It is the opening day of project Conscious-sub-conscious at Gallery Espace. Perched atop a stepladder on the landing, B. Manjunath Kamath is drawing what looks like a divine being with a thick black felt-tip pen on the pristine white wall. The emerging figure has many hands, and densely intertwined water-pipe-like hair is bunched up above his head that terminates in a tap.
From time to time, Kamath comes down to greet visitors. He explains that the water pipe will also run through the deity’s many arms. “It is the Jal Board god,” he says, grinning. “He controls the water supply to the city.”
Spontaneity and viewer interaction are the key to Kamath’s latest project and its roots lie in the past. As a child, when he visited his ancestral home in Bantwal village near Mangalore, by his grandfather’s decree, he was free to draw as he pleased on one wall of the cowshed. He went there again two years ago and could still see traces of his doodles. “I was reminded of the freedom of those childhood years when there was no pressure involved in drawing anything,” he says.
An idea took form; and now Kamath has let his inner child loose on the bare white walls of Gallery Espace. For a week, armed with thick felt pens, brush and black poster colour, he has been drawing whatever he fancies on the walls and ceiling of the gallery’s two floors. “I have no pre-planned ideas because that will make it rigid,” he says.
Rooted: Kamath’s contemporary figures have a mythological touch. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Kamath is happy viewers are getting a rare chance to see an artist at work, though he seems to have minor misgivings. “I am making my personal space into public space,” he admits. “I have no fear about what I am going to draw, but I am scared that there will be no privacy.”
The result of Kamath’s week-long endeavour is on display for another week—and then the walls will be whitewashed. There is, of course, ample precedence for creating art that is temporary—Kamath refers to Durga idols and puja pandals where artisans come up with novel and elaborate ideas year after year.
Nor is this restricted to the Indian tradition. Art critic, poet and writer Ranjit Hoskote has worked closely with Kamath as a curator and written about his art. He points to the well-established idea of “ephemeral art” in the Western contemporary art tradition. “It is a celebration of renewal,”he says. “And not attached to a product that is finished. The ephemeral holds out the promise that it can be renewed and repeated.”
Hoskote points out that the project is also an important step for Gallery Espace. The gallery is trying, he says, “to unmake the idea that the gallery is a site to present a product.” This is part of a larger trend among galleries in India to become more responsive to new media. “This is not just a change in Manjunath’s practice, but also in Renu Modi’s (of Gallery Espace) practice,” he says.
Calling the project “part laboratory, part performance art, part theatre, partly reinvention of the gallery site”, Hoskote also sees it as a “revitalization” of the viewing experience. But will there be enough viewers? Kamath says friends from Mumbai, Bangalore and Vadodara are coming. “The work will be spontaneous and raw, but it will have quality,” he says. “It’ll be like a sketchbook; a very large sketchbook that I’ll be putting up in public.”
Conscious-sub-conscious is on view until 4 September at Gallery Espace, New Delhi. For details, log on to www.galleryespace.com