In the discourses on art, functionality is not a term, which is used very often. This is not the case with the works of Arijit Bhattacharyya whose functional objects redefine the ‘practice’ of art. He approaches ‘object making’ as a practice from a design and development point of view. One of the most interesting aspect about his work is the way in which he carries out community interactions before introducing his designs and objects to them. (At one instance, he threw a liquor party before introducing one of his objects!)
Arijit Bhattacharyya’s practice was born out of a sense of disdain for painting as a practice. His works move beyond certain hard-handed notions about art and enter into a space of urban design and development. His works are highly functional and are made to be used by communities living in tough conditions. He is a pass out of the Surat School of Fine Arts. Coming from a small city near Kolkata, he was amazed and a little distressed looking at the almost mechanical construction activities happening in the suburbs of Surat. He saw how more and more labor and technological inputs came into the context of developing and space making for urban utilization.
His early works are a series of photographs around construction sites titled Presence. Arijit himself visits these sites and becomes a part of the construction, which is in process. He is nude in most of the pictures. These photos depict the loss of identity and insignificance of its maker. The works deconstructs notions regarding labor and maker-user relationship through ideas of decay, rupture and stifling. There is a strong sense of disdain towards this mechanical reproduction, which is born out of consumerist greed. These works laid a foundation for his later practice.
One of the first functional objects that he made was a chair. The work attempts to subvert the hierarchy on the construction site by acting literally and metaphorically as a pedestal for the labor class. The formal transformation that the object goes through is quite interesting. The actual purpose of the object is that of a trolley for transferring material at the construction site, which then turns, into a chair with a few simple contraptions easy enough for any to make and use. This play of the object is where the work makes a strong political stance regarding the hegemonic institutional rigidity and hierarchy. Another object he made working on similar ideological premises is a table. The table much like the chair has a completely different purpose. It acts as a load-carrying tool. He has also made a sieve used to separate sand on the construction sites, which transforms into a rack for drying clothes, utensils, and acts as a shoe rack.
One of the most interesting aspect of his practice is the way he introduces his designs to the laborers. For instance for introducing his sieve design, he organized a small get-together in the form of a theatre performance. The performance was called Ghar Ki Roop Rekha. Along with his team, he painted posters on the streets along with the time and venue. Then at that particular time, when the people started coming, they started playing music and danced with laborers, had country liquor (mind you, Gujarat is dry state), ate together. Then later after the entire merry time he introduced the design to the community. Such community interactions help bridge certain gaps and shed inhibitions of communication. It helps open up dialogues on functionality and art practice.
Through such community interactions he learnt that most of the migrant population barely had any permanent shelter to live in. They live in the temporary shelters, provided by the company or the person for whom they were working. In this situation, these people make the best use out of any objects, materials, and the surroundings they live in and yearn for a place called home. Making a house for them was gargantuan task (By the way, he is already working on making a house. There is a semi-functional prototype of the house at the moment which can later be mass-produced once the cost of production, material, on site feasibility etc. are worked out.). He worked out a quirky idea around the concept of home. In Surat, one sees the use of LEDs and acrylic cases to write the names of societies and private villas. He used the same idea and he made one case for the shelters of the laborers. The case reads Ghar (home) in the Hindi language. This not only negotiates with the ideas of what a home is but also lends a certain sense of pride and belonging to the inhabitants.
His works revolve around these observations of object making and the practice of object making. The objects redesigned, are reflections of the people living in those places. His works operate in a space where they overlap the politic of representation within art and art practice. His optimism about the ability of art changing the world is articulated through his practice.
Text by Satyajit Dave, critic-in-residence, Khoj PEERS 2016
Photo Credits and Arijit’s Team:-
Ravi Kanani, Jeet Shukla, Shashvat Patel, Karan Bhatt, Jugal Patel, Milan Padsala, Herish Nesit, Komal Karad and Binita Limbani