In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is Zaira, a city measured not by the curve of its arches or the height of its stairs, but by the festoons that decorate a queen’s nuptial procession; a cat’s progress as it slips by a window; the rips in a fish net; the leap of an adulterer at dawn. It’s this breathing of time and space, how it contracts and expands, that is captured in the exhibition “When is Space?”. Hosted at the Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK), Jaipur, curators Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty have brought together the visions of Jaipur’s founder, Sawai Jai Singh; JKK’s architect Charles Correa; and the explorations of 27 participants including architects, artists, designers, photographers and social scientists.
In the early 18th century, Jai Singh had planned for a new commercial capital city, where traders, merchants and craftspeople would live. With Pandit Vidyadhar, he conceptualised the city, inspired by the shastras. Its grid plan was that of a mandala that gave it order and purpose. When Correa was commissioned the project in the mid-80s, inspired by the same navagraha, he presented a double-coded design, which kept the building contemporary yet preserved the ancient paradigm of the cosmos.
Architects and urbanists Gupte and Shetty juxtapose these ideas of the city and space-making through three explorations: ‘Mathematics of the Universe’; ‘Typologies of Life and Living’; ‘Forms of the Collective’. Between the fractals and the multiples, lies the mathematical logic of boundaries that is challenged in the exhibition. For instance, architect Dushyant Asher and his team present The Floating Roof, which “blurs the distinctions between land and sky, the built and unbuilt”. Suspended at the entrance of JKK and hoisted by a balloon, the grid-pattern of the rope installation allows for aerodynamic gymnastics, buoyed by the winds. “It’s meant to startle you, make you feel uncomfortable. It questions your associations with space. While for some, it looked like a fishing net, for others it was like a cloud. Where I come from, in Mumbai, you see the city swell and deflate in an instant. Here the roof moves, and I wanted to explore this temporality,” says Asher.
Similarly, in architect Samir Raut’s Five Gardens he connects the outside and inside so seamlessly, one wonders where the borders begin and end. Raut has carved out five pavilions on the lawns of JKK, made from packaging material, fabric and simple joinery. While the roof slopes in places and the white translucent fabric bellows in the wind, the modular setting of the installation encourages one to walk about between the dry landscaping and the wild flower grass. “This idea developed from my iterations of a house I was building. How would light enter? How can the roof be fabricated? When you stand in this pavilion, you can see how it breathes visually. The light filters through and it calms you,” says Raut.
“The exhibition is a conceptual presentation of what architects and artists think about space. It’s an unpacking of ideas. Usually for architects, their projects take anywhere from three to five years to complete. But the exhibition became a way of translating their ideas into immediate reality. I think this exhibition will see the rise of more conceptual art by different disciplines in the coming years,” says Pooja Sood, Director General, JKK. Under her supervision, the renovation of JKK has seen multiple cultural events in the last two years, with this contemporary exhibition, being a first of its kind in the country. She affirms that the venue itself offers the perfect backdrop for architectural explorations, given its iconic status in the community.
Architect Samira Rathod’s A Wall as a Room redefines the purpose of a wall not as “a separator of space but as a container”. The experimental concrete wall holds within everything one needs in the house — from a dining table and chairs to a place to cook and sleep, to study and bathe. Amid the sound of drizzling rains evoked by sprinklers to make it experiential, Rathod says, “Very often our ideas are on paper, and here we got a chance to actually build it. The idea is reinforced in the doing.”
While the exhibition is aimed at moving space away from its physical properties, it also allows viewers to become participants. If Abin Design Studio extrapolates the idea of a pandal, where one walks beneath the canopy of silken fabric, Milind Mahale’s spatial puzzles in wood, inspired by Correa’s buildings, provide multiple possibilities of space. Space, therefore, becomes not a destination, but a journey. While photographer Randhir Singh explores Delhi’s neighbourhoods built by the Central Public Works Department, artist Parul Gupta creates a spatial experience of form and volume merely through lines drawn on walls. Artist M Pravat uses the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi to present his terracotta globe as an exploration of an architect’s blueprints.
“We met this couple who said this exhibition is close to our lives, unlike usual exhibitions where the art is so removed from us. Here we inhabit the space, we inhabit the architecture,” says Gupte.
The exhibition continues till April 21 at Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur. For details, visit: whenisspace.in