REVIEW: Me-Beyond Me / Mallikarjun Katke / Laying the Bed to Rest / Sushma Sabnis
In his recently concluded solo show, ‘Me Beyond Me’ at Jehangir art Gallery, Mumbai, artist Mallikarjun Katke displayed a few paintings, a video work and an array of installations which seemed autobiographical in nature, or were they?.. a critical take on the show by Sushma Sabnis
The truth and relevance of an art work often emerges from the various avenues of contestations brought out by the proposed and opposed ideology, aesthetic and skills. When the three elements balance out, the art work stands firm and stable, or it topples over presenting a lopsided view of an ‘almost’ idea which was abandoned too early before exploring its full possibilities or executed half-heartedly, or worse, a complete aesthetic disaster. The most relevant question today is about the state of mind of the practicing artists which gets reflected through the art works presented. Often one finds better articulation and imagination among the sculptors than today’s painters. The painters seem confused about the visual languages they employ in the process losing focus on the idea or trying out substitute mediums which is not their forte. Taking this idea further, the conflict seems not just in the specific style which the artist chooses, but also in the way they approach the subject and the medium they represent it in.
In a recently concluded solo show ‘Me – Beyond Me’ of artist Mallikarjun Katke, similar notions of conflict seems to have taken precedence. Mallikarjun Katke is an artist from the Po10tial artists group and this was his first solo at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. At the outset, the group works as a collective, where each artist supports the other in terms of skill, ideation and display of the show. But one ought to ask the pertinent question as to how much allowance is to be taken/ given as far as a solo show is concerned.
In the show set up in the third gallery of Jehangir, the display walls had been layered with black background, to enhance the well lit works. Right in the centre of this space was the piece-de-resistance, a row of various kinds of beds, yes Beds which is the original theme of the show. The artist explains that any human life cycle, his own included, begins and ends with the ‘bed’. Hence the bed has been reanimated into life sized installations of a cradle, a double bed, signifying a parents’ bed, a bachelor’s single cot and an actual room constructed with windows with a couple’s bed laid out, complete with crumpled sheets and pillows, signifying a married status. At first glance this entire installation work is an attraction for the sheer size of it and the curiosity is about the closed room, with a video of the ocean being projected upon its inner walls, which Mallikarjun believes to be the depth of a husband-wife relationship.
One has to realise that ‘the bed’ has been used before as a reference for centuries by various artists, historically speaking, from before Rembrandt to Vincent Vangogh to Manet, to Robert Rauschenberg to Tracey Emin, to our very own Dhruvi Acharya, the bed has served as a muse for various art works which impacted the viewer. However, the incomplete nature of Mallikarjun’s bed-connected-to-life-cycle story leaves the viewer abruptly. One would like to know the final resting place of all that was once alive, the death bed, and how the artist interprets that in his work, but that remains unaddressed. Also another angle, possibly historical, the artist could have explored to bring into his work a lot more depth were the different kinds of beds which have been the resting places of tired souls, bunker beds of soldiers, hospital beds in the recovery rooms, the bunkers of the holocaust victims, the uncertain beds of the refugee camps, the footpath beds of the poor in the cities, the lavish mint and chocolate beds of five star hotel rooms, the inimitable ‘khattiya’ which most people in villages are familiar with, all of these possibilities remain sidelined in this work. Here is where the installation, although interesting to look at, and apparently the media favourite and crowd puller, lacks in aesthetic and completion. The very personal nature of this installation pulls the viewer away from the bigger picture of the ubiquity of the ‘bed’ theme, hence a narrative is lost which would have created a better strength ideologically.
What one would possibly find interesting in the show were the black and white water colour wash works that were simple painterly impressions of the artist’s own goals in life. Among all of this, the four frames which stood apart, from the rest of the water colour wash works, were the ones which created some level of interest. Here the work was simple, a male ( the artist) torso was imprinted with tessellate designs on half the pictorial space. When asked about it, Mallikarjun explained his affinity to design and the precision of depicting patterns. The artist works as an Assistant Art Director in the movie business, and these works probably are more autobiographical in the true sense than the others with motifs of buildings, motorbikes and chairs on the torso. Autobiographical in the sense that they portray the absolute duality of his life.
One of the most pertinent mental conflicts that artists face today and have faced for centuries has been the battle of being a full time fine artist, i.e., earning your living by the sale of your art works and the temptation of having a cushy job which ensures livelihood but shackles one with limited time and ability to express oneself as freely. It is a rarity that any artist has ever struck a balance between the freedom to be an artist and earn a livelihood while being an artist. In Mallikarjun, the art director/ set designer and the artist are at war. The precision of the tessellate parts in the image, depict the need for predictability and stability, and the other untouched half of the torso is the artist, devoid of boundaries, free and imaginative. One could interpret it in many ways possible but most of the water colour works are painted with the torso split down the middle. This moral conflict which the artist faces is what is mirrored in the world today.
In most of the media coverage that this show received, Mallikarjun was labeled a soft spoken, simple artist however, the internal battle rages on within him and this could and should have been what he chose to depict in his works in the solo. Then the works would have articulated the truth more eloquently, the truth that he holds close to himself, yet would have addressed the social and economical conflicts in every artist of today. One hopes this could show him the way forward for his upcoming projects.
( Images Courtesy : Artist Mallikarjun Katke/ Po10tial)