Monday, October 4, 2010

Kallat in Chicago: Or you just can't escape India anywhere

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


Yet Another Anonymous said...

This installation is so appropriate and satirical. Your combining the Sousa march with it completes the vision.

The first point of interest for me is the magical number of 108 years between the attacks.

Then, given the spirit of Vivekananda's speech at a time when the idea of militant nationalism was first being heavily promoted in the west I have to think this Kallat is on to something with this display.

The Pledge was written in 1892, the speech came in 1893, and the march was written in 1896.

The Pledge and march are artifacts of a waxing desire in America to create a national socialist society, a military and industrial army that would, upon command signaled by a bell or whistle, gather around the national lingam and salute the name tag atop.

These ideas blossomed into eugenics laws in America that were used as the racial hygiene model for that other famous national socialist nation whose name is now so unfashionable, while leading to 600,000 forced sterilizations of the "unfit" in America that only ended in the early '70's.

And of course there are those who claim that America's national ambitions played some part into provoking the attack on Sept. 11, from whatever quarter it came.

So one wonders if Vivekananda had glimpsed the future of bigotry and fanatism and just how aware Kallat is of all that has transpired between the two dates concerning America's role in promoting.... I won't use the most appropriate word because it's on the list.

I think this is a great display!

globalbabble said...

Hi Yet-Another-Anonymous,

Yes, I thought the installation was full of clever irony, like most of Kallat's works that I have seen. It combined sharp contrasts to make a point.

Though I must admit that I had no clue that the Pledge of Allegience was controvertial. We have it in India too. I never thought that my pledging of allegience to my country in any way came in the way of speaking the truth or criticising it.

Yet Another Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware India had a pledge, so I looked it up and lo, it was written by Vivekananda. It is a beautiful pledge, much different in nature and origin than the American pledge.

The American pledge isn't really controversial, except for the "one nation under God" part these days. Most Americans whose hearts swell with the reciting of the pledge at sporting events and whose eyes tear upon hearing 'God Bless America' completely miss the deep irony of the whole business. Theses same romantics who honor the fallen warriors who fought under this banner and creed against communism and fascism are singing praises to the same ideologies!

The purpose of our pledge was to train the young to love the idea of nation above all else, to respond as Prussian soldiers did to whistles that compelled them to rush into withering lines of fire- our educational system was literally known as the "Prussian Military System" (aka "public education"). At the time all this was happening new immigrants to New York City revolted against the change in education because they had taken the trouble to leave their homes to escape a feudalistic past; they weren't pleased to find themselves in a developing new form of feudalism. There were school riots around the turn of the 20th century over this madness. The immigrants wanted their children educated in knowledge, not nationalist propoganda and obedience to authority.

America's education decline began with the coming in of the pledge, and the tactic has been very successful. We have become mostly a nation of idiots (so unaware of our past), profoundly reflected in our television and movie media and I hope India is spared this as you lose the "ing".

The writers of our constitution would not have thought of pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth. Their love was for the land and the people, not for the idea of nation, just as is reflected in India's pledge. In talking to new immigrants to our country I am often struck with how much more embued with our founder's philosphies they are than the typical American now is.

globalbabble said...

Yes, our pledge is of a different nature. And on reflection, better than the American one. Thanks for pointing that out!

Yet Another Anonymous said...

And thank you for making me aware of Kallat and Public Notice 3. I don't usually like this sort of thing, but this display is so simple and so full of meaning I think Jitish Kallat would be a great person to know- such humor and insight.

I believe this is your first trip to America isn't it? If so, welcome, and I hope our goddess Columbia extends her love and benevolence to you. :)

brucex said...

I wonder if anyone has seen Jitish Kallats Public Notice which he made years ago, 10 years ago I think. I saw his 'Public Noitce 2' in London and that is a piece you might like to write about. What is TOI Crest, Will look it up...

'Public Notice 3' is the kind of work that will grow in relevance over the years. It is a HUGELY relevant piece made a timely moment...

brucex said...

Hey Just to add, I like what you say 'Step-by-step kallat conquers the world'... I live in London and I can tell you by the growing buzz around this guy, he is a very intelligent artist and should prove you right.

globalbabble said...

Hey Brucex,

No, I haven't seen Public Notice 1. But did see Public Notice 2, which I had really liked. I agree, he is a really good artist.


Anonymous said...

good post. good art. great idea. Thank you for bringing good art from Chicaago to aglobal reader.