The Transforming State

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© Courtesy of Religare Arts Initiative
The Transforming State

D3 PB3 District Centre
Ground Floor
110 017 Saket
New Delhi
August 10th, 2010 - August 31st, 2010
Opening: August 10th, 2010 10:00 AM - 11:00 PM

+91 11 3912 6922
Mon-Sat 10-8


Locating Change

“With the new Delhi the problem is far different

[compared here to the building of the new Australian

capital]. The site itself is part of an architectural

palimpsest older and more moving than any in the world

excepting Rome.”

-[Excerpted from an article by Herbert Baker for the Times,

London, 03 October 1912]

Sumakshi writes: Co-mentor Paola Cabal and I have been driving from Gurgaon

to Connaught Place and back every day for the past two months. She usually

looks keenly out of the window. Once, I asked what she was looking for. She

said “Just the everyday sights- the usual, you know -that’s what my work is

based on. The problem is,” she adds laughing “I never seem to see the same

thing here twice- it changes overnight!” In the conversation that ensued we

agreed that the degree of upheaval we were witnessing in the visual landscape

around us was normally seen in post-disaster environments: this could be

New Orleans, post Katrina or even earthquake-affected Haiti. We considered

the eventual impact that this devastated landscape would have on the

psychological landscape of its inhabitants, within the context of the foremost

thing on our minds: the rapid transformations it was currently effecting in the

works of all our resident artists.

In February of 2010, I had an exciting meeting with the arts.i team. They told

me about “TheWhyNotPlace” residency and asked if I would like to propose

a theme and mentor the residency this year. I was tremendously excited and

promptly initiated a conversation about “The Transforming State” of Delhi

and “what did it say about us?” Together we created an application form and

decided to open this year’s call for entries to artists worldwide. We felt that

Delhi could use the infusion of newer, expanded strategies of art making,

enriching the current dialogue. As we finalized the nuances of the theme, it

The Transforming State

occurred to me that I knew the perfect person to co-mentor this residency

with me: my friend and fellow artist, Paola Cabal. Her own practice spring

boards off her insightful observations of subtly transforming environments

(using changing sunlight patterns, shadows and transitional structures like

scaffolding), that I have seen her throw generous bucket-loads of into her

teaching practice at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where we

were colleagues. The arts.i team looked at her work and résumé and promptly

agreed to bring in this resource; she has proven critical to the highly satisfying

level of dialogue that the residency engaged in.

In March, a call for entries was put out. A few short weeks later almost 300

artists worldwide chose to respond to these investigations of the “Transforming

State” through proposals in video, photography, writing, painting, sculpting,

installing & performing! Opening the emails every day with great anticipation, I

would find idea after idea, critique after critique, all asking the same questions,

each coloured by the individual vantage point of its artist. Artists that have

been in Delhi their whole lives: living the change, those that had intermittently

visited: witnessing the change, artists that had never been to India and were locating

these changes in a theoretical context. A jury comprising of G.R.Iranna, George

Martin, Megha Joshi, Gulrukh Parmar and I viewed and listened, argued and

agreed until we came up with our final sixteen.

A month of online mentoring followed. Layer by layer Paola and I got to

know the incoming resident artists. Our first contact was through their

portfolios of manifested ideas. This is a deeply quiet introduction to someone.

Then we read their words about their ideas. Their natures and interests began

to reveal themselves. We looked at where they were from; they were bodies

located in a context. Then we emailed the artists. Energy started stirring.

Thoughts started exchanging themselves. These bodies were alive! It was a

bit of a jarring realization! Then we spoke on the phone. Their personalities

started revealing themselves. Responses became immediate and concepts

speedily grew. When we finally met them it was strange to put a voice & body

to the carriers of these ideas we had been so intensely engaged with for two


We would like to thank arts.i for this incredible adventure of deep discovery

and absolute madness. This has truly been a deeply enriching, 360 degree

experience of jurying and mentoring the artists, curating the show, writing

and designing the catalogue, organizing events, talks and field trips, initiating

new points of contact with Delhi, doing interviews with journalists and

exploring wonderful, untapped potentials.

Paola writes: The last time I’d been to New Delhi was in December and

January of 2007-08. There had been a lot of excitement even then about the

Commonwealth Games of 2010: various projects were just getting off of

the ground, and the sense of expectation was palpable. While I was sure I

would come back to India at some point, I wasn’t sure when, and I remember

experiencing a sort of anticipatory disappointment: would I be here to see the

city in the absolute fury of preparatory transformation that the Games were

sure to occasion? New Delhi is far away from Chicago, and it takes planning

and effort to marshall the time and resources needed to come here. For more

reasons than I can list, but also for the magic of it’s timing, it felt like an

absolute gift to have been invited by arts.i to co-mentor this residency with my

long-time friend Sumakshi Singh.

In the intervening years since we’ve had parallel, closely related yet decidedly

individual artistic practices in Chicago (to my considerable consternation,

Sumakshi returned to India in 2007), it would seem we have both learned a

great deal about working collaboratively and bringing projects to fruition that

an individual would have a difficult time putting together on his or her own.

Effective collaborations always bear the distinct imprint of their individual

contributors, however, and I saw a great deal of Sumakshi in the sheer scope,

ambition, and thoughtfulness of the Transforming State idea. The following

is Sumakshi’s amplification of the theme as published in the call for entries,

inviting proposals and portfolios from artists:

“India in the last decade has been a keen example of both macro and micro

changes. With the approaching Commonwealth Games, the face of Delhi is

undergoing rapid trans-formation. Personal and Cultural identity blur and reforge

boundaries. The Natural and the Urban form new compromises with

each other. Indian and Western values clash and shake hands. Architecture

chooses historic renovation or completely denies its past in favour of

modernization. And Connaught Place is at the heart of this incredible


In this exciting and alive transition several questions are being thrown up in

the air: What do these changes say about us? Who are we, who were we, who

are we becoming - visually, socially, psychologically? What are our values?

What is worth keeping and what is worth changing? Who are these changes

for? Are they cosmetic or do they plunge deeper?

Using the armature of the shifting nature of our capital, this residency aims

to create a dialogue around these questions. Based on their own independent

interests and practices, resident artists will be asked to process, critique and

digest their impressions of the external and internal landscape in very open

ended ways (including optional exercises, dialogues, slideshows, field trips,

critiques and studio visits). The work produced in this intense period will

be exhibited for a month at arts.i. Conducted right at the tail end of the flux

in Delhi being caused by the Commonwealth Games, artists will be given

the opportunity to explore these issues from a personal and environmental

standpoint in ways best suited to their pre-existing practice.”

Deepening the Engagement

“Whoever undertakes to create soon finds himself

engaged in creating himself. Self- transformation and the

transformation of others have constituted the radical

interest of our century, whether in painting, psychiatry, or

political action.”

-Harold Rosenberg

In her vision for this year’s residency, Sumakshi realized from the beginning

that while each artist would enrich the residency dialogue through his or her

own material and conceptual expertise and his or her own sense of place,

there would be vastly differing levels of awareness as to the history, ecology,

culture, and contemporary art of New Delhi. These went beyond the surface

16 17

appearance of the city and comprised vertices along which the residents’ preexistent,

spatially sensitive practices could gain traction and expand into a

deeper field.

Sumakshi writes: With encouragement from arts.i Director Mukesh Panika,

the good will of artists and organizations in Delhi, not to mention the

invaluable, “we’ll plunge right in” assistance offered by Mala Parthasarthy

and Lottie Curry, we organized a host of activities. Two open studio nights

(where the resident artists talked about their work with the public), five walks

through Old and New Delhi, six official trips to contemporary and historic

art institutions, along with group-critique days and one-on-one mentoring,

succeeded in instigating a high-energy environment of dialogue, not just

for art practitioners but also the public at large. Aided by our hard-working

interns Naina Singh, Priyamvada Dalmia, Udayvir Singh Guron and Ayesha

Singh we also initiated the “Direct Connect” series: within the eight-week span

of The Transforming State, no less than eight eminent artists/ activists/ writers/

conservators came to arts.i to share their practices and expertise with our

resident artists (and also the public). This was a truly remarkable confluence

of the ambitious aspirations of “TheWhyNotPlace” and the incredible

generosity of these practitioners.

Through their work and in walks through the city, we experienced first-hand

the vital debates taking place concerning policies for the city’s water and green

spaces. We sat in on a round-table discussion on urban ecology, and attended

the presentation of a critical paper on the work of a prominent artist. Field

trips to such events, and to both historic and cultural sites widened our sense

of the space of the city and even the country in both physical and intellectual

terms. “Transform” pre-supposes a before and an after; through the

magnanimous gestures of these professionals, we were better able to locate

Delhi in time and space. These experiences opened up multiple doors into

the city, and the subtle processing they inspired proliferated into the gallery.

Working side-by-side, the artists shared their time, expertise, and emotional

support in an ongoing dialogue.

Atul Bhalla was the first visiting artist to jump on board, offering

considerable portions of his time in engaging with the artists one-on-one.

He shared a slideshow of his insightful photographs, installations and

engagement each of our own practices represents within the dialectics of our

respective places.

Vivan Sundaram shared a portion of his extraordinarily broad practice

that uses the armature of conceptual and post-minimalist languages to

encompass solid social, environmental and political critiques. Iterated in

video, sculpture of found and created objects, large scale installations and

collaborative (curatorial and performance based) ventures, his considerations

exploded the possibilities of how our artists could digest their immediate

visual environments. The rigour of this practice, moving fluidly between the

literal and the poetic, the real and the manipulated, opened up spaces for

investigations, so far unrealized by them.

Jitish Kallat’s practice operates in the liminal space between declaratory,

overt reality and our subjective experience of those declarations, implementing

various strategies to explore the divide. Words formed by bones, words burnt

into mirrored Plexiglas, miniature figurines frozen in poses of overt violence,

the colors of threat-levels, all gesture toward India’s recent history and

toward larger notions of “security”. Speaking to globally salient issues with

thoughtfulness and gentle humor, Kallat’s practice links to where the artist is

from but is not limited by it, nor is it tied to a particular medium. Through

his talk and in subsequent studio visits, the artist encouraged us to explore

multiple solutions for voicing our ideas, while offering startling insights into

the subjectivities and personal inclinations of each artist he spoke with. The

conversations he started continued for the rest of the residency.

In her talk, Anita Dube focused on work she’d made in the past five years;

she wanted to share these recent projects- many, made outside of India- with

us and with her colleagues in Delhi. In project after project and medium

after medium, there emerged a rigorous attention to craft and detail that was

matched in turn by the idea each project was devised to explore, walking

lines of familiarity and distance, intimacy and public projection in evocative,

compelling ways. Perhaps the biggest shock was when we learned the artist

had been working in Delhi for several years, yet this lecture stood as one of

the only instances in which she’d been invited to talk about her work. We’d

become aware of a critical absence of dialogue surrounding artistic practice

even as we took steps to activate these kinds of conversations.

performances, situating them in the political, environmental and social

context of Delhi for the resident artists. He then articulated his reasons

for specific material choices. For example, after discussing the ecology and

the cultural associations of the Yamuna river (historic and contemporary),

he then described using the plastic casings of bottled water to create casts

with Yamuna river sand, and juxtaposed these with tap water that actually

comes from the river itself. His micro and meta-narratives generated cohesive

connections that enabled our artists to question the “what”, “how” and “why”

of their own material and conceptual choices. He also led us on a fascinating

tour covering churches, mosques, homes, tombs, shut-down galleries and

printing presses, shops and eateries of the walled city at 6.00 am!

As a scholar, writer, activist, and documentary film-maker, Sohail Hashmi’s

engagement of the city is a well-researched, rigorous one that also possesses

a fluid narrative grace. As a repository of knowledge, Hashmi seems

inexhaustible to us, and we asked him to return again and again. He took us

on a total of three walks, and his narrations in history and place became a

mnemonic within which to locate our perceptions such that we would never

see those places the same way again. The walled city of Old Delhi, the stepwells

and Sufi monuments in the Mehrauli institutional area (as well as the

folly of one Mr. Metcalf), and the forts and mausoleum at Tuglaqhabad came

alive with their former inhabitants, their aspirations, and the challenges they

faced- often similar to those posed to today’s urban administrators. Besides

the walks, Sohail Hashmi also gave a talk at the arts.i gallery. Through his

historic contextualization of the water bodies of Delhi, we gained a broader

consciousness through which to understand the city’s water debates today.

First photography, then performance, Ravi Aggarwal’s art practice

represents a second and equally focused “life” for the artist. Perhaps these

aforementioned disciplines are the most recent sites for his activism, moving

his focus on labour and ecology out of the courtroom and protest site and

into the public sphere along different avenues. Exploring his practice in a

way that felt very open and authentic, Ravi left us with questions about the

politics of “taking” a photograph, and who a photograph actually describes.

Importantly, he is himself an example of someone who has not found

it necessary to draw a line between art and activism, private practice and

public dialogue- someone who, we feel, left us all thinking about the level of

Beginning with nature- and land-based interventions and moving steadily

toward site-specific work, within and outside of built environments, Vibha

Galhotra’s work points to compelling possibilities for public art, while she

continues her (in some ways) more personal painting and drawing practice.

Galhotra’s practice was closely aligned with The Transforming State inquiry

we were taking on in the residency, as she had also been exploring the built

environment in transition, and we appreciated the subversive, inquisitive take

her practice represented.

In what felt like a decisive contrast relative to the other artists who’d shared

their work with us, Rohini Devasher’s practice pointed inward, following

a thread of a personal and scientific inquiry that only speaks to larger

cultural issues as an afterthought. Devasher’s questions in many ways predate

contemporary dialectics; her elegant wall drawings, startling television

feedback loops, and her current project on amateur astronomers instead send

us back to the questions of how we were formed in the first place, and the

various other iterations of ourselves that might just as easily have taken place.

Mention also needs to be made here of Gagandeep Singh- an artist-inresidence

from the 2009 residency and a subsequent day-resident at arts.iwho

made a profound and positive impact throughout The Transforming State

residency by generously sharing his time and expertise. When they first arrived,

Gagan took the residents for a walk through a space he was intimately familiar

with: Connaught Place. July resident artist Vishwa Shroff, a practitioner of

extraordinary craftsmanship, attention to detail and a generous spirit who led

us through a day-long book-making workshop during the residency, further

exemplified the spirit of generosity and commitment present among all of

the residents. We witnessed several micro-collaborations among artists (too

numerous to describe individually) unfold as they documented each other’s

works, helped one another with their projects, and problem-solved as a team.

For these two groups of artists, remarkable for their interpersonal affinity and

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