Imagine you’re rushing to catch a train at the station and you come up against a wall of steel trunks, arranged in a way that they converge in a corner, forming their own space. On these trunks, a film is being projected. You can either give it a cursory glance; get a little disoriented with this unexpected stimulus and move on (you’ve got a train to catch, after all!) or you’d stop and try to figure out what’s going on. Either way you become a part of the exhibition. Perhaps this is the purpose of public art festival ‘[en]counters’ that features works of 11 artists, including the aforementioned wall of trunks, across multiple locations around Mumbai. We spoke to noted artist- filmmaker- poet-painter and the creator of the wall of trunks installation, titled ‘You Are Forever’, Owais Husain about his work at '[en]counters' and the challenges a public art display can bring to your work. Here’s what he had to say…
ELLE: You’re exhibiting at the CST station (Mumbai), and in the past you’ve displayed your installation at a mall too. What challenges does a public space like this bring to an exhibition?
Owais Husain: That’s the nature of public art. It’s a public domain where it becomes a part of your daily path. You follow a certain route or you pass it by. Sometimes you can interact with it. You have it in your way, so you don’t have to make your way to go there and see the work of art. Whether it’s the station or a corner at the mall, the art engages into a different kind of a dialogue. I believe this way art can be intellectually stimulating or be an emotional exercise. Sometimes it’s a bit of both. You come with a sense of awareness and education and background, like when you go see a film, you are literate about the medium so it’s a cerebral experience. When you’re emotional you don’t have to be literal about it. You can just react to it emotionally to it. Traditionally, as in any ancient culture like India’s, public art has always existed as part of the daily routine. So it’s interesting to use that format in a contemporary accent. In terms of challenges, it’s probably the light. We’re not exactly in a dark room, it’s out there.
ELLE: Do you think being a part of the daily surrounding alters the perception of the work?
OH: In this world we’re constantly reinventing, aren’t we? Everything that we do, even the language has been reinvented; we’re reinventing borders, ideas and concepts about things that we had. When you take something which exist and you re position it, that’s where the reinvention happens. In that way, it’s very relevant for the work to be out of context. It seems to be out of context, which I don’t agree on. It’s not like a work of art should only be considered in the context of a gallery. But seeing something which is familiar but in a most unexpected setting, according to common perception, but at the same time it could be very relevant.
ELLE: Is there a significance to the metallic trunks (used in the installation), other than the obvious connotation of them being a symbol of travel?
OH: Trunks are not just a symbol of travel; they’re a storehouse of memories, aren’t they? The significance of the whole chrome, reflective part is that the audience and the location momentarily becomes a part of the timeline or the trunk. I was trying to look for the poetic element right there. Also, the narrative of the visual that’s put onto the trunk also kind of continues in that direction. The chrome is almost like a reflective mirror there, almost seeks to become invisible in some way.
ELLE: Can you give us a little insight into your process?
OH: My process takes a lifetime. I have spent a life on arriving at each station, at that point where finally the work comes out. It’s a very complex process, in that sense. But to put it simply, a lot of my work is born out of something I’ve written; a piece of poetry. From that poetry a lot of my concepts are created. Like a piece of poetry I had written a few years back, is called ‘You are Forever’, and from there I’ve got the title and worked on the same.
ELLE: What are you currently working on?
OH: I am doing some more work with videos. I am still painting, as well as working with students and creating workshops and doing collaborative installations. There’s also the Abu Dhabi art fair, that’s coming up next month and I’m working for a gallery for London there.
Flip through the gallery for a glimpse of 'You Are Forever'.
The installation 'You Are Forever' will be on display at Mumbai’s CST railway station from October 22 to October 23, 2016.