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‘Astronomy of the Subway’ by Jitish Kallat at Haunch of Venision
Jitish Kallat is showcasing his new creations at the prestigious Haunch of Venision gallery based in London. The solo show, entitled, ‘Astronomy of the Subway’, encompasses seven rooms of this world-renowned art space. The diverse range of works on view, incorporating paintings, sculptural installation, video and photography, is intense and ambitious in scale.

Counted among the most exciting and talented contemporary artists not just in India, but also internationally, Jitish Kallat has received recognition for his dynamic work that reflects an involvement with Mumbai. His practice derives much of its visual language from the artist’s immediate milieu. For example, his 'Dawn Chorus' depicts the street who take advantage of red traffic lights to sell books. The paintings celebrate their resilience and enterprising spirit rather than focusing on their reduced circumstances.

He is excited about the exhibition since it happens to be one of his biggest solos. ‘The Astronomy of Subway’ follows his much acclaimed show at Haunch of Venison, Zurich (2008). The series takes a cue from his fascination for Mumbai. Elaborating on it, an accompanying note mentions: “The artist’s new body of work showcases the full range of his visual vocabulary for which he is best known. Across two and three dimensions, making use of a variety of media, and through assimilating the local contexts with the universal, he checks the twenty-first century's unabashed obsession with effects - images, food, products, and people. He does so by repositioning them in strange environments.

“Dealing with his foundational themes of survival, sustenance and mortality in the contemporary urban environ of Mumbai, the artist offsets a vivid, hand-made aesthetic with digitized renderings of streets almost fit-to-burst, where the cumulative impression of daily existence gets pushed to the extreme. The experience of the individual lost within the crowd is at the heart of his interest in this bustling metropolis. This is largely driven by a play on scale, and understood in terms of a subject's physical as well as metaphorical presence.”

Of the many ubiquitous Indian elements that he employs, Jitish Kallat this time around has turned the spotlight on black lead kerosene stove. ‘Annexation’ is an intricately handled sculpture of an oversized black lead kerosene stove. It carries more than a hundred images culled from the porch of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (erstwhile Victoria Terminus) building, the hub of Mumbai’s commuting chaos.

Curiously, the decorative architectural friezes include several images of animals viewed together on a single sculpture. They are apparently devouring each other even while trying to cling on to foodstuff. This turmoil is clearly not unlike the unnerving grind of survival this porch is witness to everyday. A miniature crowd of rioting figures in his sculptural installation scatters across the floor. Their scale is exaggerated by the viewer’s height, as if viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. In some large paintings, the body is abstracted into inkblot formations, its stretched muscles and dripping fluids becoming receptacles of urban trauma.

Another large untitled video projection displays x-rayed foodstuffs that is projected onto a dark celestial space, constantly pouring into view as peculiar planetary clusters, nebulae and asteroids. The video took him almost six months to complete. The tasks included the X-raying of umpteen food types in a doctor's radiology clinic and later, organizing the whole database, before working on the motion graphic video.

Among the other tasks involved in his offbeat works, was preserving clay in his studio for over eight months. Since it dries up fast, it had to be watered at least thrice a day. During all this frenzy and frantic efforts for executing this project, Jitish Kallat reveals to having reinvented his basic ideas. He has stated, “It was a great learning experience as I came across many challenges.”

Undermining conventional notions of the local and universal, the micro and the macro, and the way the two infect one another, Jitish Kallat's ‘The Astronomy of Subway’ projects itself as a sustained meditation on the urban dwelling condition where the struggle between self-improvement and social disorder is at its starkest.