by Devanshi ShahJul 14, 2021
How would the ideas of space and volume, of transparency and lightness, come together in two distinct bodies of works? Italian artist and photographer, Luisa Lambri, and Indian architect and artist, Bijoy Jain, did exactly this at their recent collaborative presentation at gallery Alma Zevi in Venice. Lambri explores architectural spaces in a unique way through her images. She investigates the idea of space through minimal photographic work, capturing subtleties and the play of light and lines. Most often she prefers to work with empty spaces of modernist buildings. Bijoy Jain and Studio Mumbai, through the artworks created for this exhibit explore materiality and transforming forms in space. Straddling across ‘function’ through his architecture and product design practice, Jain seamlessly navigates to the ‘function-less’ through these works.
“Both the photographs and the sculptures on view in the gallery convey an elastic presence: from different angles or different conceptual readings they can move swiftly from ephemeral works defined by a light touch, to pieces that are imbued with histories and localised narratives,” says Alma Zevi, the founder of the eponymous gallery.
I speak to her on the motivation to bring these two discrete practices together in a single exhibit and how the works were in metaphorical conversation.
Rahul Kumar (RK): What was the genesis of this two-person show? How does it further the gallery manifesto by showcasing works of a trained and practicing architect alongside that of a photographer?
Alma Zevi (AZ): Even before I opened the gallery in Venice, Luisa Lambri was on my wish list of artists I dreamed of showing. We were introduced by a mutual friend and were in a dialogue for a couple of years until Luisa felt the right idea came to her for a show in my gallery. She is very sensitive to both spaces and places; I was fascinated by her careful approach. One day she wrote to me and asked if I knew of Studio Mumbai. I had seen his work at Maniera Gallery in Brussels and NOMAD in Switzerland but had a very superficial understanding of Bijoy Jain’s practice. It turned out that Luisa and Bijoy had been mutual admirers of each other’s work for some time and had recently met in Chicago at the Architecture Biennale where they were both exhibiting. They were keen to do a two-person show together and felt that my space would be perfect. Through Luisa I got to know Bijoy. Both practitioners wanted to make new work for the show, which was extremely exciting. The three of us spoke about what this might be, but more importantly, Luisa and Bijoy embarked on a prolonged discussion about how their work could interact with each other. Over three years or so, they created two unique bodies of work, which exist within the realm of both their own languages and discrete practices, but also sit together in a dialogue. The dialogue exists not only between the two practitioners, but also between their show and the greater context of Venice.
Luisa Lambri does not see herself as a photographer per se but as a contemporary artist; Bijoy is not solely an architect but has a far-reaching practice that encompasses art and design as well. This fluidity and interdisciplinary approach is what I am very interested in - and this has shaped much of the gallery programme until now. The relationships between art and architecture have always fascinated me. There is a direct precedent for this in the exhibition we hosted in 2019 with Charlap Hyman & Herrero; an architecture and design firm based in New York and Los Angeles. This incredibly talented team made a site-specific installation, which encompassed furniture, art objects and a custom-designed fabric which were all shown in the context of the Venice Art Biennale. In short, the gallery tries to be open: a place of discourse, playfulness and experimentation.
RK: What is the significance of 15th century Palazzo Querini Stampalia, details of which have been photographed by Lambri for this show?
AZ: A recurring subject in Luisa’s work is the presence of 20th century architecture. It seems natural to me that she would be drawn to Carlo Scarpa. One of the finest examples of the great Venetian architect and designer’s work is his intervention in the Palazzo Querini Stampalia. It is not the first time that Luisa photographed Scarpa, she has also made beautiful works relating to his Cimitero Brion, outside Venice.
For this exhibition, Luisa wanted to make new work that connected specifically with the city of Venice. The importance of an exploration and reinterpretation of the city was at the heart of this. The fact that Scarpa’s work from the 1960s exists within a 15th century Palazzo adds another layer of meaning and contextualises it within an anachronistic setting. It is a beautiful story of old and new existing side by side; old making space for new, and new communicating with old. Venice as an experience is so layered - it is important that there will always be space for the new. Everything takes on such a different feeling with the backdrop of this magical city, its unique architecture and its multi-faceted history.
RK: In continuation, why does Lambri call her work “an existential practice rather than accurate representation of the buildings”?
AZ: Luisa’s practice is not about ‘documenting’ architecture or reproducing spaces that already exist. Her practice is rather more about experiencing light, volumes and spaces. In doing so, she creates new and unique artworks. She has found that using architecture as the building blocks of her visual language allows her to best articulate her interest in the sensations of experiencing certain times and being in certain spaces. She wants to convey the feeling of experiencing these spaces, therefore the works take on very evocative and personal identities.
RK: Bijoy Jain on the other hand uses a minimal approach to his art work. How does this resonate across his architecture and art? For instance, the idea of “allowing atmosphere to seamlessly pass” through his forms, the idea of structure alongside lightness and transparency?
AZ: I would not necessarily describe his approach as minimal. It is richly suggestive. He creates atmospheres in his buildings and objects. He plays with textures, natural elements and is always interweaving indoor and outdoor spaces together seamlessly.
RK: Why does Jain use material like bamboo and yet makes it precious by gilding it with gold leaf? How in your opinion do these forms “simultaneously reveal and conceal” Lambri’s images?
AZ: Bamboo is a material that is very present in many areas of Jain’s practice. By way of context, it is commonly used in constructions in India, as well as for scaffolding and for Tazia, which also are the titles of his sculptures. Tazia are traditional structures carried in Islamic processions in India, and are part of the inspiration for the works he is showing in the Venice gallery. The bamboo structures were created at Bijoy’s studio in Mumbai and shipped to Italy. In Venice, these works were gilded in the traditional gold leafing that Venice has been renowned for over the centuries. Bijoy therefore combines artisanal techniques and crafts from different countries; creating hybrid forms that are a product of the interconnectedness he sees in the world around him. By gilding the sculptures, they take on a different appearance and different meaning, appearing perhaps more precious or heavier than they really are. Many visitors have assumed they are made of metal - it is only when they come close that they see the delicate traces of the gold leafing process on the fine surface of bamboo. The resulting structures are open and allow the viewer to see through them. This was an important part of the discussion between Luisa and Bijoy - they both very much wanted the viewer to be able to see parts of the photographic works through the Tazia. As one walks around the Tazia, areas of the photographic work on the wall are both revealed and concealed. It is only once a visitor has walked around each structure that they see a photograph in its entirety.
RK: Finally, how do the two bodies of work create a unique experience of space, its emptiness and fullness?
AZ: Both Luisa and Bijoy’s works are concerned with space, volumes, transparency and lightness. Yet they also revolve around structures that are, in essence, solid. Luisa’s photographs in are taken in ‘empty’ spaces, yet the artworks are full of feeling. Bijoy’s sculptures are open-form structures yet fill their surroundings with their golden glow. Both the photographs and the sculptures on view in the gallery convey an elastic presence: from different angles or different conceptual readings they can move swiftly from ephemeral works defined by a light touch, to pieces that are imbued with histories and localised narratives.