Dislocation: Mill Junction Part 2

Following the success of the first part of ‘Mill Junction’, a 2010 exhibition of Baiju Parthan’s works at Aicon Gallery in New York, the gallery’s outpost in London is showing the second part of the exhibition entitled ‘Dislocation: Mill Junction Part 2’ from 15 July to 27 August, 2011.

Although Mumbai is described and understood in different ways by its inhabitants, Parthan, who lives and works in the Indian megalopolis, believes the best way of describing Mumbai is as a city of textile mills. The textile mill culture, also known as the Bombay chawl culture, is what is often seen in the background of Bollywood movies. Through the works in this exhibition, the artist has chosen to re-focus viewers’ attention on this disappearing culture.

Following a major strike in the Mumbai textile mills in 1982, most of the factories closed down and were converted into living quarters. Through this exhibition, Parthan explores the disappearance of the textile mills over time using iconic images and symbols of the chawl culture.

Born in Kerala in 1956, Baiju Parthan completed a Master’s degree in Botany in 1976. Following his graduation, he took up the study of various other subjects, including fine arts, philosophy and mythology, which made his art practice extremely diverse. When he stopped creating art for a decade in the 1980s, Parthan’s interest shifted to technology, and he spent time exploring the influence of technology on religious beliefs. Parthan has exhibited his work in solo shows in Goa, Mumbai, New Delhi and New York among other cities, and has participated in several group exhibitions around the world.

The symbols which emerge from Parthan’s works in his current solo exhibition include Mumbai’s old fiat taxis, chawl houses where mill workers lived, and figures of the actual workers in the street. To the artist, all of these are icons of a culture which belongs to the past and that has been overcome by modernity and by new life styles which the artist is slightly wary of.

Amongst the works on display, ‘Mill Junction 3 (Soft Graffiti)’ is a disfigured painting with computer code graffiti strewn across its surface. Using this technique the artist demonstrates the transition of photography from actual material objects to immaterial objects made up of rows of ASCII code, and underlines the influential relationship between painting and photography. Moreover, the work depicts evolution by pairing the image of an old black and yellow taxi with that of a modern Formula One race car, referencing the passage of time and the advancement of machines over men.

In ‘Lunch Break 1’, Parthan depicts the development of high-rise buildings in Mumbai, which eventually overcome and destroy the city’s older structures, creating holes in its landscape and metamorphosing its skyline. Also in the frame, a black meteorite hurtling towards the city seems to confirm the idea of the fugacity of life expressed by Parthan.

In the note accompanying the exhibition, Parthan states, “While virtual reality developers try to replicate and emulate reality in virtual space, virtuality itself has been undermining the solidity our reality. Probably this is the first time in our intellectual history, we have two categories of reality overlapping each other- virtual reality, and real reality, as most of our contemporary life activities are conducted in virtual data space. One could argue that we have augmented our reality with virtuality. But from another position one can see how virtual augmentation is leeching away the solidity of the real.”

The works exhibited in Aicon Gallery, London, have been painted using various styles of art and schools of expression. Frequently, past and present are compared in the same frame, and techniques like mirroring and the introduction of ASCII characters are used to interrupt the uniformity of the artwork and to express a sense of multiplicity. Thus, Parthan’s body of work offers both a critique and a celebration of the past, as well as a representation of the advancing present, underlining the differences between these divergent worlds and the effervescence and impermanence of life.

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