Bangalore has a unique phenomenon: art galleries with beds in them. At any time, the city is host to half a dozen exhibition spaces inside people’s houses.
Home Sweet Home, one of its galleries brought its concept to Kochi to coincide with the third biennale, after founder Chinar realised it could “really be anywhere, not just my own house.”
Together with artists Nihaal Faizal and Leslie Johnson, they set up 3BHK, a ground floor apartment whose three bedrooms, hall and kitchen were used to exhibit art centred around the theme of home. It also housed (no pun intended) a gift shop selling sand jigsaw puzzles, postcards and zines published by their artist friends.
We visited to chat with the curators about their show and the curious case of apartment galleries in the garden city.
How would you describe what you do?
Chinar: I’m a visual artist and I’ve been teaching at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore for almost three and a half years now. I teach a variety of courses in photography, visual arts and humanities.
Nihaal: I’m an artist and most often I work with found materials of different kinds. Most of these materials have something to do with photography or the photographic image in a broader sense.
How did you guys meet?
Nihaal: When I was a third-year student at Srishti, Chinar had just joined as a facilitator. I think one of Chinar's first classes was to come as a guest lecturer to a class I was enrolled in, to talk about photography.
Chinar: We’ve also worked together on art and curatorial projects in last few years.
How did the The 3bhk show show come about?
Chinar: The 3bhk Show was part of the Home Sweet Home project where myself, Leslie Johnson and Nihaal organised a curatorial project in Kochi during the Biennale.
It was a way to expand the notion of home beyond Home Sweet Home. Home Sweet Home generally runs out of my own apartment in Bangalore. Of late, I have been wanting to expand possibilities of home-based curatorial projects out of a fixed space. Since we do not need the white cube of a gallery, we can function out of any kitchen, a bathroom, a balcony or even an attic.
Nihaal: How the show sort of emerged is that the three of us as organisers were trying to make a show of our own work - as artists organising their own presentation. We were thinking about a common theme between our work and came up with the thematic of the home because that featured in our work one way or another. The process was then about looking at other artists, mostly our friends’ work to see what other work exists that fits.
Chinar: When we found the house in Kochi, we went on to looking for art and artists whose work would fit into the space, and conceptual framework of the show.
Tell me about some of the artists that exhibited in the show including your own?
Chinar: We had works by Eva Koch, Famous Artist which comprises of Leslie Johnson and Smriti Mehra, Irene Westholm, Franco Leidi, Nihaal and myself. Every artist responded to the house in different ways, which brought the domestic space together.
Nihaal: What I showed were two large photographs of landscapes. Both were originally photographs that came with the Windows XP operating system. There were a total of seven landscape photographs in the OS and I rephotographed them all. I made sure that in all of my pictures, the flash from my camera was visible to show that the images weren’t the originals in that sense. While I showed two prints as part of the exhibition, the entire series was available as a set of postcards in the shop.
My favourite work from the exhibition was ‘Augusta’ by Eva Koch who is an artist from Denmark. For this work, Eva shot two videos - one of Augusta, an old lady from Greenland who had shifted to Denmark with her husband and one of Augusta’s extended family presently in Greenland. The two channel installation was originally a tribute to Augusta, who was too old to travel to Greenland and was presented to her as a birthday gift. The two videos played side by side on two box TVs inside one of the bedrooms of our apartment, almost like a family photo.
Chinar: Irene’s video looks out of the apartment and sees many windows and storeys in other apartments. She shot these different videos separately and then put them together This work on one hand is a story within 3BHK home and at the same time, you look at other homes with their stories as the time of day keeps changing, which come together in one frame on an old television set.
The Famous Artist Collective created a magic carpet where one goes into a world of fantasy of ownership and real estate. Aspirations of ownership are laid out on the floor plan of the carpet.
In my own work, I explore the newly recognised European Union right to be forgotten. When all of humanity’s efforts have gone into creating tools of remembering, how do we understand the right to be forgotten as a fundamental human right. In this work, close friends and family members certify that Chinar has right to be forgotten through trophies and certificates on the wall. The work uses tools of remembrance in our day-to-day life to forget.
What led you to begin Home Sweet Home?
Chinar: In an artist’s talk once in Bangalore, someone in the audience pronounced, ‘I will give you a wall on my house to show your work and to sell’. This triggered a thought in my mind ‘I already pay rent for my house, why can’t I open my space to show works of artists?’ I realised there were so many friends and artists whose work I loved but did not get to see it in public within the context of galleries.
Nihaal, you too ran a space out of your own home before. Tell me about G159.
Nihaal: G.159 was a project space that I ran in my apartment living room as a student at Srishti. I started it with a friend when we were both 18 and quite excited about turning our home into an exhibition space. There wasn’t much happening culturally at the time in Yelahanka New Town where we had both just moved for college and this was sort of an attempt to address that. We initially developed it as a space where we could show our own work and bounce off ideas while offering and receiving critique and feedback from other friends and faculty.
What kinds of spaces do you enjoy exhibiting your work now and why?
Nihaal: I’m still most interested in spaces that aren’t conventional galleries. So far I’ve shown my work in various apartments, but also in the waiting room of a movie theatre, inside an electronics retail showroom, at a birthday party, at a restaurant, and inside a garage.
I guess there’s many reasons why, one being that there’s always a chance to encounter an audience that you would otherwise never be able to access. Another reason is that the space always brings about a reading to the work that is specific to it with each installation or each attempt. So for instance, the photographs I showed at 3BHK would be received very differently inside a home as opposed to a gallery.
How is exhibiting in an inhabited space different from a typical white cube?
Chinar: It’s very different, difficult and exciting all at the same time. With the white cube, you can create the space the way you’d like it. In an inhabited space, you have to work around an already existing space – there's always going to be a bed, a kitchen space, a bathroom space, sofas. The colours of the sofas, the colours of the wall will change the our relationship to art. Let's say you have a green wall in the house, how are you going put an image up, how will it interact with the artwork? On one hand you have to think a lot about the space as opposed to only the work and the work has to fit into the the space to make sense. It's not just a neutral space, it's a political space.
Why is Bangalore so conducive to residence turned galleries?
Chinar: I guess it comes out of a desire to show work and want to see work. Srishti is an art and design institute where students constantly explore with various materials and concepts. Many students and artists have tried to create such alternative home spaces not only to show art but also to build a dialogue outside mainstream spaces.
Is Home Sweet Home an ongoing thing?
Chinar: Ya it's very much an ongoing space. I took a break for a while since Cochin was a very big show. We are back to work this month. Performance artist Avril Stormy Unger presented an installation-based show two weeks ago called ‘Please Call the Police’. Leslie Johnson just wrapped up her show Unravelling the Doily. So we have a busy year ahead.
What are your tips for househunting?
Nihaal: Househunting? I don’t know. Is this the part where I conclude with something witty?