For most children who grew up in the ’90s, a common evening ritual comprised watching the popular animated sitcom The Jetsons on Cartoon Network, which first premiered in 1962. Flying cars and spaceships transported the family from one sky-high building to another, giving everyone a glimpse of what the future could be. Interestingly, many of the gadgets and elements that featured in its episodes are now a reality, be it flat screen TVs or video chats, watching a Flintstone cartoon on a smartwatch or reading a digital newspaper. Architect-artist Martand Khosla’s sketch of a drone view of jaw-dropping skyscrapers hanging in the air in Radiant City (Stage 1) in his exhibition “1:2500 (One is to Twenty-Five Hundred)” at Nature Morte gallery is a drive down a similar route.
In his latest solo show, Delhi-based Khosla continues to engage with the idea of a city from different perspectives, following his previous trysts motivated by the lives of labourers and construction sites and materials. Joule, showing a wooden door moulded according to the curves of Aladin’s carpet, features among his 10 works on display, comprising drawings, sketches and installations.
Another wall installation, Maximum Capacity, has thin slices of reclaimed wood used in buildings in the past, struggling to uncage itself with the limited space of a white grid-like metal structure, a vivid reminder of the lanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi.
Citing the example of the famous Indian fable where a handful of blind men describe an elephant, Khosla says, “Cities are complex multi-layered organisms that are constantly changing. Somewhere I am also exploring the projected futures for the city. It’s a newer aspect to my body of work. Every time one engages with the city, it has already changed. It has different layers of narratives, stories, buildings, connections of livelihood and law and order. There are so many aspects that make up a city. It is very reductionist to start thinking of it only as a visual collection of fancy looking buildings, and great airports.”
Going back to his sketches in Radiant City, drawn with a freehand using implements that any architect would use — architectural drafting pens — Khosla stresses on how these are gestural explorations, where he is not trying to articulate any sense of the future. He says, “They are sketches of what could be. For me, it is quite dystopian and I am trying to deploy certain languages. These were tools used by Le Corbusier (Swiss-French architect) in the ’20s and ’30s, when he was laying out the plan of what ideal cities ought to be like. In fact, the title of the work derives from his explorations of a city, called the Radiant City.”
Eliciting a dialogue around how the future is being projected in India, for instance in the imaging of Amravati or Noida, and the likelihood of what could be, Khosla zooms in on dark issues that remain hidden under urban India’s attire. “For instance, in a major city like Chennai — what had happened last year with the complete lack of water — the reality is not quite what is being sold to us. In a sense, I am countering it,” he says. Using ink on paper, the black-and-white sketches in the series Studies in Radiance show innumerable cables connecting one floor of a multi-level skyscraper to another, reminiscent of the repelling look of cables wires that mushroom every day on electric poles in crowded narrow lanes.
The exhibition is at Nature Morte, New Delhi, till September 21
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