“The Tour”: exploring spaces with emerging Indian artist Amshu Chukki – in conversation

This is Amshu Chukki’s first solo show and is on display at Chatterjee & Lal until 23 December 2017.

The artist uses his customary storytelling style by weaving together sculpture, drawings and video, to take the viewer on a virtual tour of imaginatively deconstructed natural and constructed public spaces.

Amshu Chukki, Untitled, 2017, Charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, ‘Untitled’, 2017, charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 in. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Intersecting reality with fiction

The single most significant thread that Amshu Chukki has skilfully woven through this mixed media exhibition titled “The Tour” is his preoccupation with space – both fictional and real, both solid and deconstructed. At the heart of the show are two video installations that Chukki uses to present the viewer with the basic premise behind his ideation process and these act as a starting point in our journey of exploration. The first, entitled The Tour (2017), is a two-channel video installation that takes the audience on a virtual tour of the streets and constructed spaces of the Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad. The camera smoothly navigates the Film City to give us an architectural visualisation that is akin to being physically present on location. Even more compelling is the voice-over of Nagarjuna, the tour guide whose hyperbolic and fabulist narrative skills elevate the realism, despite the fact that much of his recitation relating to the past histories of the spaces we are navigating through is fantastical and pure science-fiction.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, Video installation view (The Tour) at Chatterjee & Lal, Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017. Installation view of the video “The Tour” at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Chukki then takes the viewer away from the fable-making space of the film city – one that celebrates the artificiality of celluloid – and introduces us through a single-channel video installation entitled The Mountains, Les Invisibles (2016), to the Biodôme in Montreal where it is the natural world that occupies centre stage. In this way, the artist places two seemingly disparate worlds side-by-side urging us to see their similarities – their fluidity, their ever-changing and evolving nature, their diversity – and hidden deep within their basic character, humankind’s future. The viewer is mesmerised by the dream-making potential and the fantastical promises of the film world and is then equally struck by the beauty and complexities of the ecosystems of the Americas that have been recreated in the Biodôme. Commenting on Chukki’s storytelling style, Mortimer Chatterjee, Co-founder of Chatterjee & Lal says:

Amshu Chukki’s work has intrigued us for a number of years, and so we are thrilled to be able to present him in his debut solo exhibition. Increasingly, he seems to be dealing with intersections of reality and fiction seen through the viewpoint of individuals to whom he allows a remarkable degree of autonomy. This is especially clear in the two video works in the present exhibition.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, installation view at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, installation view at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

A visual dissection of space

Chukki uses video art as a medium to systematically build up the landscape in both films, dwelling on the illusions created in an urban cityscape in one and those created by an ecological environment in the other. He then tears these down and examines them in greater detail, in both the two-dimensional space of his charcoal renderings and the three-dimensionality of his sculptures. In a physical representation of this disintegration are fibreglass boulders of different sizes strewn across the floor, in a manner that is almost symbolic of Chukki’s act of spatial fragmentation. These have been cast from real boulders that the artist collected from the rocky terrain of the Deccan Plateau on which stands the city of Hyderbad, where the first film was shot. The rocks are as illusory as the landscapes Chukki builds in his films and appear just as deceptive – realistic and solid on the outside, but iridescent and otherworldly on closer inspection. This adds to the theatricality and the dramatic effect that Chukki has imbued, albeit sparingly, in his entire narrative of “The Tour”.

Amshu Chukki, 'Untitled', 2017, charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 in. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, ‘Untitled’, 2017, charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 in. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

In another act of deconstruction, scenes from the films have been rendered in charcoal in a series of reductive drawings or erasures that are also on display at strategic locations amidst the video and sculptural elements. The physical process involved in creating these drawings are symbolically representative of Chukki’s artistic intent in “The Tour” – a creative, meticulous dismantling of the planar surface. The artist would have built up his surface with charcoal before starting a process of exploration and excavation – a gradual erasing away of the darkness to reveal lighter areas. After a systematic delayering and reduction, the final form of the image emerges in a method diametrically opposite to that of traditional painting, which layers colours one on top of another and is more expansive in nature.

Amshu Chukki, Remembering the Sea, 2014, Hand carved wood sculpture with video projection, 03:07 looped, Unique. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, ‘Remembering the Sea’, 2014, hand carved wood sculpture with video projection, 03m:07s, looped, unique. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

In another tribute to Chukki’s fascination for film as a medium to navigate different spaces and times is Remembering the Sea (2014), in which he displays a coin-sized projection of a seascape from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris (1972) onto a piece of carved driftwood, mounted on a metal stand. The miniaturisation of the monumentality of a film that is usually viewed larger than life-size, and the texture and grain of the wood that it is projected on, are testament to the artist’s constant need to explore new media while discovering their inter-relationships. This particular work was completed at the end of Chukki’s art education at the MS University, Vadodara where he studied painting, and was a result of his growing interest in the creative potential of video art.

 Amshu Chukki, Untitled, 2017, Charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, ‘Untitled’, 2017, charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 in. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Chukki has participated in several art residency programmes at St Moritz (Switzerland, 2014), Quebec (Canada, 2015) and KHOJ India (2014-2015). He has exhibited in group shows in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, New York and St Moritz, and is the recipient of several awards including the Inlaks Fine Arts Award (2014), the Kalpana Reddy Memorial Award for Photography (2012), the Nasreen Mohamedi Award (2011) and the Gujarat State Lalit Kala Award for Painting – the latter three being during his student years at MS University Vadodara.

Art Radar spoke to the artist about his practice and the creative process behind “The Tour“.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, Installation view at Chatterjee & Lal, Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, installation view at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

As an inheritor of diverse artistic traditions, with your father being an artist and your mother a Kannada poet and writer, how are you able to bring together these influences and integrate them in your practice?

My parents being artists themselves has definitely helped me grow as an artist. But more importantly it all really began with my education in Vadodara, studying at the painting department there. Aspects of filmmaking and cinema and working with video have been a central concern in my practice, for which I owe credit to my professor at art college, B. V. Suresh, who introduced students to working with video with regular film screenings and video workshops.

Amshu Chukki, Untitled, 2017, Fibreglass with industrial and acrylic paint, Each approx. 13.5 x 10 x 8 inches, Edition of 3. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, ‘Untitled’, 2017, fibreglass with industrial and acrylic paint, each approx. 13.5 x 10 x 8 in, edition of 3. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

In “The Tour” we see the multiplicities that exist in your art practice. What is the significance of each of the seemingly disparate components in your artistic vision for “The Tour”?

Though I trained as a painter, I always move between several media in my practice. The choice of medium or form takes a cue from certain conceptual queries that arise with each work. It the case of “The Tour” the drawings and fibreglass sculptures act as spillages of the main two-channel work and spatially configure the piece. They in a way become entry points into the video and viceversa. The viewer navigates the show by moving between one work and another.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, Video installation view (The Mountain, Les Invisibles) at Chatterjee & Lal, Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017. Installation view of the video ‘The Mountain, Les Invisibles’ at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

You have often said that you enjoy telling a story with your artworks. What is the narrative that you are presenting for us in “The Tour”?

There are two central video works in the show. In the work The Mountain, Les Invisibles fragmented voices chart a stadium built for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, which is now converted to house an indoor zoo of sorts. In the second two-channel video The Tour, a tour guide re-imagines Film City’s desertion and narrates fictions that originate from this site. My works are mostly site-specific or rather site-informed. [It is] an exercise in speculative fictions, looking at fictions that originate from the site or from people involved with the sites. Through the two films in the show I try to mine the speculative – creating situations in which characters imagine things that may or may not have happened. Having set the stage, I step aside, allowing people and their stories to take on lives of their own.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, Installation view at Chatterjee & Lal, Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, installation view at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

There is a preoccupation with landscapes, constructed public spaces and architectural elements in your work, and you seem to bring this outdoor world into the studio space. What is your intention in drawing viewers into the cinematic landscape of The Tour?

Constructed public spaces and architectural elements are definitely important elements in my work. In The Tour it is the cinematic landscape that is the protagonist, with its residues of both past and future fictions becoming the handle for the tour guide to manoeuvre through his narrative. I have chartered the landscape by using the camera to pan meticulously, so that the viewer’s eyes slowly start to notice the details of the materials used to create the scene: chipped plaster, cement boards, signs of a plywood, fibreglass world. The space slowly unravels itself. The plastered walls, sheet metal, plush, plywood, glass and cardboard all surrender to the promise of reality as the viewer takes in the scene at face or fake value. The last thing the space does is simulate reality. The cinematic landscape has no intention of deceiving the viewers, rather it gives them the choice of taking part in the illusion themselves.

Amshu Chukki, Untitled, 2017, Charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, ‘Untitled’, 2017, charcoal on paper, 39 x 25 in. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

How does the illusory nature of your enigmatic charcoal drawings combine with the tangibility of the sculptures and the visual reality of the films?

The charcoal drawings in a way become archaeological residues of an image from a future past. This reductive process of drawing is also akin to the process of excavation of earth or sculpting in stone. Here the image emerges on a charcoal-laid paper by drawing with an eraser.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, installation view at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

Amshu Chukki, “The Tour”, 10 November – 23 December 2017, installation view at Chatterjee & Lal. Image courtesy the artist and Chatterjee & Lal.

You were recently recognised by Forbes India in the “30 Under 30” list for making a significant impact in the field of art and culture. What in your opinion is the worldview that contemporary artists in India need, to make them more relevant on the international stage?

We are living in extremely alarming dystopian times. There is a heightened sense of intolerance towards creative expression. Rather than a worldview I think there is an urgency to look within – to look at and address things in our vicinity and those that have immediacy.

Amita Kini-Singh

1993

“The Tour” by Amshu Chukki is on view from 10 November to 23 December, 2017 at Chatterjee & Lal, Arthur Bunder Road, 1/18, Floor 1, Kamal Mansion, Mumbai, 400005. 

Related topics: Indian artists, interviews, charcoal, video, installation, drawing, sculpture, gallery shows, events in Mumbai

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