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The first retrospective exhibition in France of acclaimed contemporary artist, Subodh Gupta

The first retrospective exhibition in France of acclaimed contemporary artist, Subodh Gupta

Subodh Gupta saw the exhibition as a place for meetings and rendez-vous that would trigger discussions, exchanges and debates just like an adda. The exhibition featured iconic stainless steel sculptures, such as ‘Very Hungry God’ (2006), for which Gupta is best known, alongside new works like ‘Unknown Treasure’ (2017) and the video titled ‘Seven Billion Light Years’ (2016).

Subodh Gupta was born in 1964 in Khagaul, Bihar, India. He studied at the College of Art, Patna before moving to New Delhi where he currently lives and works. Gupta is best known for working with everyday objects such as mass-produced stainless steel utensils, bicycles, and milk pails. From these ordinary items the artist produces works that reflect on universal issues including migration, globalisation and the cosmos.

The exhibition was displayed in six sections: The Language of the Ordinary, Insatiable God, There is Always Cinema, The Gods are in the Kitchen, Travel and Exile, and Celestial Bodies. 

In ‘The Language of the Ordinary’, Subodh Gupta plays with everyday objects — both iconic and banal. In ‘Unknown Treasure’ (2017), found objects are pouring out from a bronze pot as if it were a horn of plenty. The pot itself is an enlargement of a handi, a traditional Indian kitchen utensil.

With ‘Jutha’ (2005), the artist showed used and stained dishes lying in sinks with a faint sound of dishes being washed playing in the background, evoking the complexities surrounding cleanliness and purity in eating and cooking. ‘I Go Home Every Single Day’ (2004-2014) traces the artist’s journey from his studio in Delhi to Khagaul, the village he was born in, in Bihar. He captures scenes from the everyday while the images accelerate or slow down to the tempo of the train.

The second section featured ‘Very Hungry God’ (2006). Here, Gupta captures the haunting aspects of excess accompanied by crippling starvation that is often a result of capitalist modes of production. The work takes the form of a skull which has been created with hundreds of gleaming stainless steel utensils, the kind used in the majority of lower and middle class families’ kitchens in India.

Section three placed emphasis on the notion that objects can be released from their functions and put into a standstill by their transposition in bronze or brass. They hold stories, as the title of the piece, ‘There Is Always Cinema’ (2008), reminds us.

As demonstrated in ‘The Gods are in the Kitchen’, food is at the heart of Gupta’s work and here he assembles and juxtaposes cooking utensils; films food preparation and curates performances around eating and ingestion. The artist began using stainless steel dishes in 1996 and has continued to experiment with it since. Despite the diversity of the Indian population, these utensils can be seen as a common denominator in society.

The artist weaves connections between container and content in various works. In ‘Faith Matters’ (2007 – 2008), traditional lunch boxes, tiffin dabbas, take up economic and political meaning as they loop and zig-zag around on a mechanical circuit, evoking global trade routes and trends in food trade and production.

In the fifth section, the onus was on transportation and how it isn’t a simple daily activity for Gupta. Representations of travel and transport for the artist are often closely tied to notions of migration and exodus. In the split-screen video ‘All Things Are Inside’ (2007), Gupta captures the meagre personal belongings of Indian migrant labourers working in the Middle East.

In ‘Celestial Bodies’, food is an allegory for the universe and the cosmos at large, whereby the infinitely large is captured by the infinitely small with uncanny accuracy. In ‘Seven Billion Light Years’ (2015 – 2016), a round of dough is captured flying through the air in the process of making bread, quite literally transforming it into an Unidentified Flying Object or a celestial body of some kind. ‘People Tree’ (2018) evokes a more tragic transformation: the Indian national tree – the banyan tree – is won over by steel, its leaves having become cooking utensils. The living becomes mineral and the organic is invaded by manufactured objects.

« Adda / Rendez-vous », curated by Camille Morineau and Mathilde de Croix, was on display till 26th August, 2018. Gupta lives and works in Delhi and had trained as a painter before going on to work with a variety of media including painting, performance, video, photography, sculpture, and installation.

“Subodh Gupta’s Art Gallery”

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