“Crash Dig Dwell” features sculpture, architecture and photography by Indian artists Asim Waqif and Yamini Nayar at Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai.
The artists stay true to their characteristic styles while drawing from the history, theory and practice of architecture. This is the first such collaboration between the two artists. Art Radar speaks to them to find out more about this eventful project.
In a unique conflation of influences, “Crash Dig Dwell” brings together the recent work of Asim Waqif and Yamini Nayar, artists whose practices draw inspiration from sculpture, architecture and photography, in order to create unique installations that urge the spectator to observe our immediate environment in a new light. While their approaches to their media and the final artistic output are different, the two artists have a commonality of purpose and vision in their attempt at constructing and deconstructing our urban environment.
Experiences of built environments
Yamini Nayar’s works on display at Jhaveri Contemporary are large-scale photographs of multi-layered, abstract sculptural installations that she builds in her studio out of materials such as wood, metal, paint, cardboard, newspapers and other everyday household items. In an almost therapeutic end to the artistic process of construction, Nayar’s final photograph of the sculpture, though a static, two-dimensional representation of it, acts as a memorial to the creativity and dynamism that went into its creation.
Amidst the various structural layers Nayar creates, whether in Alterns in the Overgrowth (2017), Come to Rest (2017) or Untitled (Meeting) (2017), we witness the familiarity of humankind’s daily refuse – the remnants of packing crates, parts of tinfoil, barbed wire, textural silver and white household paint – all captured for posterity as photographic prints. In an earlier body of work, “Detroit 1974″ (1999), Nayar created a series of photographs to represent fictionalised reconstructions of interiors of the 1970s that she drew from her own archive of private spaces. It was during this search for an artistic identity during her student years, that she discovered ways in which the photograph recreates the object as an independent experience, accessible only through the image. As she says,
Working with perspective and light, I was able to highlight how photography mediates history and memory, and recreates or complicates one’s understanding of the past. This is when I began to develop techniques and a language that are core to my practice.
Nayar received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, NY and her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. The artist is based in Brooklyn, New York and has exhibited her work internationally at venues including the Museum of Moderne Kunst Frankfurt, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Queensland Art Gallery in Australia, DeCordova Museum MA, Kiran Nadar Museum New Delhi, Sharjah Biennial in UAE, Saatchi Gallery UK, Studio Museum of Harlem and recently a solo presentation at Art Cologne, Germany. Her work is included in public and private collections such as the Solomon Guggenheim Museum NY, Kiran Nadar Museum, Saatchi Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, Cincinnati Art Museum and US Arts in Embassies. She has received several residencies, grants and fellowships and is a Thesis Advisor in the MFA Photography Department of the School of Visual Arts and currently teaches Photography at John Jay University in New York.
A myriad of influences
Asim Waqif, on the other hand, is known for his equally elaborate and temporary, through site-specific installations that are testament to his training as an architect. These are usually constructed out of environmental detritus, found objects, industrial waste and other discarded materials, a process he uses for many of his smaller wall sculptures as well. In what seems to be a strong statement on the impact of environmental degradation, the majority of the works on display in “Crash Dig Dwell” are a sculptural integration of both organic and inorganic waste material. A classic example of this confluence is Shredded Archival Print (2015), a photographic print of the waste dump at the Borosil factory in Bharuch (Gujarat), which was soaked in water, shredded and then pasted on the trunk of a Gul Mohar tree that had been cut down by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation in 2012.
He makes another creative protest in Chrysalis: Wasp’s Nest (2016), in which an nest removed from a tree by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has been mounted on a bamboo cane and is suspended from the ceiling, reminiscent of a hapless victim of a public hanging. In Still Life 1 and 2 (2014) his work intersects in some ways with Nayar’s, with an abstract sculptural construction, composed of photographic prints on aluminium panels, mounted on a wooden frame – the only difference being that his installation retains the three-dimensionality of its original form and identity.
The multiplicities that are evident in Waqif’s work are drawn from architecture, sculpture, photography, design and art. There is urban construction and a critique of modernist architecture on the one hand, while on the other there is the natural world and a commentary on its death at the hands of development. There is the monumental and the compact, the spatial and the temporal – focusing the viewer’s attention on the politics of occupying, intervening and using public spaces.
Waqif is based in Delhi where after studying architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture, he worked as an art director for film and television, and then became an independent filmmaker, before moving into a dedicated art practice. His concerns for ecology and anthropology are integral to his work and he has done extensive research on vernacular systems of ecological management, especially with respect to water, waste and architecture. He has exhibited at a number of shows in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Brussels, Boston, Berlin, Beirut and New York, and has had solo exhibitions at Nature Morte, New Delhi (2016, 2013), Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris (2013), the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012) and the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai (2012). His works have recently been included in the Asia Pacific Triennale 8 at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; the Queens Museum, New York; Blain|Southern Gallery, Berlin; the Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon; and the KiranNadar Museum of Art, Noida.
Art Radar spoke to the artists about the creative processes behind their practice and their contributions to “Crash Dig Dwell“.
It is interesting to see the dichotomies in your practices. What would you think the confluence was in “Crash Dig Dwell”?
Asim Waqif (AW): I’d rather let the viewer wonder about that. I had seen Yamini’s work before and thought there could be an interesting dialogue. But beyond this we did not attempt to create any confluence for this show.
Yamini Nayar (YN): I think we both have an interest in impermanence and in using the photograph as a material.
In both your practices there are elements of architecture, sculpture, photography, design and art. What is the backstory behind the multiplicities in your practice?
AW: Well, that would be a very long backstory. I studied architecture, have done serious photography and worked as a designer for a decade before turning to art in 2010. I even taught architecture foundation year for many years. I like to delve into different fields as specialisation can lead to a myopic view of the world in my opinion.
YN: I’m trained primarily as a photographer and studied basic sculpture while at the Rhode Island School of Design. I’d come to study photography after pursuing writing in New York and originally thought I’d be a filmmaker which was a marriage of literature and image. My pictures have always had a cinematic quality. I never labelled myself a sculptor, but building things has always been core to my practice. The idea that architecture and the environment shapes us has always been important in my thinking. More generally, the question of how humans make space, how we claim space, reclaim space keep resurfacing for me.
Asim, as an architect, you often use your understanding of public spaces to comment on modernist architecture and urban planning. What is it that draws you so deeply towards vernacular systems of designing space?
AW: Research that I did for a documentary project in the arid parts of North India some years ago led me to a more nuanced understanding of traditional town-planning methods, especially in respect to sustainability. Vernacular systems around the world developed over generations of hit-and-trial into sustainable practices that had a low energy footprint, used local and renewable resources and functioned in a closed-loop system. I think it is ironic that contemporary discussions on sustainability are talking of these same principles, but have not attempted to create any dialogue between traditional knowledge and modern technologies.
Yamini, what is the ideation behind the genesis of your work process? In the way that you construct your installations only to dismantle them after capturing them in a photographic image?
YN: I get that question a lot – like it’s hard to believe something could be thrown away after so much labour is put into it. But that’s just the point. I want to highlight the weight of the image in the equation, in my studio, but by doing this also highlighting the role of the photograph and its conditions in our lives. My main goal is to connect to the sculptural installation through the lens and by doing this, connect to the camera itself, as a technology that is virtually ubiquitous.
Asim, your installations are a unique mix of media that include manmade, sometimes perishable items, as well as video and photography. What are the challenges of combining traditional and new media technologies?
AW: The main challenge is to overcome the perceived polarisation between the new and the old. I believe that advertising is the main proponent of this polarisation, as it continually tries to sell us new and improved products to solve our old problems. However like I mentioned earlier, if we have to truly develop a ‘sustainable’ model of sustainability then we need to start looking at vernacular and industrial technologies, as complimentary mechanisms that can learn from each other and improve our overall environment.
Yamini, we see several references to memory, migration and the temporality of dwelling spaces in your installations. How much of a role does your own personal history play in your creative process?
YN: I think all work is personal and informed by our own histories to some degree. Translating experience into architecture is personal, but also largely informed and influenced by the conditions of our lives. Migration and transience are not uncommon experiences – though they may be marginalised.
A consistent focus of my work has been architecture and interiors – specifically structures and the spaces in which people live. There is the obvious insight that as much as architecture is constructed by people, people are constructed by architecture. I’ve always been interested in how to articulate the experience of disconnected and disparate realities.
But at the end of the day, it’s me in my studio wrestling with the materials. All of these ideas are what goes into the stew. I value process over final product. My work is very process oriented.
As the year comes to a close what does 2018 have in store for you and what should Art Radar readers look out for?
AW: I am doing a solo with Nature Morte in March 2018. The rest of the year is free for risk and adventure. Anyway, I don’t like to work more than 6-7 months in the year.
YN: I have two solo shows coming up in 2018, in New York and San Francisco – with my galleries Thomas Erben and Wendi Norris, along with several group shows. I’ll be at the Indian Art Fair in February with Jhaveri Contemporary. I’m also going to be a visiting artist at Yale in March.
“Crash Dig Dwell” is on view from 7 December 2017 to 13 January 2018 at Jhaveri Contemporary, 2 Krishna Niwas, Above Lakme Salon, 58A Walkeswar Road, Mumbai 400006.
- “Where the Water Takes Us”: weaving histories through time and space with Rithika Merchant in Mumbai – in conversation – January 2018 – Merchant’s solo show showcases idioms of epics and myths to explore issues of migration, displacement and belonging
- “The Tour”: exploring spaces with emerging Indian artist Amshu Chukki – in conversation – December 2017 – Art Radar speaks to emerging Indian artist Amshu Chukki’s storytelling and landscapes are on display at Mumbai’s Chatterjee & Lal
- Transforming lost urban spaces: the Sassoon Dock Art Project in Mumbai – interview – December 2017 – this unique initiative includes the works of both Indian and international artists
- “My Place is the Placeless”: Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai – December 2017 – sculptor Shahpour Pouyan transforms Dubai’s Lawrie Shabibi gallery into a museum display of the architecture of his own DNA
- Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi’s first retrospective in China at Power Station of Art, Shanghai – September 2017 – the exhibition celebrates the architect’s career of over six decades and highlights the experience of architecture as habitat
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