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Heading into a more art-conscious future?

art-and-culture Updated: Feb 07, 2011 12:23 IST
Pranav Dixit
Pranav Dixit
Hindustan Times
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Is that a sculpture? A fountain? Giant globes of steel floating in the air? If you’ve had a similar reaction while travelling on the AIIMS flyover in Delhi, it’s time to meet 41-year-old Vibhor Sogani, the man behind the mystery. For the better part of the past two decades, Sogani has been dabbling in installation art, catering mostly to private clients. Sprouts is his first public work, spread across the six acres of greens between the AIIMS flyovers in Delhi. It has received mixed reactions.

“We’ve never really had a culture of public installations in India,” Sogani says, as we settle down at a table at Spectra, the bustling restaurant at the Leela Kempinski hotel in Gurgaon. “So naturally, a lot of people were bewildered.” Over roast potatoes, Greek salad, pasta with Parmesan and some delicious sushi, Sogani defends his installation, and talks about why he believes we are on the threshold of an art boom.

The India Art Summit that concluded last month in Delhi got a massive response. Does that mean that art is finally reaching the masses?
Yes, I definitely think more people are getting interested in art. This has been happening for a while, but the Art Summit did a great job of showcasing a lot of artwork in various formats. The kind of exposure that the general audience got was fantastic! Never before has it happened in our country. However, I still don’t think that art has percolated to the masses. It’s still a very select audience, but since we have a huge population, that number itself is very large.

Last year, 40,000 people attended the Art Summit. This year, the number was 1,28,000. That’s drastic!
Of course. I’m not denying that people living in the metros are becoming interested in art. But the masses? A majority of them live in small towns and rural areas. So it will be a while before this kind of thing reaches them. What struck me this time was the number of students and youngsters who attended the summit! Such an incredible amount of exposure at such a young age is going to change the way they look at art forever.

Vibhor SoganiHow does public installation art, like the kind you do, bring art closer to the general public?

This is an issue I deal with all the time. My work doesn’t hang in private galleries like most artwork where only connoisseurs go to see it. So I have a responsibility. I may love my style but does that mean I’m entitled to put it up in a public space? The other issue is about how to make people engage with it. In a public space, we need to engage everyone from a five-year-old child to an 85-year-old man. Everyone is a target audience. India has a lot of public installations like statues and sculptures, but most of them go unnoticed because we don’t think of them as ‘art’. Why? Because they fail to engage.

Sprouts, your 40-foot-high stainless steel installation, is spread between the flyovers at the AIIMS crossing in Delhi. How does that engage people?
Oh, but I see all generations of people engaging with Sprouts today! Children run up to the structures to catch their reflections in the steel balls. Menwhopause, the rock band, did a shoot there. And I’ve seen Sprouts in TV commercials, print ads, newspaper stories, even movies! Here’s a story I just heard. A French couple used to commute on that route every day to drop their children to school. They used to make up stories about the sprouts for the kids and now, they have published those in a comic book format! So people do engage, you see.

But it did get mixed reactions…
There is a misconception that taxpayers’ money has been used to build Sprouts. That is not true. The project was funded entirely by Jindal Stainless. Also, for the first three months, the steel balls were covered in bubble wrap, which melted in the heat and stuck to them. The public was outraged. It did look quite ugly, I agree.

But even now, I bet many people driving on the AIIMS flyovers do a double take when they see Sprouts and go, “What are those weird things?”
You can’t please everyone. At least it has got people talking about public installations. That’s fantastic. I mean, who knew the term even a couple of years back? As long as it is not ignored, it is good. Being ignored is worse than getting a negative reaction. Even Anish Kapoor’s installations in London generated a lot of negative reactions.

That’s true. He’s become popular in India, though!
Yes, he is the biggest installation artist today. He comes from the other extreme because his work is as big and monumental as it can get and here, we have just about begun exploring this kind of art. Also, his visit and exhibition right before the Art Summit were beautifully timed. He really generated some buzz.

So people do want more art…
Absolutely! In fact, I’m working on another installation called Spiral which will hang in a commercial complex in Mumbai in the next few years. The sheer fact that even corporates and builders are investing money in this kind of thing is exciting. Is that another sign that art is coming to the masses? Yes. Most certainly.

The sprouts story
There’s a story behind these giant steel balls sprinkled across the greens near the AIIMS flyovers in Delhi. “We wanted to make a statement about India,” says Sogani. “The Commonwealth Games were coming up, the cityscape was changing and everyone wanted to make the city look good. Sprouts is symbolic of the feeling that India is rising. Sixty years of Independence is nothing in a nation’s age. We are a nascent nation. So we’re still sprouting.”

From HT Brunch, February 6

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