409 Ramkinkars Sculptural Installation and Theatre
TAKE on art|July - December 2016

When Ramkinkar was asked whether he privileged sculpture or painting, he said “I ride two horses at the same time”. He rode a third  horse as well and this was performance — theatre and song — which he loved with equal passion. The project, 409 Ramkinkars, proposed the aesthetics of installation as a prompt for theatre. And the other way around — theatre as a prompt to conceive an installation.

Vivan Sundaram

Just as site specific installations take  from architecture the plan and structure of objects in space, theatre is present within installation practice as a performative mis-enscène. The positioning of sculptural forms, the presence of the (spectator’s) body within an immersive ambience; these and many other attributes make installation art and theatre twinned genres.

I proposed to my colleagues in theatre, Anuradha Kapur and Santanu Bose, that Ramkinkar’s third horse be set off on a new journey — and on a road that takes unexpected turns. Or that his boat (another of Ramkinkar’s metaphors) be set afloat  on choppy waters. Even as Ramkinkar tested a wide range of linguistic approaches to evolve his modernist practice — often shifting between figurative and  abstract bodies — he found support in the Santiniketan ethos. This enabled him to make monumental outdoor sculptures in the space of the university which itself became a performative act with public value. Recognising this, we felt that Ramkinkar’s acuity, his practice as well as his renowned charisma, would do very well within the genre of what is called promenade, or immersive, theatre. At the IGNCA, we used the wide frame of the architecturally diverse buildings and the large garden-compound for this purpose.

Ramkinkar had suggested that the audience, before being seated, should be asked to walk onto the stage and look at his sets. Here, in our project, the audience entered (as if) an art exhibition, and then the ‘studio’ of the artist. Already the exhibition halls with many pillars suggested a spatialisation similar to a stage set. These became ‘stations’ for 12 performance tableaux (based on a range of Ramkinkar’s artworks) enacted simultaneously over a period of about 20 minutes. The spectators make up the crowd that circulates in an art/ theatre mela. In planning the navigation of these disparate spaces, a nonlinear narrative emerged. Here, then, is a vivid interface between the spatial and the temporal.

There is little difference between strategies of installation art and contemporary scenography: the layout of the sets maneuvers the art-object as it maneuvers the fragments of the story. To this purpose, I used the known aesthetics of the found-object and of quotation. I foregrounded process and dismantled the aura by declaring the limited life of objects through the duration of the play — I then retrieved these as artworks reinstated in exhibitions. My theatre colleagues, in their turn, explored the inclusive nature of this art theatre format to represent Ramkinkar: a re-take, an interpretation and an occasion for discussion.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM TAKE ON ARTView All

Falling In Love (Again): India's Weaves Story

India’s love affair with handwoven cloth shows no signs of abating. Open any fashion magazine or newspaper and weaves get ample play. Designers up and down the country extol the virtues of weaves, proudly brandishing their innovative work with weavers to contemporise motifs and palettes. This is laudable but hardly surprising.

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Regal Renaissance: The Royal Opera House Re-opens

The Royal Opera House Mumbai is widely touted as ‘Mumbai’s cultural crown jewel’ and India’s only surviving opera house. The original idea for the space was conceived of in 1908. It was inaugurated in 1911 by King George V, and eventually completed in 1916. The design incorporated a blend of European and Indian detailing.

3 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Technologies Of Elegance

As soon as you enter the exhibition space in Bikaner House, the display ahead sort of takes your breath away. It’s a carefully crafted mise-enscène, filled with dangling screens, suspended sequins, overflowing jewellery boxes, glass displays, and more. And yet, in spite of the exquisite setting, and the props that inhabit it, your focus never wavers from the clothes, which form the essence of the exhibition.

6 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Fictioning The Landscape: Robert Smithson And Ruins In Reverse

That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is – all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the ‘romantic ruin’ because the buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built. –Robert Smithson, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey”

6 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Kerala Boy

The Kerala boy stands alone, facing the sea or what looks like the sea. Water is never far from his feet. His eyes are dark and his hair is blacker than the best Tellicherry pepper. He is an inch taller than most and a little long in the tooth. He likes the language of protest. He likes the flavour of a season called ‘Left’.

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Ghosts Of Ghan-Town

Landing gracefully on a rock, the camel tucked in its wings And wondered if this was perhaps Miryam Springs? This parched and desolate landscape was not what he hoped to find What of the flourishing settlement he had once left behind? 

1 min read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Delicate Animals

The humidity is sabotage and my skin is undone. I’ve always had a preference for dryness. While other women fear wrinkles, I never mind the beginnings of a crease. They seem cleaner, those intersecting lines. But then I’ve never been afraid of getting older, of being an abstraction.

5 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

The Smuggler: A Mural By Sadequain

The story goes that Sadequain (1930 – 1987), living in Karachi, was exhausted and in poor health. He was offered a stay at a government rest house at Gadani in 1958, so that he could recover. Gadani is located in the province of Balochistan on the Arabian Sea, a few kilometers west of Karachi. It must have felt quite remote from the city back then. The western coastline of Pakistan has long been infamous for underdevelopment and for unregulated trade activities with West Asia.

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Complete Love

It’s 2011, late summer. All over Europe, young people are occupying central public squares to demonstrate for more social justice. In Berlin, their agenda is different. The completists gathered at Alexanderplatz aspire for justice primarily on an intimate level. They believe that only when the redistribution of material wealth includes equal chances of finding sex and love — no matter how elderly, disabled, or ugly you are — communism will become real.

10 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

A Writer's Discourse

There are two moments in Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus that I come back to often. The first is an epitaph that Socrates uses to explain bad writing, which he recites (and I will now quote) in full:

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017