There is No Border Here
Johny ML, Art Concerns, Review, February 2007


There is No Border Here

Johny ML visits Shilpa Gupta’s multimedia installation projects presented at the Apeejay Media Centre, New Delhi, in collaboration with Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. Having less idea about the technological side of these installations, he tries to read the implied meanings in them.

Shilpa Gupta 'I tried very hard to cut the sky in half. One for my lover and one for me. But the sky kept moving and clouds from his territory came into mine. I tried pushing it away with both my hands. Harder and harder. But the sky kept moving and the clouds from my territory went into his. I brought a sofa and placed it in the middle. But the clouds kept floating over it. I built a wall in the middle. But the sky started flow through it. I dug a trench. And then it rained and the sky made clouds over the trench. I tried very hard to cut..'

These lines, for me, sounds like a letter from the war front. A lovelorn soldier sits in one of the trenches and writes down these lines. He is fighting a war for someone. The lines get blurred as the tears from his eyes trickle on the letters. Had there been no colour movies, we could have imagined this scene in black and white. The intensity of a world where the evil was depicted in black and the good was etched in white. It could be a cliché.

Now these lines are pasted on a huge wall at the Apeejay Media Centre, New Delhi. It is pasted in the form of a flag; a piece of clothe that loads a vain man’s chest with the pride of belonging and resultant arrogance. It flutters. This yellow flag is nobody's flag. Come closer and know me, it invites. The closer you get, the better you read the ants like formations on the yellow stripes. Like the 'Om' written on a Hindu sage's clothes, you see the inscriptions: THERE IS NO BORDER HERE. It goes on like a chanting.

This work of Shilpa Gupta is simple and direct. Flags that should have been heralding the freedom, now limits it. In its inscribed nationality, ideology, caste, creed, race a flag becomes a limiting thing; it embodies the 'border'. The artist, who is famous for her multimedia installations, sets the tone with this work. And you are reminded that there is a border. The unintended irony comes to fore when you stand in front of her interactive video projections. To view these works, one has to stand behind a 'border line' (Please stay on this side of the line) so the technical devices can capture your images and make you participate in her works.

This is quite interesting. You stand behind a line. Seven girls decked up in camouflage clothes, terror turned into fashion, stand in a row. You can manipulate them using the mouse clicks. Then one of them assumes the leadership of the rest and engages them in a kind of mass drill. The sociology and psychology of the mass. You make one a leader and he/she starts dictating. These are programmed movements, yet modifiable. In their enthusiasm they even enact the Nazi salutation. 'Hail Hitler' becomes a more chirpy and coquettish 'Hey Hey'. The discreet charm of terror and fundamentalism.

I don't understand technology beyond a point. Protocol, programming and terms like those go above my head. But like many million masses of this country I too can participate in this. Shilpa Gupta says that she does not want to leave any space in the world which is not invaded by art. Art, then is a terror. And Shilpa turns the terror into a play. It is a counter thesis on the real time video games where one can act out an act of terrorism without having a trace of guilt. Shilpa creates programs and protocols that enable the viewer to be a part of it. It injects pleasure and guilt in you. You become a shadow. And the artist's various selves get into you, according to your size and demeanor, she goes into you and multiplies into so many. They march out and you are rendered helpless in holding the marchers back in you. You engender terror and you contain terrorists. Shilpa, the shadow self of her jumps on your head. You want to take her away for you are embarrassed to carry someone on your head. Then she jumps on to your shoulder. The enactment of Vikram and Vetal. Do you go back home with a shattered head?

In one of the works, you find yourself again in shadow. But you can open the windows that you chance upon the wall. Then the cacophony of life comes into the space. You are in a pool that sucks you and your resist to be sucked in. It is time for the houses to fall. They fall and fall like rain. You have to carry them. You become house. You become so fragile that your movement collapses the houses. You become one with them; a brown shadow. Then the birds come. They fly on you, above you and through you. Then you become an emblem. If you are lucky you will have a bird in your soul.

Shilpa's another work 'Blame' is also on display. These were the bottles with simulated blood that she had sold in the Mumbai local trains after the pogrom in Gujarat. Now they sit pretty in rows highlighting the frozen beauty of the morgue. Shilpa's concerns with art are socio-politically oriented. As much as I could gather, she is one of those artists who articulates her concerns through the conversion of technology into aesthetics. She is a pacifist in guerrilla attire.

PS: I happen to view the untitled shadow project along with the noted art critic Geeta Kapur, artist Vivan Sundaram and Anuradha Kapur. The shadow jumped on Geeta Kapur's head and was not ready to move away, however Geeta tried to shoo her away. Then Shilpa's shadow got into the shadow of my one and half year old son, Maitreya and started reproducing warrior like shadows of his diminutive size. In his pure innocence he was laughing and trying to catch all those shadows. Perhaps, these two incidents for their pure chance help me to remember Shilpa's works so long as I live on earth.