The Iconoclast Installation Artist You Need To Know About

by Jessica Kilbane

When it comes to artists in India, Shilpa Gupta is largely regarded as an iconoclast of installation art. Her work has been showcased everywhere from New Delhi to New York, from Tokyo to Tel Aviv, from art galleries in Austria to taxis in Toronto. She uses the narrative of everyday life an easel to convey her notion of the metaphysical. She has an affinity for technology, electronics and interactive art and uses the combination to address sensitive topics in manner that is both delicate and demolishing; but insists her work is about the message and not the medium. I visited Gupta at her studio in Bandra and we discussed the processes she uses to translate intent, the way she uses different perspectives and approaches to decode the questions in her mind and to see those questions manifest as her artwork in different, enlightening ways.

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The artist resists the idea of art as an object of reverence, instead using everyday objects so that people can relate to her art compositions. Her work blurs the lines between artist, viewer and work, creating a fluid interaction in which all are contributors to the piece. She explains, “I have been interested in cognition, which is both a conscious and unconscious process — the immediate impression we receive of an image and memory that it leaves behind, which is almost always partial and incomplete. Therefore, questions relating to the purpose and language of art itself constantly return.” She fills in the in-between spaces and lost corners by showcasing her work in various states of realization. The same artwork idea may manifest as an image, in video or as a shadow play performance — relative to the space and the time. She continues, “The finished work — whether it’s an image, static or moving, or an object, whether it’s permanent or mobile — rests on multiple intersections, the artist’s internal space, the artists understanding of a language and what the viewer is looking at, subject to time, location and context. Art becomes a fluid space of exchange. You’re looking at something and you’re getting something back. I feel that it’s a constant process.”

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If you aren’t familiar with Gupta’s work, you probably missed her role in “Khirama,” the sophomore episode of season three of MTV’s The Dewarists. When I bring it up, she breaks into a smile. “When Lucky Ali and I met, it was here in the studio, and things that came up were the self and the self in a larger space. Being part of a big city, you’re almost abstracted in it. We agreed that this is something we were thinking about and we’d move in that direction. So it was really seamless. Collaborating should be taken as it is — with a sense of vulnerability and excitement, a sense of possibility. It’s all these things. It was great fun and sort of fantastic.” The episode focuses on the urban experience and the feeling of being isolated in a city full of people. The video finds visual art overlapping with music, literature and avant-garde performance that spill onto the streets of Mumbai — it’s a feeling that is relatable to an audience that is larger than those comprised of the city’s natives. But Gupta maintains that her art isn’t as highbrow as it seems, “I never had a terribly romantic view of the singular artist. I have always been interested in perception, and therefore also what art is. I think when you’re interested in the basic questions, you look at pathways differently. In fact in school, I chose computers over art. I felt art is an internal space and selected computers over other options, as computing deals with the idea of logic, reasoning and decision making.”

While I pack up my things, she leaves me with a final thought: “I believe the best works are the ones that are not rather direct; it’s nice to keep gaps so people fill it in with their interpretations. It’s nice to leave fragments because I think people are able to connect them.”

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If you’re interested in her work, you can check it out here:

we the people
New in Contemporary Art
Curated by Rita Kersting
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
24 September 2015 to 19 March 2016

Lousiana Museum, Denmark
1 March to 11 September 2016

Sains et Saufs
mudac – Musée de design et d’arts appliqués contemporains
21 March to 21 August 2016

Selections from the Harold and Ruth Newman New Media Collection
Asia Society Museum
New York
9 June – 16 August 2016

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