For the past few years, multimedia artist Viraag Desai has been fascinated with pre-printed material. Found with ease on public walls and spaces, to him they seemed to blend seamlessly into the architecture of the neighborhood they occupied. These posters—from temporary newsprint of training courses to the ubiquitous film posters—transform into artworks in Desai’s ongoing solo show—A Mechanical Eye at Gallery Art Exposure, Kolkata.
The artist talks about his foraged scraps, “I developed a process of layering and sanding that gives the fragments the look of fossils. I look at them as fragments of data that have gone through their lifecycle and are now fossilized. The results fall between the realms of botanical illustration and diagrams.”
This online exhibition was conceived and executed in its entirety during the lockdown period. It was a time when forced isolation led Desai to deep introspection. As he moved from his studio in Mumbai to his home in Kolkata, he became keenly conscious of ‘spaces’ and his surroundings. While responding to the new awareness, he tried to leverage it into his work. “I made a definite move towards digital. I have spent days in darkened rooms, fascinated with the medium of photogrammetry and 3D scanning. Moreover, the art world, as we knew it, has come to a halt. Simultaneously, a new digital platform is finding its feet. Contactless shows will find innovative ways to succeed, and I intend to be a part of that push,” he says.
From the US to Spain and Bangladesh, Desai has traveled widely and it has left some impression on his art. “What I have gained is the conviction that how we produce art is a very specific outcome of our geography, climate, history, politics, etc,” says the artist and set designer, who studied art in Chicago, US. Maybe being in Chicago is the reason for his love for Anish Kapoor’s provocative piece of public art, ‘Bean’ (CloudGate). “It made me appreciate size—both the scale and the ambition.
The installation has integrated itself into the architecture and mood of the city,” Desai says. Other artists who have stayed with him over the years are Mark Bradford, Julie Mehertu and Anselm Kiefer. “I admire artists who make vast, detailed works that you need to spend hours deciphering.” The ever-evolving artist now wants to use automation for his next series of works. “I feel a compelling need to produce and display work for a largely online audience,” says the artist, who repurposes technology to bring a connection between the times we once lived in, and the times we now live in.