Observing New York through a poem
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Observing New York through a poem

In conversation with Vanita Gupta
STIR speaks to the artist about her experiential installation Window Without a Wall, which narrates her relationship with an apartment’s window in New York, and a poem on it.

by Sukanya Garg Aug 02, 2019

Mumbai-based artist Vanita Gupta focuses on the minimal, most relevant, and perennially compelling forms of art. In 2014, she was awarded the Pollock Krasner Foundation grant (New York), and in 2015, her video titled Balloon Triology featured in the 16th WRO Biennale in Wroclaw, Poland.

Here, the artist speaks to STIR about her installation Window Without a Wall, which transfers one back to her apartment in New York, where someone she met had pasted a poem on a window. Gupta was in New York for six months as part of her Asian Cultural Council (ACC) Fellowship, formerly known as Rockfeller Fellowship. 

01 min watch Window Without a Wall, an experiential installation by Vanita Gupta| Window Without a Wall| Vanita Gupta| STIR
Window Without a Wall, an experiential installation by Vanita Gupta Image Credit: Vanita Gupta / Art Heritage Gallery

Sukanya Garg (SG): You mention in your exhibition, “I witnessed the analogous transformation of my own experiences from casual encounters to mind-boggling events.” Could you give further insights or examples of such encounters and events?

Vanita Gupta (VG): I felt an aspect of time-dilation while in New York. It stretched from casual encounters of listening to stories from a taxi driver, who had been involved with cancer research, to watching the premier of William Kentridge's opera Refuse the hour at BAM theatre (Brooklyn Academy of Music). The totality of my experience can now be reminisced as a palimpsest of events, eclectic people, strange places, and the city. The exhibition is probably one slice of that palimpsest.

The poem pasted on artist's apartment in New York| Window Without a Wall| Vanita Gupta| STIR
The poem pasted on artist's apartment in New YorkImage Credit: Vanita Gupta

SG: What kind of relationship did you come to develop with the window and poem?

VG: I would look at New York through the poem on the window. I would observe its changes as time went by. Eventually, the poem and the window became the observer.  We exchanged roles, the poem started reflecting these organic changes that I went through. With passing time, the poem started disintegrating. The words started to walk out, they became free, the alphabets were ready to form a new verse. The poem and the window liberated itself from grammar and the architecture, and the window became a metaphor for my time in New York.

Window Without a Wall, Installation view 2, 2019| Window Without a Wall| Vanita Gupta| STIR
Window Without a Wall, Installation view 2, 2019 Image Credit: Courtesy of Art Heritage Gallery

SG: While the poem acted as the trigger for this work, what compelled you to create a work based on it?

VG: Towards the completion of my ACC fellowship in New York, I was asked to make a presentation regarding my time in New York and how it had impacted me as an artist and as a person. That is when the idea of this window stumbled upon me. I felt that this work has a deep potential of communicating something, which is so universal. While I was leaving New York, I dismantled this window from my apartment and brought it back home. We waited four years to bring this story to the public domain.

A view through the poem pasted on the window of artist’s apartment| Window Without a Wall| Vanita Gupta| STIR
A view through the poem pasted on the window of the artist’s apartmentImage Credit: Vanita Gupta

SG: What do you hope to reveal or bring forth through this exhibit?

VG: The work does reveal the irreversibility of entropy that we encounter on a daily basis. Sometimes it is seen in milk turning into curds and here we see it in a poem finding its poetry, a window becoming without its wall. On a personal level, putting up this exhibit has revealed something very crucial to me, about my own practice. It has been as much a reflection, as it is an expression. Through this exhibit, I am figuring out that my practice is now demanding a much larger spatial footprint to fulfil my expression.

SG: You worked with architect Naveen Mahantesh for this exhibit. What did the process of creating such a work entail, especially since it is collaborative?

VG: This is my second collaboration with architect Naveen Mahantesh. For this project, our first and basic observation about the space was that it was very intimate. A viewer could peep inside the door once and get a sense of what is happening inside and move on. We wanted to hold his or her attention. We wanted to increase the viewing time of the display from 'a peep into the door' to probably up to four minutes. We wanted the layout of the exhibition to create enough pause, movement and curiosity, at the end of which, one would encounter the poem on the window. These were few of the inputs that only Naveen could provide, as an architect and as someone who understood the intimacy of the work. We wanted the viewer to indulge, infuse, move, get a bit lost in time.

Window Without a Wall, Installation view 3, 2019| Window Without a Wall| Vanita Gupta| STIR
Window Without a Wall, Installation view 3, 2019 Image Credit: Courtesy of Art Heritage Gallery

SG: Could you explain the choice of scenes in the video? What is the message they bring across when threaded together?

VG: The videos depict various moments of being in limbo, in between time or a phase of transition. They are illegible moments but they linger enough to sustain a presence, dilate time. Together, they add a feeling of being in between 'something that was' and 'something about to happen'. I think it was precisely at this moment, I had dismantled the window from my New York apartment and carried it back to India. It seemed worthy to put it back within a similar scenography.

SG: The video itself is very zen. This meditative feeling of the slowing down of time is characteristic of your work even as a painter and sculptor. What is the basis of this attribute in your overall practice?

VG: I think we find zen in different moments, in different forms in our life. It can be an encounter, a reflection, an epiphany and much more. In my paintings and sculptures, I seek for the bare minimum, which gets translated as zen. I destroy half my paintings, where I feel I have not captured it. But the aspect of zen that you have rightly recognised in the videos, or the installation itself, is much different from the zen you might encounter in my paintings. Here, it was something I lived through as a quiet resonance that registered as a sense of time-dilation in New York. It was a phase where I was not making art, but was living through a very intense period of my life. The videos show a few moments of what I am looking at and registering them while I went through those moments.

SG: What are your plans for 2019?

VG: I am actively looking at working with performers and theatre artists. Now, since I have arrived at making spaces through collaboration, I feel I need to work with people who can interpret or push spatial boundaries through body movement and gesture making. Other than that, in April-June 2019, I had an exhibition at Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, which included a comprehensive collection of my sculptures, paintings and video installation, titled An Act in Three Scenes, and currently, I am also developing a body of work for a private collector.

Window Without a Wall was on display at the Art Heritage Gallery, New Delhi, from January 28 - March 2, 2019.

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Masters degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased in multiple exhibitions.

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