A love story that didn’t happen, a bowl of boiling water that isn’t actually boiling, a setting that doesn’t exist – such are the fictions that make up ‘This is Unreal’, a group show of works by RAQS Media Collective (RMC), Yamini Nayar and Susanta Mandal held at Experimenter. In the realm of conceptual art, RMC and Yamini Nayar are highly-respected for their thought-provoking works. Mandal is among those who is rapidly gaining credibility as an inventive artist. All of this serves to raise one’s expectations of ‘This is Unreal’ and some of the works in the show live up to what is expected of their creators.
RMC has both the most powerful and the weakest works in the show. Skirmish, a story imagined out of a random graffiti the artists spotted in Damascus, is a series of photographs that have a few lines decoupaged on them. The poetic text tells a love story that is simultaneously cruel and romantic. Skirmish hangs against a wallpaper titled The Librarian’s Lucid Dream, which is a collection of library index cards. The combination is riveting and the two pieces complement each other beautifully. Unfortunately, RMC’s video is a misfit in ‘This is Unreal’, despite being well-crafted. It is weighed down by innuendoes of politics and violence, which clashes to the lighter tone of the rest of the show and weakens ‘This is Unreal’.
Mandal’s installation is a tease. Stand in front of the white screen, and you see a burner with a transparent bowl in which is boiling water. Go round to the back and reality proves to be a contraption that blows bubbles into the water. If you know that this work is part of a series Mandal conceived with the intention of critiquing the manufacture of news, then the biting satire fuelling Mandal’s installation is palpable. Without this context, however, the piece is simply a clever take on how closely reality and illusion are related to one another.
Next to RMC and Mandal’s works, Nayar’s are less obviously eye-catching and demand the viewer pay close attention to the spaces she has created so meticulously. Her photographs are perhaps the most directly connected to the title of the show because what is in her frame is actually not real, like the jeans button that looks like a cup and saucer.
The underlying idea of ‘This is Unreal’ is to showcase how the artist’s imagination can fashion an alternative reality out of the mundane. If there is a weakness in the show, then it is that the theme is too subtly displayed for most viewers to notice without the aid of some context and commentary, which isn’t provided. The show feels like a collection of works that are all individually strong but don’t connect with one another, which is a shame because this results in a display of conceptual art in which the concept is obscured from the viewer.
‘This is Unreal’, 23 July-5 September 2010, Experiementer, Kolkata.
Image Courtesy: Experimenter, Kolkata.