Artists

From the exhibition catalogue published by Experimenter Gallery (2011)

On any given working day, by virtue of being his colleague, fellow-commuter and friend, a fair part of my waking hours are spent in Adip Dutta's company. As a result of this, I tend to observe and become, wittingly or unwittingly, a participant in a cathartic process often from the moment the seeds of germination are sown in his imagination to the pen-ultimate installation of an evolved idea in a space for exhibition. Between these two ends of the spectrum, there are many stages of evolution. I have noticed that Adip is drawn to the most banal of objects, plied by street vendors outside commuter railway stations and in open marketplaces - usually these are attractive in form and texture, but often his choices are also gender-specific. So his objects of choice are hairclips, hairbands and women's hairpieces on the one hand, and scrubbers, bottlebrushes, brooms, simple cooking implements, safety pins, clothes hangers, etc. on the other - almost invariably, in the middle class Indian context, within the feminine and the domestic domain. In making artistic choices, Adip lays claim to this domain to which he is perhaps otherwise denied entry by virtue of his gender.

The next step in Adip's process is the making of drawings. Like developing an intimate friendship, he lovingly makes meticulous, craftsmanly drawings of each of the objects that he has chosen. I have watched him stipple and struggle for hours on end, peering through a magnifying glass, with a pot of black ink at his side and a near-in-visible brush-tip in his fingers, like a medieval miniature painter at work bringing the white paper before him to life at an excruciatingly slow pace. In watching this painstaking process, it often seems to me that the artist and the object are engaged in an intimate dialogue from which every external element is excluded. Here, Adip engages not only with the textural and sculptural potency of the object, but also questions of anthropological etymology and blurring lines of gender identity. In most cases, these drawings are realized in a near-miniature or book format, compelling a viewing experience nearly as intimate as the drawing process itself. Very occasionally, and quite unobtrusively, the drawings are interspersed with a real object, now quite completely displaced from the realm of banality.

Having been trained as a sculptor, Adip's primary response to these objects is sculp-tural. He once mentioned to me that he makes drawings of all the objects he would like to metamorphose into sculptures, but is not always able to. In making his choices, he selects mundane objects that are evidently non-sculptural, but in his vision potentially sculptural. Once he settles on an object that he would like to render sculpturally, he scours the markets for materials that may often be industrial and traditionally non-sculptural. Of-ten enough, he works in the reverse process, finding industrial materials in the markets that excite his imagination, leading him to marry them with stowed away or new-found objects. He then takes the object through a robust sculptural process in the studio, endowing it with both size and stature in a near antithesis to the intimacy of his drawings. The small, banal object is now magnified manifold, its surface and texture harkening to its origins, but in no way replicating it. As a result, an object that seems remotely familiar is now transformed into an anthropological curiosity and the site of installation, into a site of archaeological excavation - in short, the metamorphosis of the banal into the beautiful by according it 'objecthood' and elevating it in the hierarchical order of things. The phrase "I have a face but a face of what I am not" speaks here of this deceptive metamorphosis. Derived from a treatise on portraiture, the phrase is used here as the title to Adip Dutta's first solo since 2007.

Upon entry into the gallery space, the first object one is confronted by is what seems like a massive white skeletal carcass of some prehistoric beast, cradled in a pit in mounds of dark grey, damp earth, commonly known as "Ganga mati" (soil from the Ganges) in Bengali parlance. In Bengal, "Ganga mati" has an innate sculptural association and aesthetic sanctity as both traditional and contemporary sculptors in the region have used it since time immemorial to sculpt religious and secular images, as has Adip. However, here the earth is irreverently dumped, excavated as it is from a site of urban' reconstruction with which the artist has childhood association. The carcass emerges from this mound like an object of archaeological excavation - and yet, from it's snowy white, unblemished presence, it is evident that it is a mere simulation of an archaeological object, thus lead-ing the viewer to decipher its antecedents. This is a near impossible task, for Adip has left no clues to trace the object to the small, feminine hairclip from whence the sculptural process began. The object is magnified to such an extent, finished to industrial perfection, laid ajar on its back and 'unclipped' so to speak, and dislocated beyond association. In so doing, it attains a new objecthood, sanctity, and status as a pseudo-archaeological object or a work of art.

Adip insists that he is primarily an "object-maker" and his interest in banal objects stems from this space. Like the hairclip, the two other sculptural objects in the show are a hairband and a loofah, both associated with women's toilette/accessorisation. The obsession with hair continues through Drawings I and II, both deceptively titled because they are actually sculptural works that simulate the act of drawing. Drawing II is the hairband, a perfect replication of the original object, many times larger in treated steel. Like a haloed object, it now hovers inexplicably on the wall, drawing linear shadows on it, in extension of the artist's drawing practice. Dislocated once again, the hairband now takes on architectural connotations, simulating skeletal structures of true arches in medieval Islamic buildings, leading one to question if this is not again an object/diagram of archaeological interest.

The preoccupation with hair as a textural and potentially sculptural delight is more evident in Drawing I. Here, dark springs of treated steel simulating masses of dark, curly locks cascade out of a flat background. There exists a strong co-relation between this work and many of the Protagonist drawings that are also a part of "I have a face but a face of what I am not". Adip often draws stainless steel or steelwool scrubbers, wire meshes, metal springs, and the like as an exploration of material. Drawing I appears to be a similar exploration and exuberant celebration of material in a sculptural format.

At thefar endofthe gallery space is suspended a sculptural work titled Simulation of a natural objectwith industrial material. This is a simulation of the loofah, woven out of stainless steel mesh - an object that has interested Adip for a while now perhaps due to its textural qualities and its organic associations. This object, somewhere between a weaver bird's nest and a phallus, has not only been sculpturally perfected here by repeated rendering, but taken on an ominous, looming presence by virtue of the manner of installation. On close examination, the object is constructed of a fine, tightly woven mesh on an aluminium frame. Its walls are dense, yet its core is hollow, allowing the viewer to peer in. The object is a peculiar contradiction of delicacy and jewel-like surfaces on the one hand, and weight and density on the other.

The Protagonists are precursors, companions or followers to most of these sculptural works. Within a body of work, these drawings can be read as clues to unraveling the artist's preoccupation with material, objects, and the calligraphic act of "writing visuals". Apart from textural and sculptural attraction, the artist's affinity to materials and objects that are sensuous and potentially dangerous to the touch is also evident. Sharp objects or surfaces that have the ability to prick, poke or injure seem to draw him, teetering dangerously on the brink of perversion, redeemed only by the close affinity of his drawings to botanical illustrations of the Mughal or Colonial eras that seem to accord them almost a historical sanctity. Positioning himself from this space of historical sanction, Adip now draws upon I9th century popular pornographic Bengali texts to produce a series of six codex-format books titled Khastha Kotha. "Adapted from plebian salacious literature" in his own words, these are illustrated translations of Bat-tala books that were printed in the bazaars of North Calcutta at the time for popular consumption. Though these books were inexpensively produced and sold, they nevertheless carried woodcut and wood engraving illustrations of great aesthetic merit that have since become collectibles and subjects of study and re-search. Parallel to these were the countless botanical drawings of the flora and fauna of the exotic East produced by Colonial botanists and artists in the Indian Subcontinent through the 18th and I9th centuries.

Khastha Kotha straddles these two worlds simultaneously - even as it revels in the nether world of pornography, it elevates these books to the realm of "art" through illustrations that are at once pristine and clinical as are botanical drawings, yet suffused with sensuous alliteration and sensual pleasure to an extreme. The texts are so tiny as to necessitate viewing through a magnifying glass, further stimulating curiosity and simulating the secret pleasure of reading salacious literature. They spell out unspeakably graphic descriptions of sexual acts, sexual organs, and sexual games. On adjoining pages, along-side these texts are painstakingly detailed drawings of objects, apparently innocent yet replete with unabashed sexual innuendo. A prickly cactus and an open safety-pin poised to prick, keep company with two inflated, elongated balloons. As in alphabet books, they are neatly captioned "The Condomed One" and "The Condemned One".

The text accompanying an illustration of a plump pumpkin and a phallic brinjal contains a reference to art historian, Kenneth Clark's observation that the three nudes in Rubens' Venus Naturalis "were laid out like fresh fruit for still life study". The artist further continues to observe that "Comparison of the human body with fruits and vegetable forms is a common phenomenon in art. Comparison of private body parts with specific fruits and vegetables is a prominent aspect of Bengali salacious literature. This comparison further becomes interesting with the titles and names given to them. One sees an interesting use of language with a special focus on alliteration". This text is the real "give-away" in Khastha Kotha, where you realize that the artist is not merely a maker or translator of pornographic literature, but a researcher into the making of such literature. His role is that of an anthropologist or an observer, larger akin to that of the classical miniaturist or the Colonial artist-botanist.

The last object in "I have a face but a face of what I am not" is the Siesta-Lulu, a slumbering cucumber or gourd of sorts cast in patinated bronze. Nestled on a silken cushion, this is tucked away together with the salacious literature in the recesses of a corridor largely hidden from the main gallery area, as if for surreptitious viewing. Once again a phallic alliteration, the Siesta-Lulu derives its name from the siesta-lulu, more commonly known as the "Leh berry". This is a sour berry that grows in the Northern Himalayas on a bush so thorny as to be used locally as fencing to protect property. Though this object is seen in a state of slumber here, its latent powers are implicated in the choice of title in the tradition of 19th century popular salacious literature on the one hand, and the "high" Baroque tradition of Rubens on the other. Adip Dutta's primary preoccupation in "I have a face but a face of what I am not" is to question "object" and "category", to transform, in his own words, "the banal into the beautiful".

From the exhibition catalogue published by Experimenter Gallery (2011).

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