In March 2020 when the country went into a lockdown, artist Jitish Kallat had just returned from the US. Kallat went into self-imposed isolation in his studio in Mumbai and began keeping a small journal of notations—a hand-drawn ledger of seemingly incidental and accidental changes occurring in and around his workplace. It could be about some fallen tree stems or an emergent crack in the studio wall. These intimate signs of change were then documented photographically.
“Over the course of the next several weeks, this corpus of domestic imagery began to magnify. It started providing me expanded backdrops to accommodate other bodies like ours, from a distant time and place,” Kallat says. Most of these observations and the accompanying images have culminated into a multiscopic photo-work titled ‘Epicycles’, which is a significant part of his exhibition, Order of Magnitude, that began on February 16 at Dubai’s Ishara Art Foundation. It is the 47-year-old artist’s first major solo show in the Middle East, and will continue till July 1. It brings together his new paintings, multimedia creations, and on-site installations.
About the title of the show, Kallat says, “At one level, the exhibition shifts several scales and focal length—from a crack in a wall in the studio to an interstellar message dispatched in 1977. The corpus of images within the exhibition points to locations distant in space and time.” Undoubtedly, Kallat is one of the leading contemporary artists recognised globally. He has successfully integrated his multi-disciplinary approaches into a single piece of art.
Take, for example, his installation ‘Covering Letter’, in which the artist has revisited an archive of images uploaded by NASA into their iconic Voyager Golden Records in 1977. Placed inside programmed LED frames are 116 parallax prints that flicker in a breath-like cadence and include scientific, anatomical and cosmological diagrams along with flora and fauna.
It is Kallat’s attempt to encapsulate a summary of life on Earth. In 1977, the images were encrypted as sound files as there was no computing capacity to upload as many images. Kallat says, “With the permission of US-based software engineer Ron Barry, I was able to work with the images that were converted from the audio clips—as if they were accessed by an extra-terrestrial who would have to follow a similar procedure to view the images.” No wonder, his work often moves from the realm of terrestrial to the cosmos.
Kallat explains how his work frequently shifts time frames. “Rather than being directly interested in astronomy as an exploratory scientific discipline, I’m more drawn to the manner in which looking at the sky changes our sense of self. Going close to something or further away adjusts the meaning of what we might be looking at,” he says. The ongoing Dubai exhibition comes after Kallat’s last solo show titled Tmesis at New York’s Westwater Gallery in November-December 2021. This show will be followed by another project in the Middle East—a large permanent sculpture.
The artist who graduated from the prestigious JJ School of Art, Mumbai, in 1996 has exhibited his works in several spaces across the globe, including Tate Modern (London), Martin-Gropius-Bau (Berlin), Gallery of Modern Art (Brisbane), Kunstmuseum (Bern) and Pirelli Hangar Bicocca (Milan). In 2017, the National Gallery of Modern Art (Delhi) displayed over 100 of his works over a time frame of 25 years titled Here After Here.
He gets nostalgic talking about his journey, “The earliest impulses I recall as a child was to draw incessantly. That’s when you feel you can produce the world on paper with simply a few marks—a horizontal line can produce a horizon and a circle in the sky can produce the sun. This ability to produce or generate the world is the earliest recall of my gravitation towards art.”
Kallat’s works are often an interplay of scale, time, historical value and scientific explorations. One of the striking works on display is an installation titled ‘Doomsday Clock’ that reflects Kallat’s concept of a clock. “Over the last several years, I’ve been interested in the conceptual clock, updated annually by esteemed (and many Nobel Prize-winning) members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1947. It uses the analogy of the countdown to midnight—symbolising the apocalypse—to denounce the threats hanging over humanity.” So even as the world hopes for a clock to travel far away from the current doom, Kallat’s Order of Magnitude is an unstoppable journey of his futuristic brilliance.
When & Where
Order of Magnitude
At Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai
Till July 1
Echo Verse (Conceived as a complex system of signs and hypotheses linking artistic, historical and scientific references)
Beaubourg Gallery, Paris
From March 19