chair, the windows for the window and in their unfeeling incapacity to gauge meaning in my things render me meaningless?
Gautam Bhatia, The Good Life, Poster colours on wood, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and The Loft At Lower Parel
Before everything else ‘Reconstructing (White)3’, at the Loft Lower Parel, is a story, scattered in bits and waiting for you to come along and put it all together. The premise is simple yet effective. The recently redone gallery space is rearranged in the form of a young girl’s studio apartment, perfectly plausible with its spiffy looking sitting space, the tiny (but effective) kitchenette and that rather enviable bedroom against large slanting windows. The Loft is built into the ghostly remains of what was once the Mathuradas Mills and the nostalgia of the structure blends well with the melancholia of an abandoned home. And this feels like an abandoned home, you sense just as you realize you are tiptoeing around the gallery, like an uninvited stranger in an empty apartment, significantly intrigued by your surrounding but afraid of being discovered and asked to leave.
If you admit to it, the sense of walking around in somebody else’s house in their absence has its obvious thrills. As a child I remember relishing the feeling of intruding into the medicine cabinets of people’s homes I visited. The unabashed pleasures that only childhood can grant you led me to the discovery of the pure joy of rubbing on lotions and spraying on perfumes in a stranger’s washroom, the one place in someone else’s house that you were likely to be confidently alone in. The sweet taste of guilt and voyeuristic intimacy that I felt then, unknowingly, returned as I scrutinized corner after corner at the (White)3.
Praneet Soi, Untitled, Detail, Drawing on paper, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and The Loft At Lower Parel
The chilling reality of the bed and its crumpled disorderliness furthered the sensation. ‘Someone was here, here where I am sitting now, reading this book that I now hold, and she isn’t here anymore,’ I was telling myself. It is perhaps because we carry deep within us the inevitable possibility and fear of sudden obliteration that abrupt conclusions excite us the most. It is because we want to be remembered and felt even when absent that the absent becomes the focus of all our remembrances. As I sat there glancing through the bookshelf trying to understand an imaginary being through her taste in literature, I tried to ignore the eeriness that was beginning to give me goose bumps. What paced up my heartbeat further was the slight but effective sound loop that had been playing discreetly in the background but which I had so far been able to ignore.
The music was coming from artist Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s beautifully carved, marble bioscope that sat, ingenuously, in a corner, almost out of sight. Once you spotted it and put your eye on it, as expected, you were transported as if in a swish of a wand from that once-warehouse-now-gallery-but-presently-home-in-Mumbai scenario to glimpses of yet other cities, other homes, some utterly familiar, others equally foreign. For a moment that lasts an eternity you are consumed by that box and you are your eye and no sensation apart from all that you see registers or makes sense. And as you take your eyes off it you swing dangerously in between places, in between homes. That odd collage of music which you can still hear, a few notes of jazz, an old Bangla song that reminds you of evening, quickly fades into the background once again. It drifts in and out of the home you stand in, incongruously charming, as music floating in through the window tends to be.
And just as you began humming the familiar tune, unaware, finally at ease alone in a stranger’s home, a snippet of sound from the bioscope, this time the tinkling cascade of metal, makes you start. You turn around in taut anticipation, convinced that someone has walked through the door and flung her keys on the floor.
(Image on top: Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Untitled, 2012, Mixed Media; Courtesy of the artist and The Loft At Lower Parel)