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‘Under The Surface’: Three Indian artists show in Vienna
A significant collaborative art project at Vienna based Krinzinger Projekte brings together three noteworthy artists from India. Entitled ‘Under The Surface’, it includes creations by Hema Upadhyay, Tushar Joag and Anant Joshi. The major art show being hosted by Beth Citron has been organized in collaboration with Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road.

The carefully conceived art project revolves around new intriguing installation works. They have been specifically conceived for Krinzinger Projekte by the three participating artists, incidentally all of them three from Mumbai, showcasing their work for the first time in Vienna.

This ambitious project space courtesy Galerie Krinzinger has thus far organized a host of curated shows at its premises. Over the last seven years, Krinzinger Projekte has arranged major shows and art events apart from an international artist in residence program series. The current show is the second in a curated series with a focus on Indian contemporary art. The first edition, encapsulating the spirit of current art trends from India, was hosted last year.

Underlining the broad theme of the show, curator Beth Citron states, “These interlinked projects effectively explore the dynamic possibilities of Krinzinger Projekte’s space. Simultaneously, they offer an innovative context to see contemporary art from Mumbai in Vienna.”

The common thread binding the works on view is the three participating artists’ ability of prioritizing and presenting immediate problems encountered by today’s urban India. Highlighting this aspect of their practice, an accompanying note states, “They often achieve this through the disguise of playful imagery drawn from a multitude of sources. These include popular cartoons, comic book fantasy and toy action figures. They draw the viewers into cynical and subversive warnings on sinister realities quietly lurking beneath apparently catchy and fun surfaces. They attain this by employing wooden or plastic toys and even pop-up books as the key ingredient of their installation work.”

For instance, Anant Joshi’s pieces use dramatic spectacle to convey his revulsion for the accepted, subtle violence and rituals of ordinary urban life. His ‘Tampering with the Muse Trap’, composed and assembled of agglomerations of some reworked plastic toys, carries a subtle message for viewers. The plastic figure ‘Smiley’ is his ironic muse in this mesmerizing multi-part installation. He skillfully fashions the playthings into semi-abstracted forms. These include a ‘Smiley Tower’ as well as a ‘Smiley Castle’.

If Anant Joshi’s simultaneously comical and sinister creations reflect acute sensitivity to the painful process of urban alienation and cultural displacement, Hema Upadhyay deals with an emigrant's struggle to belong in an alien place. The work narrates her transition-personal and artistic-positioning herself as a self-aware agent for the anonymous urban migrant. It often privileges impressions of the much distorted urban landscape as well as the performative gesture.

The artist constructs a largish abstract form in ‘Cell’ from flat wooden puzzle pieces sourced in Chinese markets. It does away with the logical expectation that a completed or solved puzzle should depict a recognizable image. She rather presents the individuality, mutability and fragility of each individual piece. In ‘Cell’, sourcing the pieces from China reflects on the changing capital and availability of imported goods in India, and the loss of one’s own identity in a global market. The artist at once evokes a womb-like ‘formless form’ in which organic cells intermingle and adapt in the body, and a claustrophobic prison cell in which the viewer as consumer is locked into a role in a commercial market.

On the other hand, Tushar Joag’s educative visual practice lends a new dimension to his work. Often through his colorfully illustrated, open pop-up books, the artist points out the haphazard redevelopment of the city without any consideration for its heritage or socio-economic demands. His new art project draws from his work that he did as artist-activist through mock corporation UNICEL he ‘founded’ five years ago. It publicizes common problems faced by the people of Mumbai by mimicking them, and putting forward fanciful, albeit impractical solutions.

Bringing out the essence of the projects on view, the curatorial note points out that they try to entice viewers engage the different installations from multiple perspectives and distance so that what seems fathomable at first and on the surface as elements of fun and games are actually provocations about social/urban violence, political action, and personal boundaries/identities. On closer inspection, one realizes that the artists want to present a subtle albeit trenchant commentary on some extremely relevant anxieties faced by urban India.