Art review

The driving spirit

Zen Marie’s residency at 1Shanthi Road Studio/Gallery was part of his on-going project investigating or “re-imagining” various kinds of urban reality and ethos from the perspective of public transport drivers who function mediating a complex and ever changing verge of personal, external, social and regulatory situations.

As an artist and academic teacher from Johannesburg, South Africa who has been engaged with his own city, his approach consciously aims at direct interaction to visually research and question the relationships between “people, objects, places, sounds and images”.

The launch of his “Caught in Traffic II/ Auoraj” and its finale (August 13 and 20 to 14) meant to transform the gallery into a studio where the project was shaping and manifesting itself. What one eventually saw at its last leg indeed reflected all the elements of the premise.

On the other hand, the very basis of the art work in accumulating data, interacting and learning, however sensitive a discovery it may have been for the artist, became a bit of self-limitation in terms of its overall evocativeness that one would have wanted to rise beyond information, in particular if one considered it in the context of our familiarity with the phenomenon here.

Zen Marie expected probably that the sheer number and variety of objects and multi-sensorial elements, along with the presence of some original participants of the process, brought together would generate its specific artistic qualities as a still compact entirety, but, adequate and often exciting, it remained within the paradigms of sometimes loose or even literal presentation rather than expressiveness.

The space had the right things and visual motifs from the physical and aspiration world of the auto-rickshaw and its profuse decor, from a windshield pasted with filmy images of a cinematic hero also as a divinity to a collection of statuettes of gods and sportsmen, to driving wheels with Ganesha heads, to wall displays with city maps, photographs of auto back windows with naïve paintings of picturesque landscapes, lovers, film actors, deities, etc, to colourful stickers with flowers or spots, symbols, monuments and personalities of local pride.

Some exhibits sourced from Bangalore artists, like Gururaj Hadadi and Madhu D, were incorporated as material. The indications of social and emotional identity so offered were fleshed out better both in documentary and aesthetically suggestive ways in the three videos with sound that showed an immobile cow on an island amid constant traffic, noise and changing light, documented an auto driver’s martial arts performance with a filmy touch and followed another driver in his richly as his bedecked vehicle and his slum, capturing his cinematic dress and gesture but also his modest background and generosity to children. There was something affirmative and touching in the dense, kitschy accoutrements and in the hero posturing.

Besides a single, not so impressive art work on paper with blurred auto shapes, the venture stressed interaction among blinking disco-traffic colours, while Keerthi Sticker Emporium exhibited its fare, the artist distributed ‘golden auto’ awards to the participants and patrons and played a DJ during the party.

The open-ended process of coming to know things in contact with people did become evident, but the intended ‘visceral map’ of the city may not have surfaced entirely.

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