Nikhil Chopra’s innovative mix of drawing and performance weaves in characters of his own imagination.
Indian artist Nikhil Chopra’s new work Blackening III: Bay 19 débuted at Sydney’s Carriageworks from 28 to 30 September 2012. Carriageworks commissioned the artist to develop a site-specific work in response to the space’s industrial history and architecture.
In his three-day performance piece Blackening III: Bay 19, Chopra assumed the persona of a a Victorian-era draughtsman, Yog Raj Chitrakar, a character used in a series of the artist’s performance works named after his grandfather, Yog Raj Chopra. From 9am to 9pm each day, the artist drew, ate, rested, washed, shaved, shopped and cooked in Carriagework’s warehouse-like space.
Chopra was invited by the organisation to reflect on the unique space, once the site of a rail yard, and spent each day drawing in charcoal on the six three-metre-tall white boards around the space, gradually becoming covered in black charcoal dust. There were wheels installed underneath the boards, so he could move the mural-size drawings around and redefine the space. Visitors were free to view the performance, and while Chopra would interact with them, he stayed silent.
On the morning of the second day of the performance, he shopped at Carriagework’s onsite market for fresh produce and started to prepare a dinner for eighteen people that evening. Before the dinner, he washed and shaved, applied makeup and dressed up as an oddly classical upper-class European hostess.
Art Radar spoke with Chopra the day before the performance and found the artist still contemplating the partially choreographed, partially improvised work. As he explained,
There are so many concepts [I want to explore in this work]. There are concepts and then concepts within concepts. One of the concepts is [that] I want to suspend the audience in between fiction and reality, in between the past and the present, in between what is live and what is recorded, in between theatre and painting, in between performance art, endurance and theatre. I guess what I am interested in is creating undefinable space that you can’t quite say exactly what it is. But what you are experiencing is very real.
Chopra said he was interested in “evoking someone’s memory of a time and a place”. To him, history is not as interesting as memory, because memory is “fluid” and changeable like clay, while “history seems to be dogmatic, written and linear”.
History is written memory, and then it becomes memory, it becomes the truth…. It’s interesting to see what images do … because we are so visual as creatures that memories are triggered when we see something. So I am really interested in tapping or evoking people’s memories and associations with the work.
“The work often addresses the site, [which is about] where I am. And it’s also addressing who I am,” said the artist. Chopra scattered references to the Carriageworks site throughout the piece. A sack of coal was used to imply the rail yard and its industrial past; it was also the medium for the artist to draw and the colour he gradually turned. The dinner party was a feast of an Indian chicken dish with local produce.
Beatrice Gralton, the visual art curator of Carriageworks, said Chopra responded very much to “the working nature of the building… even down to having the walls on wheels”. Gralton told Art Radar that the first time she saw the Chopra’s work in New York in 2009 she was instantly drawn to it and began to look into his practice.
She is interested in how Chopra’s work crosses disciplines and “makes perfect sets in spaces like Carriageworks, which is really multi-disciplinary”. “It’s all about working with artists who respond to our space [and] it is very important for Australian artists and [the Australian] art world to be connected with arts and artists in Asia Pacific”, she said.
Art Radar had a journalist on hand for the performance, who took a video of Chopra preparing for the performance and donning the dress, which you can watch below.
Video by Art Radar (Zhou Mingyue)
About the Artist
Nikhil Chopra’s practice traverses drawing, photography, filmmaking, sculpture, installation and live performance, often drawing on personal history and collective memory.
His performance work has shown extensively internationally, including “Indian Highway” at the Serpentine Gallery (2008 to 2009), the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009), the Manchester International Festival (2009) and in exhibitions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City (2009) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (2010).
The artist’s recent film work Man Eats Rock was shown at the Artsonje Centre in Seoul, the Today Art Museum in Beijing and the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou (2011). He is currently based between Mumbai and Goa in India.
Carriageworks was built as part of Eveleigh Rail Yards between 1880 and 1889 and has borne witness to the history of Australia’s major rail network development since the late nineteenth century. The rail yard was closed down in 1988, and in 2002 the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts bought the space for redevelopment. Since then, Carriageworks has evolved into an art space that presents cross-disciplinary works and serves as a creative district for artists and the neighbouring community.
- Indian art collective WALA wins FICA Public Art Grant 2011 with performance art – February 2012 – part performance art, part social project wins prestigious award
- Interventions explore art industry relationships in curator Meenakshi Thirukode’s Guild Art Gallery show: interview – June 2010 – the curator of South Asian contemporary art talks performance art-like curatorial practice
- Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s solo at Royal Academy – what did the critics call it? Performance art and Turkish toilet – January 2010 – a controversial performance work from the famed Indian artist
- India’s first art museum Devi employs student curators for its second show – review Livemint – January 2009 – a landmark exhibition that included works from Nikhil Chopra
- Mixed reviews for Serpentine’s Indian Highway show in London – Evening Standard, Independent – December 2008 – another major exhibition featuring works from Nikhil Chopra
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