Shilpa Gupta - Someone Else

Shilpa Gupta was born in 1976 in Mumbai and is a practicing conceptual artist. She works with various different genres and media to create pieces that explore themes such as technology, militarism, human rights, desire, and conflict, including photography, video, installation, sound and performance. Gupta especially focuses on technology and how it serves and is used by politics. The artist believes technology is an extension of the body, mind and perception, and investigates its role and psychological dimensions.

Speaking about her work, Gupta notes, “I am interested in the media that we employ, text or script being one of the most frequent examples, and therefore the loss of the inherent gap that takes place during the process of communication. I am interested in the process of absence, which could take place in the authoritative mode of history writing, of censorship, or simply even how our actions are largely controlled by the unconscious. I am interested in deletion, I’m interested in the space between our desires and our realities, of which we do not know enough. I am interested in the vulnerability we create for ourselves by ourselves, by creating structures and groups and then being faced with the impossibility of borders between them.”

The exhibition includes both recent and older works by Gupta. In the first room of the gallery, part of the installation, ‘Someone Else’ (2011-2012), is on display (the other part is located at Bristol Central Library). The installation is a representation of a library of 100 books by anonymous authors or by authors who used pseudonyms. These books have been chosen from different countries and include authors such as Emily Brontë and Herman Hesse, both pseudonyms. Pseudonyms were used for many different reasons, but mainly because of censorship and social discrimination. In ‘Someone Else’ a library of 100 metal books is displayed, each of them titled with the reason for the author’s anonymity or pseudonym. Also, only the covers of these books are displayed, symbolizing the absence of the author’s real identity. The second part of the installation at the Bristol Central Library actually displays actual editions of these books, which can be borrowed and read.

Moving into the second room of the Arnolfini Gallery, viewers encounter ‘Singing Cloud’ (2008-2009), and an untitled work created at the same time. ‘Singing Cloud’ is an installation of 4000 microphones arranged in an amorphous shape. The work was created in collaboration with a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and reflects on the power images have, and the effect technology and the media have on the state and on people’s psychology, particularly in creating fear and suspicion. Here, the microphones are disassociated from their normal use as they emit sounds instead of recording it.

The other installation comprises a flap-board, originally used to announce departures and arrivals at an airport. In Gupta’s work, 29 characters change every few seconds creating short sentences written by the artist about the problematic role of media disseminated information.

The last room of the gallery displays another untitled series of works from 2006, and the piece, “There is No Border Here’ (2005-2006). The former comprises a suite of photographs which belongs to a larger series of photographs and performances titled ‘Don’t See Don’t Hear Don’t Speak’. In the pictures on display at the Arnoldini Gallery, Gupta depicts herself dressed in military fatigues. In some pictures she pretends to wield a gun. These images are a reflection on violence and war in contemporary societies, and on the imposing and unquestioned power of the military.

‘There is no Border Here’ comprises a flag made of yellow adhesive tape directly pasted on to the gallery wall. A flag, the symbol of a nation, is here used to broadly represent the borders that are arbitrarily created on the basis of religion, ideology and nationality. The words ‘THERE IS NO BORDER HERE’ have been printed on the yellow tape, repeating across its entire length. A short piece of prose discussing the creation of physical and psychological borders between people has also been inserted in the work.

This exhibition offers viewers the essence of Gupta’s diverse oeuvre through a few key works. Being provocative, these pieces invite us to reflect on looming issues that affect us and our societies.

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