The Škoda Prize for contemporary Indian art, now in its second year, rewards “an Indian artist under the age of 45 for the most outstanding exhibition in India produced in the 12 months preceding the award (this year, works exhibited between May 2010 and May 2011 were considered)."

Contenders: Jitish Kallat’s Untitled (1857) includes a museum vitrine at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum titled Regiments.

The composition of the longlist is evidence that the award committee is grading exhibitions, not artists. So while it includes veterans such as Jitish Kallat and Manjunath Kamath, there are young artists such as Manish Nai and Paula Sengupta. The winner will be announced at a collateral event to the India Art Fair (25-29 January) in the Capital on 28 January. We revisit the shortlisted shows:

Jitish Kallat

Shortlisted for ‘Fieldnotes: Tomorrow Was Here Yesterday’, at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, from 23 April-31 October 2011

Fieldnotes was conceived as a residency project by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, the honorary director and managing trustee of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum. The seminal exhibition linked Kallat’s long-standing obsession with the city of Mumbai to the museum’s colonial history and architecture. “I wanted the artworks to be conduits between the existing pieces in the museum," says Kallat, commenting on the new and old works which hid among the museum’s permanent exhibits, exploring the cycle of time and the drive for survival in the megapolis.

Kallat’s years in Mumbai, where he was born and raised, informed the exhibition’s theme. Playing both curator and artist, Kallat used the museum as a stage to unpack its histories, using art to travel between tomorrow and yesterday.

Deepa Laxmi by L.N. Tallur.

“The intention was to not enter the space with a notion of one own’s art and place in it," says Kallat, “but see how the collection and one own’s work can be invigorated through a mutual encounter."

LN Tallur

Shortlisted for ‘Chromatophobia: The Fear of Money’, at Nature Morte, New Delhi, from 10 April-4 May 2011

In the wake of the recent global financial crisis, L.N. Tallur’s exhibition cast a satirical eye on the obsession with wealth in India. Tallur, who lives in Karnataka and South Korea, used “found" classical icons to comment on greed in modern society. So there was an installation titled Unicode, where a traditional bronze Nataraja was obscured by an ugly mass of concrete. In another work, titled Deepa Laxmi, Lakshmi—the Hindu goddess of wealth—was seen obliterated with a concrete grinding machine.

In this context, chromatophobia, or the fear of money, is a peculiar predicament, Tallur reasons. “Treating chromatophobia (is) an invasive procedure that involves ‘bringing the rhythm back’ while maintaining the vitals in a stable condition under local anaesthesia." Visitors to the gallery could opt for a quick fix to their phobia by affixing a coin into Chromatophobia (hammered)’s log of wood, an altar of sacrifice held in place by two sculptures of Lakshmi. As more hopefuls hammered their wishes in, the sculpture turned into a glittering monument. This work recalled a traditional practice in rural Karnataka— from where Tallur hails—of pinning down the goddess by affixing a coin to one’s door.

“Lakshmi is considered chanchala , the restless one, who does not like to stay in one place. So people do not buy pictures or sculptures of Lakshmi in a standing position—they think she may leave early. Traditionally, she is shown sitting comfortably on a lotus. Some traditions go one step further and nail her: There is a tradition of nailing a coin at the entrance doorstep and the back-door steps of the house. This way, they manage their fear about money," says Tallur, whose argument is that India has a deep-rooted tradition of chromatophobia.

Navin Thomas

Shortlisted for ‘From the Town’s End...’, at GallerySKE, Bangalore, from 30 August-9 October 2010

In From the Town’s End…, Bangalore-based artist Navin Thomas explored his continuing interest in the afterlife of salvaged electronic junk. The exhibition had Thomas engendering interaction between electronic objects and the small living creatures, such as birds and insects, that inhabit the environment around them.

Thomas, who says he is interested in “the private life of your discarded electronic appliances", found each device used in the show in a scrap shop. The artist regularly scours flea markets and other junk havens in search of gadgets with audio capacities. “I am curious to see what a city regurgitates every morning," he says. “I think you can tell a lot about a culture from what it throws away."

In an installation titled …, a tree-like structure constructed from metal pipes and radio antennas was connected to discarded transistors tuned to blank frequencies. A flock of birds was introduced to this humming tree. When the birds flew around the antennas, the intensity of sound emitted from the radio sets fluctuated.

Patterns of attraction formed lyrical loops in Don’t Stare At the Light, Too Brightly..., which had a public announcement speaker serenading a flower made from ultraviolet bulbs and an industrial exhaust fan. Another speaker played the calls of nocturnal insects and animals.

Amid the installation, the drama of unrequited love played out: Insects gravitated to the bulbs and died from their devotion; their corpses surrounded the light stand each night. The recorded tracks, including the jazz tune My Funny Valentine, pushed the notion of bittersweet romance. Thomas had you wonder whether sounds from a mechanical device could exercise a hold over real insects as a love song appeals to humans.

The Škoda Prize Show will be on exhibit at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, from 24 January-6 February. The winner will be announced on 28 January.

anindita.g@livemint.com

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