CC: This is your first permanent sculpture on public display. What is the context for this work in the particular location in Lower Austria? Tell us about the manner in which the piece evolved.
Jitish: The project began with the Advisory Council of Public Art Lower Austria inviting me to visit several locations in Lower Austria, primarily focusing on three previously identified roundabouts along an expressway connecting Vienna to neighbouring townships. I met some mayors from the ten municipalities of lower Austria collectively known as 10 Vor Wien, who along with the members of the advisory who shared insights about the region, its history, its demography etc. These trips were mostly about experiencing the scale of the site, choosing the location and beginning the process of conceptualization. It was a generous and open-ended invitation to think as widely as possible without a restrictive brief. On my return to the studio, several weeks were spent thinking of how to meaningfully address the format of a ‘sculpture in a roundabout’ and the idea of movement and circulation that accompanies it.
At one level a roundabout is not a place; it an unchanging non-place that you circulate around to get to places… I was intuitively eliminating a whole range of forms and imagery until a moment came when the blue signages, omnipresent on an expressway began to preoccupy me, primarily because of it lacking any direct symbolism or anchorage in a particular location.
The highway signage is always about someplace else even if it might be anchored in a place, its pointer directing from ‘here’ to ‘there’. At this time my drawing books were full of sketches that appeared like endless loops, Celtic knots and the recursive symbol of Ouroboros. Somehow more than revisiting the many photographs and videos I made at the roundabout I was drawn to repeatedly visit the site via Google Earth, as if to make sense of that ‘place’ from above and afar. While making this virtual expedition from the location of my studio in Bombay, parachuting to the roundabout in Austria, there was a moment when the circular form of the roundabout seemed to overlay perfectly onto the spheroid of the globe unfolding a cascade of interrelations between the form of the highway signage and the endless loop. It felt as if the whole artwork had developed a self-organising principle from the convergence of these ideas.
CC: The looping form of the work seems like a tribute to the inevitable connectivity of global super highways. At the same time it suggests a Gordian knot, the potential for entanglement. How do you read the work?
Jitish: As you say the piece is suggestive of knots and ideas of entanglement… also of recurrence and recursion, and structures from sacred geometry have informed this work. Here After Here After Here links up with ideas of proximity and distance, of time and space, of measurements, and a suspension of the plausible, themes and experiences that recur in my work
CC: Depending on one’s perspective, it recalls floral forms of architecture like the Sydney Opera House, the Bahai temple. Can you describe the materials used, and the process of making the work?
Jitish: I hadn’t thought of floral architecture but the idea of the bloom, an eruption from the ground was somewhere in my mind. In 2012 I made many drawings, 3-D studies and a scaled paper model in my studio. These were shared with Michael Rieper of MVD, a collective working with design, architecture and new media, who helped produce it on the ground. Earlier this year Micheal identified a competent signage production company who could make the large loop of highway signage using steel and alcubond treated with high-endurance paint and stickers.
CC: Most of your public work involves the use of text. This would include Public Notice 1, 2, and 3 (which quotes the speeches of Nehru, Gandhi and Vivekananda, respectively) and the work on Gandhi’s letter to Hitler. In each of the earlier instances the material context of the text has radically altered but the political engagement of the work, of the speech as quotation is unmistakable. How does this work configure in your public engagements?
Jitish: I am not entirely sure what you mean by ‘public work’ as the three Public Notice pieces function like much of my other works and have been exhibited in museums and biennales. Their scale may give them an architeural dimension but they are not works of ‘public art’, placed outdoor, like this piece in Austria. All the pieces you mention refer to a moment gone by, having a historical utterence at the very centre of the piece, and the texts come from an earlier moment in time. Here After Here After Here too is populated by text but these are pointers emanating outwards from that point on the planet. Rendered in a “traffic blue” shade, and layered with information set in the font “TERN“ (Trans European Road Network), the text and symbols on this unending highway signage connect Stockerau to places all over the world ranging from Singapore to Salvador, Marrakesh, Mumbai, Beijing, Brasilia, Bukarest to New York, Paris and Taipei, amongst several others. They bear actual distances and exit signs that you might follow from Stockerau to reach any of these places.
CC: How does engaging the curatorial influence or affect your practice: post Kochi, are there shifts in emphases, newer engagements?
Jitish: The curatorial process is an instrument for inquiry just as an artwork is a device for contemplating the world. My curatorial project 'Whorled Exploration' extended out of my long-standing artistic inquiries… the interlacing of the celestial with the terrestrial, the engagement with the historical, with ideas of time and cartography have for long recurred in my work. The processes of course were substantially different - with a total shift in one's tool-box, the amount of dialogue involved and the ambience within which one operates. Post the biennale I've returned to the silence of the studio after a gap of sixteen months and am fully enjoying the process. Some of these pieces became a solo project titled 'The Infinite Episode' at Galerie Templon in Paris (5th Sept- 31st Nov 2015).