Jitish Kallat, Event Horizon, 2014. Commissioned and produced by the Samdani Art Foundation for the Dhaka Art Summit 2014. Courtesy of the artist, the Samdani Art Foundation and the Dhaka Art Summit.
Jitish Kallat is one of the most exciting and dynamic Indian artists to have received international recognition in recent years. Kallat’s works have often been described as distilled, poetic investigations of the cycle of life, interlacing several autobiographical, art-historical, political and celestial references. His work has been exhibited widely at museums and institutions including National Gallery of Modern Art (Mumbai), Tate Modern and Tate Britain (London), Martin Gropius Bau (Berlin), Serpentine Gallery (London), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), Centre Pompidou (Paris), and the Art Institute of Chicago.
While most widely known for his paintings, Kallat’s work extends far beyond this medium, and in recent years, he has been celebrated for the scale of his sculpture, installation and new media projects both in terms of their size, but also in terms of their research. Kallat hit a seminal point in his career with a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was here that he created the monumental installation Public Notice 3, a text-based work illuminated in the bright colors of US Homeland Security threat alert system, recalling Vivekanada’s speech delivered on September 11th 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago building. Text has a long history in Kallat’s works, from the painted titles on his early paintings to his more recent installations that often use text as form. At the first Kiev Biennale in 2012, Kallat created another critically acclaimed work entitled Covering Letter, a freestanding fog screen projection that revisits a 1939 letter from Gandhi to Hitler, allowing viewers to physically traverse a piece of correspondence from one of the world’s greatest advocates of peace, who addresses Hitler as a “friend” under the ideology of universal friendship.
Several of Kallat’s recent works take on a more personal mode of address, and call upon viewers to find themselves in the work. In a haunting untitled work in Sculpture at Pilane, Sweden from 2010, Kallat created a 100 foot long sculpture of cast resin fossils that spell the phrase “When Will You Be Happy” in a historical burial ground in Sweden, putting desires that are often driven by consumerism into the important context of our human mortality.
Jitish Kallat’s recent work has focused on the idea of time and life-cycles and at the Dhaka Art Summit, Kallat invites viewers to find themselves within the work, placing the viewer between night and day, and between immediate and eternal. His internationally acclaimed 2011 work Epilogue explores the 753 moon cycles that Kallat’s father experienced in his lifetime using 22,500 photographs of moons that were made of roti (the most basic form of Indian bread) in various states of being eaten. Moon cycles are endless, and in the seven channel animated video Breath, presented here, the viewer can think of themselves within the infinite cycles that comprise the universe through the waxing and waning roti “moons.” Breath contextualises viewers within the universe and compels them think about time, life, death, and the relationships forged during one’s lifespan.
Turning the corner from Breath, the viewer is returned to the immediate demands of daily life routines in the seven-panel rainbow-hued lenticular photograph Event Horizon (The Hour of the Day of the Month of the Season) that was commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation for this exhibition. Kallat began using this medium around 2006 in a multi-part text based installation titled ‘Death of Distance’ and photo-pieces such as ‘Cenotaph (A Deed of Transfer). Lenticular prints are a succession of images within a single frame, and a change of the viewing angle creates the illusion of three- dimensionality with a heightened sense of animation. The timeless dilemma of the collective versus the individual manifests itself in Kallat’s work, and leaves viewers with a sense of responsibility to instigate positive change before history repeats itself. In this work, several of the figures appear in multiple panels of the panorama (such as the nuns and the group of young men), invoking notions of recurrence and recursion, an experience that is often part of Kallat’s oeuvre. We do not experience the universe alone. In this mysterious cycle of life, you never know who you may meet in the hour of the day of the month of the season from the moments just gone past. The past awaits our arrival in the future.