From the exhibition catalogue published by 1X1 Gallery (2008).
Of the reading of cultures
Anant Joshi's works could be understood well when read as a product of a culture of excess. It is capitalism that produces an excess of everything including the consumption of visuality. Seen through this, Anant's work generates a reading of discomfort he is able to create working with the excess of demand and supply of visuality.
Contrary to pure visuality he introduces a tactile element, which gets introduced through the distortion of bodies. Here, a repetitive operation of mutation, hacking and laceration, as a result of experiencing violence embedded in a culture, is predominant in his techniques. It can be read as an aggression towards a system that seems to be 'celebrative'.
This becomes comprehensible while one observes the choice of objects he prefers to pick and represent. Most of these are bought or collected, from highly consumerist markets, and even arranged within the gallery space, to suggest the heaps of mechanical production generating high visuality.
The other aspect of his work is the use of excess information and the irony involved in the constant replay of information prevalent in our news channels, magazines and newspapers that consequently desensitizes the viewer. The cataclysmic identity of such events has been experienced intuitively by the artist in his earlier drawings 'Untitled' 1994, which forms the base of Anant's installation in 2007.
Anant Joshi's works bring about a pointed interest in a certain kind of drama with objects and spaces that stage disaster and gloom. He brings about an understanding of how his objects and concept have evolved in a space through a keen search of materials. One can observe an inner-organic-evolution, from graphic representation of war strategy (drawings on paper) to the staged and organized theatre of violence (with toys and various other materials) in his studio space. The totality of his work thus brings about a complex conglomerate of simultaneously experienced inside and outside spaces as well as that which is accidental, and simultaneously staged. One is bound to find a strong connection between these inside and outside spaces as one explores the works of the past seven years. What makes the point of connection theatrical is that the inside is about the psychic space or experience. Mutated and melting human forms in the bodies of toys reflect the absurd and the ambiguous. These walk endlessly in a circle--one blindly following the other as if in a circus staging a 'minor' body-- the one which is not complete or cannot be in power. Yet, the artist has infused life into them by putting them in action like a 'complete' body through the flip books that he made. Bringing into play the elements of theatre he enrols powerful light as an important benefactor for making his works experiential. It also suggests a political conditioning of 'staged' disasters and violence within India in different situations and places. Thus, an ambiguity as well as fusion of what is real and unreal forms the base of his forms, figures and execution.
It is important to observe that the spaces that have been experiential for Anant in day to day reality have come to play an important role in conceptualizing his works. Anant has always been conscious about where he belongs, may it be his living in Dharavi (the largest slum in Asia) or more largely in Mumbai, India. His works reflect this consciousness about these situations, wherever he works. In Dharavi he worked from a small room, which barely had a working or sleeping space resulting in paintings, which were small in scale. This significant shift in the scale of the works from small to spectacular not just brings about a clarity of security and confidence that marks an artist who experienced the economic boom but also the minute details that signifies a psychic structure--which is dark and dreary.
What is most significant is the way light composes his spaces in his installation, in the presence of plastic colors, creating silhouettes and defined shadows, resulting into an experience that can be termed as claustrophobic. The painted effects of colours suggest a 'plastic' experience whereas the used material, plastic, melts like flesh.
Regarding the making of these objects one could say that on the one hand there is a mechanical production of toy objects targeting children as the biggest consumers, while on the other the artist's hands derive a meaning of overcast reality for those who tend to grow up with these objects. The space creates a language which renounces this muteness and overlays a curtain (of razors) that appears as if hanging from the dark sky. Or it suggests a rotational movement indicating a recurrence of characters of toys from one culture to another.
Form and Meaning
Stepping into his studio my eyes constantly shifted to a small print of a painting by Stanley Spencer pasted on the entrance wall. The painting holds a man in a massive robe looking down in a pensive mood (his eyes almost closed with an expression of agony) at his open palm holding a black scorpion with wrinkles on his forehead. The ground has few similar insects crawling or dead. There was no direct link between this painting and Anant's work but something very powerful and unsaid did draw my attention to his forms and figures in black, and the crawling movement suggested in some of his works. Glimpses of some of the human forms (in the razor curtain) experienced as reduced in scale like insects, silhouetted against light does creates the uneasiness of Spencer's painting.
Anant seems to have pasted the image certainly out of deep admiration for this work, and while explaining one of his works he elaborately described the observation of the movement of a centipede, how it tends to crawl in the opposite direction if stopped from the front as if either of its ends has the sensitivity of the head. It is easy to understand the tendency for 'vertical' growth, or the speedy sprawl of the built structures (mostly residential housings) through the movement of this insect, which is unstoppable. May Look Closer Than They Appear suggests how the development plans have been blind to the disasters like unforgivable floods in the city. While interrogating the works closely one observes a significant transformation since 2002 while Anant was away at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, for three years. His workspace shifted from a small room in Dharavi to a landscape which was challenging every aspect of the geography one could have experienced in Mumbai. He had sorted out a way to connect to a new landscape and culture. He did many collages as a regular exercise to understand the everyday 'news' and experience, followed by small stories in clay at theacademy in Amsterdam. As a result of which his largish project Black to Play and Draw evolvedinayear's time. This project endorses an aerial view of Dharavi (as spectacle) and also evolves it as a city's skyline in the form of a shadow on the walls.
The projects that followed were many- Pitch Report (It’s going to turn sharply and bounce unevenly) parallel to the Godhra riots. Real Razors and Fake Diamonds, a small body of works developed into razor curtains. Parallel to these evolved the objects - Arrow Heads and Shikharas. Arjuna's Ladder was a ladder towards the sky, made by Arjuna to bring Airavat- the symbol of prosperity on to the earth, which he did and sent him back after the world became prosperous. Anant has once again employed a powerful light source to make this ladder to sky. While the ladder is a recalling of myth and makes it like a mystical open space within the gallery space, the mirror boxes in Panopticon are tightly enclosed absurd-cities reflected in multiple mirrors. Likewise Naval One and The Many are minarets resembling religious architectural forms made from the children's Lego Toys, whereas Manorama is an irony of the 'beautified' city landscape. The recent suite of works is paintings which seem to be a continuation of layers of the chaotic and ambiguous seen through the measured graph of dots suggesting a staging of the mechanical and the accidental.
Anant's works reveal a capability of narrating stories of the present times. While he reminds us of the elaborate narrations of Hieronymus Bosch, he clearly places his thoughts in the times when the avant-garde cannot be separated from the kitsch. Employing movement and life to his forms and figures which are to be experienced in darkness, his works demand a space close to a popular medium like film. But he deliberately avoids a medium like film or video, and sets his preferences on flip books and mechanically arranged devices for movement. In the process he recuperates the tactile element.
Anant's method of work includes a back and forth thought process which keeps his subjects always alive before him. Just as he studies and shifts from painting to a hacked object, from cement to a photograph of building, from packaging material to the news and all this involves spaces --the theatre in his studio and the city. His work, thus, involves people from different fragments of life who often find these materials around them, lying obsolete or in use. They acquire a new composure in the artist's hands, and are often intended for open-ended meanings.
From the exhibition catalogue published by 1X1 Gallery (2008).