The empire struck back spectacularly a fortnight ago when Anish Kapoor, the celebrated British artist of Indian origin, was chosen to design a monument to mark the 2012 London Olympics. Kapoor’s Orbit is a structure of giant steel lattices. Construction of the 115m-tall structure, taller than the Statue of Liberty, is to be almost entirely funded by the steel company ArcelorMittal, owned by non-resident Indian (NRI) businessman Lakshmi Mittal. The company will put £16 million (around Rs109.7 crore) into the project.
The news of a twin Indian collaboration on a structure of such scale and significance was greeted enthusiastically in India. Many artists feel that the forthcoming Commonwealth Games are a good opportunity for Delhi to bring in contemporary expressions of public art because sponsors are likely to be available. The celebrated Subodh Gupta, for instance, says he sent a proposal to create a giant steel tree sculpture in time for the games but has yet to hear from the government. Delhi-based artist Jatin Das questions the declarations by the games’ organizing committee that preceded the games plan, suggesting a 1% allocation of all building expenditure on public art. Considering the amount of construction work the games have entailed, the city should have been dotted with public artworks by now.
Towering: Kapoor’s Orbit will be constructed in London to celebrate the 2012 Olympics. Bloomberg
Navneet Kumar, secretary of the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC), says a committee comprising architects, landscape architects, artists and muralists was formed in January to take a call on all public art projects. “But it has only met twice till now,” he adds. According to Kumar, the DUAC hasn’t received any proposals yet.
With this in mind, we asked four artists to share their visions for monumental structures that could be constructed to commemorate the games.
Paresh Maity: ‘The Vision’
Paresh Maity speaks with the fascination of an artist who has recently started working with sculptural installations.
His proposal for a monumental structure to commemorate the games is a giant eye mounted atop two 100ft columns that are designed like profile views of the faces of a man and a woman. In this all-steel structure, the eye itself is around 80ft wide. The entire structure is illuminated and an elevator and staircase scales its height to allow visitors to be at eye level with the centre of the eyeball. For Maity, the eye signifies humanity, growth, unity and stability.
His design has its roots in a smaller, 36x72-inch bronze and steel sculpture called The Vision that was part of his large solo, The World on a Canvas, at Delhi’s Art Alive Gallery in March.
The artist visualizes this structure near the airport or at the entrance of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium—where a majority of the games will be hosted. “I see this as a matt steel structure. One that can easily be funded by the likes of SAIL, Tata Steel or Jindal Steel,” he adds.
Sudarshan Shetty: ‘The History of Loss’
The installation of Sudarshan Shetty’s The History of Loss in Vancouver coincided with the commencement of the Winter Olympics there and the work is currently on display at the Vancouver Biennale. “It is about staging an event, recording that event, and history,” says Shetty, referring to the wall of small aluminium model cars encased in transparent plexiglass boxes that have been stacked together. Shetty feels that the work will be as relevant in any urban space in India and its subversive take on the idea of staging an event and then truthfully recording it for posterity could make visitors to the Commonwealth Games pause.
The toy-size cars are all damaged, mimicking a car crash, and each plexiglass case holding them has a date printed on it. “I had 42 days to make this work,” says Shetty. “So there are 42 events (cars), made in 42 days, with 42 dates.” The piece lends itself to multiple interpretations—the “methodical violence of the city” as represented by the grid, the systematic representation of events or of creating history, as well as the “facile and meaningless” aspect of the whole endeavour.
Gigi Scaria: ‘Wheel’
Gigi Scaria is impressed by Anish Kapoor’s monumental sculpture for the 2012 London Olympics. “It is an amazing structural construct and it is also very rooted in a conceptual understanding,” he says. But for Scaria, the Commonwealth Games bring to the fore the urgent debates around “development”, construction and fast-changing cityscapes.
Scaria’s 12ft-high Ferris wheel—with miniature apartment blocks where the seats should be—fashioned out of wood and paint was exhibited in Mumbai in 2009. An electric motor made the wheel rotate. “It has been designed reflecting my idea of urban space as an amusement park,” he says. “Today we are thrilled by so many things happening in the city—something is going on forever. And the excitement it generates has its ups and downs.”
Conceptually, he now reimagines this Ferris wheel as a monumental work with each “apartment block” big enough to hold two-three people. “I see the structure of the wheel reflecting the social and urban structure of any city—inside the apartments you will see new things all the time as the wheel rotates,” Scaria says. “The way the landscape is always changing and builders are constructing a new city.”
Vishal K Dar: ‘I Am a Monument’
Trained primarily as an architect, Vishal Dar works with digital animation software, prototyping technology and new media to produce archi sculptures and art installations.
For the Commonwealth Games, he proposes a 250ft hologram called I Am a Monument that he designed in November as part of the Khoj artists’ residency programme.
Dar visualizes a light projection of a Mother India figure near India Gate.
“India Gate is a colonial structure. What better occasion than the Commonwealth Games to make a nationalistic statement?” asks Dar, who believes that India’s agrarian identity still holds her in strong stead, making Mother India an icon that captures the spirit of the nation state appropriately.
For Dar, there’s more to the 1957 pop culture allusion. “In the movie, (actor) Nargis struggles against all odds single-handedly. She doesn’t let go of her principles, even killing her own son when she believes him to be in the wrong,” Dar explains.
In his representations, the figure—almost double the size of the gate—appears to walk up from behind it. In Dar’s narrative, she is about to topple over India Gate, plough through Rajpath (the ceremonial boulevard for the republic) before eventually reaching Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The artist had earlier envisioned a steel and concrete structure but has settled for a light projection to make it all the more striking.
Compiled by Anindita Ghose and Himanshu Bhagat