EXHIBITION - Ved Gupta: Small Format Works (Aug 10-Sep 10, 2010) :

With ‘Everybody Says We Are Fine…’ Ved Gupta contextualizes the proposition of ‘size’ in his practice. The small format show being held at Gallery Threshold, New Delhi brings together a body of miniature-sized works that thematically concentrates on issues the artist has always been concerned with, though displaying distinct quality of rendition and execution that a smaller pictorial scale offers. Not aiming for a definite departure from the theme of excesses, corruption, and oppression caused by unchecked power, the artist seeks extension of his narrative through adopting variation both in style as well as agency of representation.

Ved, your oeuvre seems to take a jaunt between sizes. While the figures in ‘Arrested Moment’ were life as well as dwarf-size, the dog titled Dog-Democracy exhibited at India Art Summit was colossal and proudly adorned the entrance. And even if the dwarfs become integral to your practice, creating miniature-sized works this time is definitely like a giant leap. How do you situate your practice vis-à-vis these developments?

A. In museum, usually the objects are placed on a pedestal bestowing them status of an art work. Interestingly, when the viewers are trained to assume my subject, dialogue and comment, playfulness induced through varying size and medium enhances the pleasure of onlooker. In ‘Arrested Moment’, pedestal was deliberately eliminated and rather the dwarfs alongside other works were affixed to the ground creating imagery of a human habitat. The Dog-Democracy in the Summit was twelve and a half feet while the small-format show poses works between four and a half to twelve inches. The miniature size figures create an illusion of their physical magnitude, as the execution remains very fine and detailed as in a miniature painting. A four inch sculpture can assume visual testimony of an eighteen inch one, when seen carefully.

Your oeuvre has a dominant satirical quality attached to it, through which you approach the socio-political subjects. Do you choose to assume the role of a commentator through this?

The use of satire in my practice evokes a deep intentional meaning, though indirectly. The soothing visual quality of the surface evokes the audience. I don’t directly intend to hit on these issues. Indeed, I am keen on assuming a dual role of an activist as well as of an artist who wants to derive aesthetic pleasure from his work. I want to operate as an artist giving vent to my aesthetic introspection which can also happen if I choose to work on my subjects as an outsider rather than a sufferer/insider. Experience of the author in the narrative is not that essential, but the narrative is.

Indeed, I situate my existence encircled by recent developments, happenings that reach to me by periodicals and newspapers. Political developments do interest me, and probably as a citizen, I garner a reaction towards it.

Interestingly, distinct objects like sofa, frog, Dalmatian occupy an iconic space in your pictorial territory. Indeed Dalmatian spots render themselves into the most upstage objects like a sofa. How does such an expression qualify in your aesthetic action?

As a visual artist, I take it as my prerogative to articulate through a visual language. Dalmatian dogs according to me are a special breed and never qualify for a pleasant depiction in my pictorial space. While I differentiate and categorize social and economical hierarchies in my work, a common man much lower in the rung becomes equivalent to a street dog. The Dalmatian dog occupies the role of a shrewd confidant who corrupts the mind of the powerful. This specie has a peculiar quality. It is born white and as it grows older, develops black spots. In a similar way, a person enters politics with naïve intentions but slowly gets corrupted in his thoughts and actions. The black spots of immorality and degeneration splatter over one’s character, and this is what I have tried to show. Similarly they debauch the sofa too which as an object is preserve of the feudal and elite class. It again manifests the compounding hierarchies in the society.

You have incessantly used frog as a metaphor in your work. Even in the works like The man with Untitled Companion as well as Untitled Companion, which were earlier conceptualized as paintings in ‘Arrested Moment’, this reference becomes clear. How do you justify the usage of this animal as a ‘companion’?

The alliance governments formed in recent years have strange tendencies. They are a mix of coagulated ideologies. While franchising your vote, you may agree with the ideologies of your potential candidate, but post-election the winner’s motivation and strategies are unpredictable. A voter post-verdict becomes a futile entity. In a democratic country like ours, government is formed not by the census of its people but by those who are qualified as opposition. Interestingly frog is the only amphibian which can run, walk, glide, swim, and climb making it rather abrupt and unpredictable in its action. Though, the imagery was perceived with the intrusion of the frog of Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, however, half red and half white Dalmation patches do have representational connections.

The frog mantles the dwarfed man’s face suffocating his vision and existence in The Man. In this case, the frog cannot be member of the same class, and is probably on an avenging mission. Is he a manifestation of the ‘proletariat’ and what is he trying to do to the man dressed like neta?

The frog has overpowered the head of the man having a determining stature. But as you can see both of these entities are looking in an opposite direction. I have again reversed the usual order and have handed over the authority to the victim to subvert the oppressor. The UPA government was formed with in compliance with centre-left policies, but I had serious contentions regarding the effectualness of this wedlock. The communist ‘Red’ also becomes defiled with this collision. It propagates to act for the proletariat of the country, but how far this is achieved is debatable.

The figures in ‘Arrested Moment’ bear dramatic expression on their face while the recent ones seem to be deprived of all the visible characteristics and the face is rather flattened. What has led to such visualization?

However I may render my faces, the stress is on exposing the real disposition of my characters. The earlier visages do not have a very life like rendering and the nose, eye, ears are slightly modified yet appear life-like. Expression is central to the works and subjectivity is best brought out with minimal modeling. The incisive flat edges of the faces divulge the cunning nature of the characters.

What would you want to say about the act of the two men’s head pushing their heads in block of concrete from either side in Discovery of Altruism? Who are they?

Discovery of Altruism is a work that structures around the element of ambiguity prevalent in the larger system where though each one is dependent on the other for its existence, nobody is sure of the other’s real disposition. The lean common man and the politician both are standing in opposition as in democracy, but at the same time are connected through the solid block manifested as institution of ‘Democracy’. A considerably aware citizen finds himself in a ‘flux’ when he votes, surrendering himself to the system as he goes headless, not in position to imply his mind. The Renunciation-I depicts clear act of surrender of a disempowered man to the powerful politician. The man again chooses to go headless by bandaging his face. Through this gesture, he is creating a periphery for himself, trying to run away from the system. Rather than creating a system, in India we are running with the system like ‘headless chickens’.

So the common man, who has been persistently salvaged and idealized by you is now under attack?

Yes, you can say that. Indeed that is the extension of my visual narrative. The voter is a very capable man, potent of a verdict. In Discovery of Altruism, we see him as drawing his hands behind as an act of surrender to the system. The main protagonist is the viewer who I want should construct meaning out of this negotiation and bestow his own verdict on them.

The Renunciation II and The Renunciation III however testify the absence of the common man in your visual territory. Where has he disappeared?

The common man is a ubiquitous entity in my work. I rather posit my viewer as a common man and anticipate a reaction from him. The man here clad as a politician is apparently shying away from the people whose presence he does not want to acknowledge in his territory after assuming power. Isn’t it a commonplace attitude our politicians wear with such an ease! Indeed in The Decency of Being I and The Decency of Being II, I am satirizing their vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings. The Decency of Being I depicts fancy leather shoes resting on the sofa bringing out an interesting dual proposition that encircles the life of politicians. A signifier of their comfort, shoes also occasionally constitute the share of brick-bats politicos are showered with. The verbal, non-verbal propaganda leverages presence in the power play. The Decency of Being II trumpets the rule of this game.

Use of mediums unusual to your practice like etching, small-sized drawing in Unmarked Remarks I to V and others is very curious. Art aficionados associate your oeuvre and practice with sculptures and often with paintings. How do you anticipate exhibiting drawing in a distinct format for the very first time in five years of your career? Also rendition of white (etching) on white paper maneuvers to vie for a different appreciation process. How do you introspect this movement?

The act of drawing and random sketching is like formulating a personal diary for an artist. It’s a continual process. Initially as a beginner I was little hesitant in projecting drawing as my mainstream practice. But probably five years of professional practice has instilled the confidence in me to explore and project this trajectory in a more focused way. Through this show, I am bringing to my viewers ‘a shock of new’, which I believed keeps the action alive. The new is also through a twist in my narrative besides putting forth various mediums like etching, drawing, painted fiberglass in a sized format. In Unmarked Remarks I to V, sofa is delineated with neutral etching on white paper. Through such rendition, I am exploring effect of a relief sculpture, when perceived visually. The theme focusing on empowered and disempowered entities existent in the system prevails here as well.

What’s next from Ved Gupta?

Hmm… it wouldn’t be a long kept secret. I have few interesting projects, an extension of subject as well; stressing upon study and analysis of post-independence India. Certainly, sculpture will major medium of portrayal.

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