|Step-by-step Kallat conquers the world|
I went all the way to Chicago, and guess what – the first article to catch my eye, when I opened the Time Out Chicago website, was one recommending a view of a public installation work by Jitish Kallat entitled Public Notice 3 at the Art Institute of Chicago or ARTIC. (ARTIC, by the way, houses such greats as Nighthawks by Edward Hopper and American Gothic by Grant Wood.) Never one to let a story go to waste, I quickly charged my dictaphone and set out to view the work and interview the curator. The article appeared in this week’s TOI Crest, and you can read an online version of it here.
What is interesting, and which I didn’t get a chance to discuss in the article – word counts are such a bummer! – is how the work actually got made.
So for those not keen on reading the Crest piece, this much should suffice to understand the work: “The installation links two important events in American history. The first is the landmark speech delivered by Swami Vivekananda calling for an end to “bigotry and fanatism” at the opening of the first World’s Parliament of Religions, on September 11, 1893, held at the site of the Chicago museum. The second is, of course, the terrorist attacks on the same day, 108 years later. Kallat has recreated the entire text of Swami Vivekananda’s speech on the risers of the main staircase of the museum using LED lights in the five colors of the US Department of Homeland Security alert system—red, orange, yellow, blue and green.”
However, I imagined Kallat playing a critical role in the creation of the installation. When we hear that the installation is by So-&-So, we still conjure-up visions of the artist painstakingly hammering away at his sculpture / installation. Actually, Kallat’s main role regarding this work pertained to conceptualisation. The museum curator, Madhuvanti Ghose, then found a company that specialises in making art installations, gave them the specifications, and worked with them to bring the installation to life. Kallat was consulted over phones and emails. Throughout the course of the installation’s creation – which was roughly a year – Kallat only made an appearance in Chicago once. That was in August this year, a month before the show’s opening, when the installation was ready for a mock-up.
I wonder if any credit needs to be given to the company that actually produced the installation as per the specifications received. None of the literature accompanying the work mentions them. Ms Ghose in the interview said that it is well-known within the artistic community of Chicago, so I am guessing, they don’t as such need the marketing mention. But do we as the viewers need to know who actually made this work, apart from who conceptualised it?
I am not asserting that the installation not being hand-made by Kallat in any way diminishes it. It does not: the work fully and completely remains his. But does the museum or the artist owe it to their viewers to make the process of the making of the artwork transparent to the viewer?
What was also interesting was that the installation – that is so custom-made for this particular site – can in fact be loaned to other museums. Only, it would have to be built from scratch for the borrowing museum. Ms Ghose said that the site of its display will have be relevant, since much of the artwork’s meaning is derived from the site of its installation: the staircase opposite the Fullerton Hall at ARTIC, the exact spot where Swami Vivekananda made his speech on September 11, 1893. However, I wonder, if the artwork is so site-specific, how can it ever be recreated elsewhere without either losing its meaning or donning a new meaning. Would it not then be a whole new work?
After all, if it weren’t for its site-specificity, wouldn’t the art-work simply be Detergent: a very similar text-and-light installation – with the same speech and colours – on the staircase of the Guangdong Museum of Art in China, that Kallat made last year?
I have created a soundslide – my first – of Kallat’s installation. All images except the first one are courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago. (PS: The triumphant Star & Stripes music is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and yes, I know there are typos in the video text. I didn't realise that I wouldn't be allowed to edit once the video was made. Sorry about that.)
Kallat goes to America on PhotoPeach