Two bronze gargoyles clasp a massive 15x6ft stretch of linen that features a painting reminiscent of an animal carcass. It is somewhat bloody and appropriately titled Haemoglyphics (Archipelago of Aches). In another one of artist Jitish Kallat’s installations, Annexation, over a hundred fantastical beasts made of black lead come together to form a 6ft-high kerosene stove. A closer look shows that the animals are devouring each other in a struggle to survive.
These pieces will be on display starting 15 February in a show titled The Astronomy of the Subway at Haunch of Venison, a leading London gallery. Kallat is the first South Asian artist to be represented by the gallery and this will be his 23rd solo show.
Spread across seven rooms and two floors of the gallery, the exhibition incorporates oil and acrylic painting, sculpture, installation and video.
Photo: Anil Rane/Iris Dreams
But the medium is inconsequential, Kallat says over the phone from his Mumbai studio, where he is giving finishing touches to his works. “I never set out thinking I’ll create an installation or video. I pick the medium that I presume will be the best vehicle for the idea in my head,” he says.
Kallat, 35, a rising star on the Indian contemporary art scene, is best known for his large-scale works. Here, as if using the other end of the telescope, he reverses his style in a few installations. The centerpiece of the exhibition will be a dispersed sculptural installation: Untitled (Anger at the Speed of Fright). It is a crowd of rioting fibreglass Lilliputians caught in various acts of violence. But the 70 punching, kicking, weapon-brandishing 15cm figures look almost comical when reduced in scale. And placed on the floor, beneath the viewer’s God-like gaze, they seem to depict the absurdity of violence.
The impressionistic gore of Haemoglyphics and the mundane dolls of Untitled don’t make for pretty pieces. The beasts in Annexation have been inspired by figures adorning the porch of the Victoria Terminus building (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), which is the nerve centre of Mumbai’s commuter action. The train station’s architectural friezes carry several images of turmoil that for Kallat are not unlike the daily grind of survival the porch witnesses every day.
It is evident that Kallat’s years in Mumbai, where he was born and raised, inform the theme of this show—sustenance, survival and mortality in a crowded urban landscape.
Kallat studied at the Sir JJ School of Art, situated right opposite the Victoria Terminus, and for five years every day, he witnessed thousands emerge from its underground subway to earn their livelihood. Even the gargoyles that hold up his paintings with their teeth have been borrowed from this train station. For Kallat, they are one of the oldest bystanders—over 120 years—in the city, with a vantage point atop the train terminus.
This is an important time for Kallat, whose seminal works are featuring presently at the Empire Strikes Back group show at the Saatchi Gallery, London (the show opened on 29 January and will run through 7 May). This includes the famous Public Notice-2 which is made of 4,500 sculptures, as well as other pieces made between 2006-2009 which are part of the Charles Saatchi collection.
Going from large-scale to miniatures, struggle to surplus, Kallat doesn’t cease to surprise. The video he’s editing for the show is a looped 2-minute sequence of X-rayed foodstuff—we won’t say what—hurled at the viewer in a constant stream. It is an ironic inclusion in an exhibition which is filled with images of animals gobbling each other.
Jitish Kallat’sThe Astronomy of the Subway will be on exhibit from 15 February-27 March at the Haunch of Venison, London.