Attending Adip Dutta’s exhibition at Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery can be compared to a visit to an archaeological site where the relics belong to a built environment and everyday objects have been lent a new lease of life by the artist. In his effort to re-examine “objects and sites of construction and tools of labour, attempting to find alternate value and meaning from them”, Dutta presents a rather chaotic environment where a plethora of material is transformed into works of art — from safety nets to iron rods and metal wires. “Since my background is sculpture, the making of sculptural objects is my primary preoccupation. The possibilities of the source of these objects is vast. The space is an important factor. I started tracking the life of these objects, and in doing that I considered the construction site that looks like the theatre of the absurd, even fantastical. I have looked at the construction site as a pseudo-archaeological site,” says the Kolkata-based artist.
Each work in the exhibition titled ‘By Darkling Ground’ allows for multiple interpretations, much like the numerous layers that often surface in Dutta’s works. The familiar, too, is unfamiliar. So some ink drawings in the exhibition might be as old as 2014 and displayed previously but Dutta has added much to them since. “I rework the surface again and again. I might have exhibited them in 2014, worked on them again, and then shown again in 2015. There are numerous layers in the same work. Metaphorically, I am reflecting on the idea of excavation and archaeology,” he says.
At the very center of the exhibition hall is a found object — an iron rod bending contraption used at construction sites. Dutta, 46, places it in a pit and invites viewers to build stories around it. “Some said it’s like a tombstone, others attached a religious connotation to it. You can see the passage of time, the people who worked on it,” says Dutta, adding, “There are pronounced sculptural elements that you as a sculptor would respond to.” There are other occasions when the postgraduate from Rabindra Bharati University builds stories around his works. So Running Woods is a liner sculpture where wooden supports are placed inside boxed frames. Usually seen in local construction sites, the wooden supports come together in the sculptural installation to resemble running clusters of trees in the woods.
A faculty member at his alma mater, the works of the artist owe much to his own deep understanding of the environment that is constantly evolving. Back in the late ’90s he had been commissioned by the Crafts Council of West Bengal to research the sociological impact of earthenware and terracotta votives in eastern India.
His studio in Bhowanipore in Kolkata is nearly 150-year-old space surrounded by auto garages and mechanic workshops. “The moment you open its shutters, it becomes a public place,” says the artist. His ability to remould the existing had guided his work since his first solo, ‘Sculptural Arrangements’ at Birla Academy of Art and Culture in 2001. He had made an impression with his complex work reflecting on history, more figurative than his oeuvre now.
A decade later, the exhibition ‘I have a face, but a face of what I am not’ had viewers question the usual through his intricate sculptures and drawings. The central work was a humongous hair clip. In the exhibition ‘Urban Narratives’ at Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo in 2013, his work was a recording of the daily artifacts — trousers, brushes, trees and so on — painstakingly drawn with microscopic detail. “It is a very slow process of drawing. I do it with a very thin brush under the microscope, bit by bit. Drawing is a process to begin and end. There have been instances where the drawing has been translated in terms of material. With the drawing I have set material that looks exactly like the drawing and is camouflaged,” says Dutta. The labour is evident: in each life-like drawing in the ongoing exhibition or even the sculptures, including the installation Nebula, with its tangled stainless steel wires and mesh — all of them quintessentially Dutta.
The exhibition is on at Experimenter, Kolkata, till July 8