Updated: Feb 20, 2019
SUBRAT KUMAR BEHERA / SHARMILA SAMANT / ARNIKA AHLDAG
"I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos, as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture.”– Lucio Fontana
What is an incision? A cut? A rupture? On a continuous surface such as a skin, page, or cloth, an incision creates a break, an open seam through which things might pass – space, light, sound, blood, the past. What about an incision on the surface of the city?
A surgical procedure begins with the cut. Scalpel moves across taut skin to puncturethe sealed world of the body. Once made, the cut becomes a site of activity;the surgeon’s tools pass through and begin their expedition inward. Instruments, probes, lenses, gauzes, and sutures migrate from outside inward, making small reconfigurations of matter along the way. After the wound is stitched, the matter of the body rejoins, arranging itself into new topographies.
As a social concept, incision can be a strategy of intervention, opening up space and creating needed breaks in the continuity of a community or place. An incision can be multi-directional, upending the relationship between inside and outside. Across a gap, the past might flow forward into the future, just as the presentturns to regard its beloved past.
Taken as a whole, the BAT might be thought of as a single 1.3km long incision along the body of the city.Wishing to travel beyond surface (the purview of the decorative),the Trail slices through the space of Old Town, creatingapertures, gaps, and thresholds where there were previously none. Airtight sealsseparating public and private, past and future, individual and collective, have been punctured. Air flows; space is electrified; movement is facilitated; bodies and imaginations migrate across boundaries.
Subrat Kumar Behera’s installation of paintings, drawings and prints creates a powerful cut into the sacred space of the temple complex. Dispersed in rows and grids along the courtyard’s walls, his works transform the temple space, inviting an influx of the contemporary and secular into the ancient and sacred. The graphic qualities and theregulated, grid-based arrangements of Behera’s prints and drawings contrast sharply with the curved silhouettes and worn surfaces of the surrounding temples.
Of particular note are Behera’s small narrative paintings installed inside three shrines. Viewers must crouch and peer into the darkened alcoves in order to see the paintings. In this unexpected, intimate arrangement, each element redefines the other: it’s satisfying to see the secular object of a contemporary narrative painting breach the sacred, timeless space of a shrine; at the same time, the shrine environment playfully confers a certain deific status onto the paintings. This juxtaposition provides a picture of how seams between the ancient and the contemporary might become active, charged sites of inquiry in Bhubaneswar.
Sharmilla Samant’s The Heated Debate has made a literal cut into the matter of the city. Along a narrow roadway in the Old Town, a 100-year old laterite wall boasting the accumulation of time, wear, and touch has been freshly scarred with Samant’ scarved texts. Pathways of newly exposed stone form the shapes of letters and words: Who had come first? Whose place is this, used to be, and will remain? Are their memories of this place? Hewn permanently into rock, these articulations take on an element of the timeless and anonymous; we are not told whose voice is speaking, nor to whom, nor for how long this dialogue will persist. Unclear also is how this particular incision will heal, and in what shape the scar will form.
Samant’s text has also been painted on a concrete wall, and displayed in LED lights like a theatre marquee. These displays offer a different kind of rupture, wherein the rhetorical and poetic cuts through the space of the didactic. The city teaches us to look at public signage for information; street signs, marquees, and billboards and help us navigate the city with confidence. Samant’s texts interrupt this flow, offering complication where we expect clarity, and demanding dialogue in the midst of the urban monologue. This break produces a space wherein the private consciousness of the city dweller is suddenly recognized and invited to engage; we see how such interventions can humanize and democratize urban space.
In a repurposed milk stall, Arnika Ahldag’s installation Alternative Proposals for a Future Bhubaneswar assumes the form of an informational display. Two white shelves stacked with printed brochures flank a monitor screening Ahldag’s video piece When Futurity Collapses into Contemporaneity. The video shows an intimate exchange between two seated figures, one of whom is transgender activist Meera Parida. As the two converse, Meera tenderly applies make-up to the face of her male counterpart. Ahldag’s video work is perhaps the strongest experience of rupture and contrast on the Trail. Presented at the center of the Old Town – a space dominated by traditional narratives and heavily codified roles, the piece offers an encounter with indeterminacy, intimacy, and gender fluidity.
Ahldag’ sprinted brochures detail, in her words, “fictionalized proposals to alternative dreams and aspirations for the city,” and include such topics as “A Proposal for a Technological Colonization of an Analogue Place” and “A City of the Forgetful.” Each pamphlet presents a mixture of textual modes – photos, poems, lists of rules; a blend of Hindi, Odia, and English is used. What is disruptive about this work is how it bends our idea of the utopian city and renders slippery any clear separation between past, contemporary, and future. Within the formal structure of an urban proposal, we are surprised to discover a mixture of dystopian and utopian, plausible and poetic, visionary and anachronistic; the absurd is emphasized in proposals such as the “Xeroxed Non-City”, a proposed xerox stand that endlessly reproduces a single blank page.
The works of Sharmila Samant, Subrat Kumar Behera, and Arnika Ahldag share in common a quality of rupture wherein intentional breaks with the continuity of the space and qualities of Old Town have been instigated. These powerful interruptions serve to reorient our consciousness, shuffle our understanding of time and space, and replenish our conception of the possible.