Unseen Art: LN Tallur on 'Time Travel' being exhibited… but not quite

The conceptual artist tells STIR about his deconstruction of a Ramkinker Baij sculpture missing out on being exhibited.

by Jones JohnPublished on : Nov 02, 2020

Since the early 2000s, LN Tallur’s poignant inspections of artefacts from across various visual cultures have found their way into several important exhibitions around the world. Often incorporating the specific iconographies of his subject matter, his critiques of culture simultaneously stand in reverence of its antecedents and conscious of their own place in history. At its heart, Tallur’s practice revolves around research and his sculptures are ever receptive to change as necessitated by his evolving appreciation of the ideas he attempts to grapple.

1. Please talk about your general practice.

Every new work starts from scratch, and the scratch of thought leads to the direction and method. Observing the process gives time to sink into the work. So, each time it teaches different things.

During the last few years, I have also started responding to various works from artists of different times. When an artist explains his/her experience with intensity, it creates an urge in me to respond to that work. It may be an ancient work or a modern one, or craft or design, or even an illustration, they all become art. I respond to them in the language that is best known to me, that is art. 

Many contemporary artworks are losing the presence of the artist in them. 

‘Santhal Family – Tribe by Ramkinker Baij at Shantinikethan’ | Santhal Family Tribe | LN Tallur | STIRworld
Santhal Family – Tribe by Ramkinker Baij at Shantinikethan Image: Biswarup Ganguly, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2. When and in what circumstances did you conceive this work?

When I think of sculptures from this part of the world, Ramkinkar Baij is special for me: he makes raw and powerful works. When I think of time and space, he always stands apart. I was looking for a chance to experience a powerful work. 

In 2017, Akansha Rastogi curated a show – Hangar for the Passerby. For this show, I proposed this thought of responding to a work of Ramkinkar Baij. Since it's KNMA, I was aware that I will get permission to scan his historical work from Kala Bhavan, Vishwa Bharati University, Shantinikethan. Also, I could propose the project to them for funding to make the work.

3. What is the theme for the work?    

Time Travel is a sculpture/installation based on a sculpture of Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980). It is based on his iconic site-specific Santhal Family -Tribe (1938). It was an attempt to create another sculpture to talk about Santhal Family. I was trying to understand that artwork in its own historic premises, time and space. Most of the time, we undergo such exercises through text-based mediums. I feel that most of the time in text, the meaning and interpretation of an artwork does not sink in. It is all about a medium talking about another medium. Here, my attempt was to talk about a sculpture through sculpture, that is using the same medium.

At first, the rawness of the sculpture appealed to me. Marxism or socialism was the dominant environment of that time, that might have led Ramkinkar Baij to choose the subject of the rural Dalit or Adivasi Santal family – a farmer husband, wife, kid and dog with their few possessions. It goes beyond the ideological concerns because the artist’s involvement is intense and raw in the making of the sculpture. This was of interest to me.  

The work is in cement. I guess the 1930s was the beginning of the use of cement in sculpture making. It's amazing that the way he uses cement evolved into a character in the sculpture. The drying process of the cement provides an armature and a chance for improvisation, which creates a rawness which is powerful. Presently, because of the weather, visible small stones mixed with cement brings some extra texture to the work. But it is agreed that this doesn't allow us to read the gestural moments of applied cement to some extent.  

01 mins watch 3D render of a section Time Travel | LN Tallur | STIRworld
3D render of a section of the installation Time Travel Video: Courtesy of LN Tallur

4. What process was used to make the work?

I wanted to make a walk-in sculpture (like a walk-in diorama) to experience Santal Family. So, I wanted to create the negative of the sculpture. So, I visited Shantiniketan to scan the sculpture by taking 360-degree images of the sculpture. Using that data, we created 3D data with the help of a technician. We created the data for the negative space of the sculpture, which almost looks like a mould for the 'Santhal family.' Based on the original sculpture size, we created cement blocks of that size, 25 pieces in total, which weighed almost 48 tonnes.  

Parallelly, we created the Styrofoam model and then we used 3D robotic milling technology to mill each of the pieces. Milling translates the manual gesture of the original sculpture into a very calculated mechanical language or illustrates hand-made characters. The original sculpture used the method of adding cement and with milling I have adapted the carving out of the cement block, which is a reverse process.

But the machine broke down during the process and we faced problems during the work and failed to complete it before the deadline. As we sped up, quality started suffering. Since it is a sponsored work, the pressure of production increased. 

5. Why do you think it has not been shown yet?

It's important to analyse the several reasons.

i. To give justice to the size of the original sculpture I increased the size of the work initially, which doubled the production budget.  

ii. The milling machine broke down twice, which delayed production.

iii. Work had to travel from south India to Delhi in two 25 tonne capacity trucks. A truck met with an accident and broke down. Work arrived in Delhi three days after the opening.

iv. Organisers lost interest since it arrived late and four pieces of the work were broken by the time it reached Delhi.

v. Finally, it was displayed in the parking lot in front of the museum and the display was half-hearted.

vi. I felt tired and didn't want to think any more about that work. It was Delhi summer in the Industrial area.

01 mins watch 3D render of a section Time Travel | LN Tallur | STIRworld
3D render of a section Time Travel Video: Courtesy of LN Tallur

6. What would be the ideal (most desired) format to display the work if and when given a chance?

I wanted viewers to experience my sculpture from the nucleus position of the original work and be able to experience it in 360-degree, which is like a walk-in diorama. It was the converse way of experiencing "Santhal Family”.

For example, my work itself creates a room and each side of the Santhal Family sculpture could be viewed on that side of the wall as a cavity. The positive part or the sculpture is in the air and the viewer will conceive the sculpture during his viewing experience.

In the future, I am going to re-make this sculpture, when we happen to update the current 3D milling technology.

A model of Time Travel in styrofoam and the artwork at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art’s parking lot | Time Travel | LN Tallur | STIRworld
A model of Time Travel in styrofoam and the artwork at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art’s parking lot Image: Courtesy of LN Tallur

Unseen Art:
Curated by Rahul Kumar, STIR presents Unseen Art: an original series that features works that have never been shown publicly, created by a selection of multidisciplinary artists from across the globe.

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