“The moment we define our practice, we are dead,” says Sumir Tagra when I ask how they would characterise the ‘art practice’ of the duo under the name of Thukral + Tagra. Their work is research-based, often conceptual, multi-disciplinary, almost always experiential, but above all, experimental. Their ‘Think Space’ at a residential complex in Gurgaon, not far from their studio, is surrounded with their art, Mac computers, and team members, a sort of a mix of a gallery and office space. We sip on homemade lemonade over an intriguing discussion.
We met at Delhi College of Art at a ragging session. Thukral was my senior and I was in the queue to submit my application form. He spoke to me as an applicant himself, innocent, as if someone who knew nothing about the college. - Sumir Tagra
Jiten Thukral was born in 1976 in a village near Jalandhar, Punjab. He graduated from the Chandigarh Art College in 1998 and enrolled for a Master’s programme at the Delhi College of Art in 2000. Sumir Tagra, born in 1979, did his Bachelor’s degree at the Delhi College of Art in 2002, where the two met. They became friends and discovered a similarity in objectives - that of breaking away from the traditions and trends in the art they wanted to produce. Later, they worked together at an advertising agency but Tagra moved on to do a Master’s programme at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. “It was a tough call for me. I had a well-paying job, and to leave that to study was not an easy decision,” he says.
They had already embarked on a journey of working together. The first formal collaboration was an e-magazine, launched in 2003. It was available through a web portal they established, called BoseDK.com. After the first three issues, the project was abandoned. Gallery ecosystem, they feel, only supports when the art produced is saleable. They realised that the final work had to be something that could hang on walls. “Our first show under the name Thukral & Tagra was in 2006. We wanted to continue with BoseDK, but our gallerist, Peter Nagy, wanted that to change,” says Thukral. “We are always keen to respond to shifts and are rather comfortable with keeping everything we do very experimental in nature,” he continues.
Since college days, T&T, as they are popularly referred to, have been interested in the idea of pushing a thought and looking at things with a new lens. They respect individual space between each other. This process of working together, layering the views of both, and finally negotiating aspirations in how a project will finally rendition is evident in their works.
There are times when I may not fully understand or even agree with certain ideas that Sumir wants to pursue, but that does not stop him in any way to develop it further. Likewise, I get all the freedom to think independently. And at some point, things converge and we both bring it to fruition. – Jiten Thukral
Sound Sculptures, for instance, is a series of factory produced porcelain vases. They studied the possibilities with clay, not technically, but visually. They imagined non-conventional forms, layered with imagery, and juxtaposed with customised metal cast components. “We ended up having the pigments sprayed on the surface to get a gradation in colour. Something that was not really attempted by the production unit ever. We are excited to be able to showcase a part of this series in the First Indian Ceramic Triennial at Jaipur later this year,” shares Tagra.
Being visual artists, they do not see objects as material, especially in the context of using the readymade to produce their art. The aesthetics and physicality (form, colour, texture, scale) are more significant in contributing to the possibilities. “The readymade acts as a symbol as it embeds a particular history, cultural understanding, and timelines. These associations make the object rich, and its value can be weighed accordingly. We see these as objects of knowledge and try to use the pre-conceived notions for making a discourse,” explains Thukral. The core motivation is how the objects are finally used to convey a certain message and raise certain questions.
Thukral & Tagra's projects vary in nature, sometimes even demanding the physical involvement of the audience. The work and the approach are humble in essence. They are presented keeping in mind that the work should completely resonate with their process. “We procured 80,000 Ping-Pong balls from amazon.com for a project titled Set Point, which was an extension of an earlier exhibit called Play Pray. The project culminated into a performative presentation. For another one we used empty Hershey’s bottles,” continues Thukral. The immediate idea of the function of the product being used ceases to exist, however, those connotations are still useful in deriving the meaning and evoking certain emotions for the viewers.
They used the demonetised currency bills to create ‘Demonetisation Bars’. And in yet another interactive project, viewers became an integral part of the very making of the work by using personal memories as the currency. Memoir Bar was created by visitors writing their own personal memories on paper notes. These were then shredded and based on the emotion of the memory, coloured plaster was poured into moulds to bury the shredded paper, creating a library of preserved memory bars. “We have several thousand bars now, safely stored away. We had proposed a monumental structure in the form of a paper plane to install these tiles for a specific location, but we are still waiting to find the right space and time for this," says Tagra. For site-specific works, both the work and the space have to marry and sit together. There has to be a complete consensus. There are aspects of the site, like why was the site made, what does it say, how does it compliment any work, and what kind of work will fit best.
(The article was first published in Issue #20 of mondo*arc india journal – an initiative by STIR.)