In Jitish Kallat's diverse practice encompassing painting, sculpture, video, photography, and installation lies an engagement with the urban city, and the ideas of time and the astral.Read More
Jitish Kallat held his first solo exhibition, PTO, at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, in 1997. Many of his early works employ personal and found photographs to portray the various faces of Mumbai in flux. In the painting Quarantine Day (2003), for example, close-ups of anonymous individuals are rendered in a mute palate, with an emphasis on shadows, against a dark red background.
Jitish Kallat's monumental installation 365 Lives (2007) utilises magnified images of cars instead of human figures. Numbering 365 in total, the images that make up the installation capture the rapidly changing city and the mobility of the Indian middle class in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Throughout his practice, Jitish Kallat has rearranged historical texts and speeches to invoke powerful contemplations about human violence and peace. Public Notice (2003)—the first in the 'Public Notice' trilogy (2003–2010)—features reproductions of Jawaharlal Nehru's 'Tryst with Destiny' speech that was delivered on the eve of India's Independence in 1947. Kallat traced each letter in adhesive then set it on fire in a protest against the Indian government's actions during and after the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Public Notice 2 (2007) similarly altered each letter of Mahatma Gandhi's 1930 Dandi March speech. In that famous speech, the political leader called for a complete but peaceful civil disobedience. For the artwork, Jitish Kallat rendered the speech in resin bones in a chilling portrait of violence even as its content mediates peace.
The microscopic and macroscopic, and the banal and cosmic often blur into each other in Jitish Kallat's works. Epilogue (2010–2011)—a large-scale installation consisting of prints—shows 22,889 moon phases that the artist's father saw in his lifetime. Up close, the moons are revealed to be roti: a flatbread widely eaten in India.
The suite of photographs in Jitish Kallat's 'Sightings' (2015) are colourful and evocative of celestial bodies and the galaxies. They are, however, magnified shots of fruits. Kallat's inspiration for the work came from his experience as the artistic director of the 2014 Kochi-Muziris Biennale when during the preparation for the Biennale he ate a fruit platter every morning.
Whorled Explorations, the main exhibition of the 2014 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, opened with Powers of Ten (1977): a seminal video by Charles and Ray Eames that examines the relativity of scale by zooming out to space then into a carbon atom that forms the human body. As Kallat told Ocula Magazine in 2015, for him the video is a way to contemplate 'your own diminutive self in the universe whilst also revealing to you the vastness of yourself'—a theme that is also examined in his work.
Various Jitish Kallat works rely on chance to record interactions between nature and science. For 'Wind Study (Hilbert Curve)' (2017), Kallat made drawings of the Hilbert Curve—an infinitely space-filling curve first used by the German mathematician David Hilbert—in adhesive and set them aflame. The resulting marks, resembling constellation maps or navigation charts, were determined by the wind present at the time.
Similarly reliant on chance, 'Rain Study (The Hour of the Day of the Month of the Season)' (2016–2018) is a record of rain—during monsoon season, the artist placed watercolour drawings outside, and the splotches from rain droplets created star-like dots.
Return to Sender, Frist Art Museum, Nashville (2020); Terranum Nuncius, Famous Studios, Mumbai (2020); Phase Transition, Galerie Templon, Paris (2019); Decimal Point, Sperone Westwater, New York (2018); Here After Here, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (2017); Public Notice 2, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2015); Public Notice 3, Art Institute of Chicago (2010).
Chromatopia, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2020); Modus Operandi II, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai (2019); Weather Report, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut (2019); Our time for a Future Caring, Indian Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2019); Setouchi Triennale, Japan (2016); After Utopia, Singapore Art Museum (2015).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021