by John JervisMay 11, 2020
In early 1960s, American pop artist Andy Warhol’s studio in New York became the epicentre for all kinds of experimentation, making everyday objects into art and a hub for glitterati to hang out at. What might seem dichotomous is the name he gave to his ‘studio’…The Factory! He said, “Art should be accessible for everyone,” yet, I sadly confess that I do not have a Warhol hanging on my walls. I reminisced this while interviewing contemporary artist Mark Prime on the sidelines of his solo show at gallery Chatterjee & Lal in Mumbai, where he actively created an environment of a factory. Zeenat Nagree writes in her catalogue essay for the show: “The exhibition brings the environment of a factory into the gallery, through material and sound, exposing the disorder and noise that lie behind the production of precise objects. After a brief period of orientation, traces of this apparent disorder acquire harmony.” For Prime, the current body or work introduces “random fluidity and chance, something of a softer edge to counter the power and weight of the materials themselves”, hence the title of the exhibit is Heavy to Light | Light to Heavy.
STIR speaks to the artist about the show and his inspiration.
Rahul Kumar (RK): How do you source from your vocation and engagement in music and apply that to your visual arts practice?
Mark Prime (MP): My (past) involvement with music continues to inform my approach to making art. This includes the technicalities of music production, studio practice, and live performance. Making art for me is not unlike recording and producing an album: tracks become individual works; the production of an album, the exhibition; and the final presentation, the live gig or performance. My practice draws heavily on the principles of repetitive flow, rhythm, feel, tonal balance, and visual dynamics – the many subtleties and nuances that underpin any live performance or recording. Many of these ideas play out in the making of an art exhibition as well, with multiple elements held in fine balance.
Working as an artist demands flexibility in approach and tremendous resourcefulness. I have navigated many roles to make my way over the years – including moving to a new continent! Indeed the need of the hour is to evolve and to adapt.
RK: Material and process seem to have an important role in your work at the current show. You even created an environment of ‘factory’ at the gallery. Is this a deviation from your past works?
MP: The manufacturing industry was a big part of my childhood and even today, I love hanging out in factories and workshops. There is no deviation as such (at least in influence and inspiration) from older work. However, the materials I have chosen this time around are different. To me, they represent something of an industrial pulse or heartbeat.
I like to rethink (and reinvent) the role and context of my chosen materials, for instance the nylon monofilament threads, which ebb and flow under their own weight, creating interesting patterns, colours and forms in this exhibition. The Fluidity paintings use Engineers’ Blue, which is a type of marking blue ink used in the machining process.
As an artist, I don’t limit myself to the use of specific materials – it’s all part of the discovery and the fun of creating.
RK: The works in the show employ a range of media. Could you talk about the very process of your fabrication and specific materials you have used. Take us through the decision-making process, what determines the choices you make.
MP: The process of making is the best part! I live in Bombay and have use of a very small studio or workshop in my apartment. Given that I do not have the luxury of space, my ideas often take shape over a period of time with multiple reworkings. I often build small models in light wood or plastic to explore the initial ideas, only once I am happy with the final form do I scale up in metal or aluminium. I work almost entirely with materials that are available locally.
The substrate aluminium panels I like to hand sand and polish myself. This process is very labour intensive, but striking that ‘perfect’ balance between the raw (authentic) and finished (manufactured) is important to me. The material becomes a metaphor: revealing its history and context, subverting its function. I enjoy working with raw, industrial, and durable materials. In this show I have two works that use raw swarf/metal shavings and suds (aka soluble oil cutting fluid). These are all basic materials I have grown up with. Today my hands have the cuts and scars to show for it. Some of the other materials I have chosen for this body of work include nylon monofilament, stainless steel wire, raw cut and machined aluminium blanks, concrete, and electrical cable.
RK: In continuation, one of the most striking features, often, is how you create a perception that defies gravity in your presentation of works – metal rods hanging mid-air and aluminium discs that seem to be floating. How does this ‘wonderment’ add to the viewer’s experience? Is your intent entertainment (to catch attention) or there are metaphors at play?
MP: I enjoy finding inventive ways and techniques to install my works, and always keep in mind the architecture of the space in which they are to be installed. The work Zero Continuity seems to twist upon itself, almost falling off the industrial table base. It appears precarious, off balance, creating a sense of uncertainty and tension which shifts, perhaps, the overall experience of the work.
Also, the exhibition in totality is as important to me as individual artworks. The final installation ought to look and feel effortless, achieved with a lightness of touch. And yes, gravity – playing with it, somehow defying it – is an idea I have tried to trick over the years.
RK: How do you straddle the ‘play and chance’ along with ‘geometry and rhythm’?
MP: Ideas of improvisation and random synchronicity or chance are integral to my process and to the creation of form and rhythm. I have no issue with both concepts together, hand in hand. The experiments or mistakes often yield new ideas and directions, expanding the possibilities of materials and methods of production.
With this current body of work, I have consciously worked to introduce more random fluidity and chance, something of a softer edge to counter the power/weight of the materials themselves, hence the title: Heavy to Light | Light to Heavy.