AI3_20_2017_3_14_53_AM_Resized_bikaner_house_Main_Image_1.jpg
Plan for the Exhibition

Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio

The Preparation Room

Photo © Archa Desai

Play - Pray shoes covers.

Photo © Archa Desai

MATSYA, 2017, 46 X 61 X 2.5 INCHES, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, METAL, PLASTIC AND TABLE TENNIS NET

When Vishnu took the form of a fish in order to save Manu and reserved a place for himself on the boat to the new order, what he was doing had a deeper narrative history behind it. The fish can navigate all water bodies but it also responds to the water by evolving a jet stream of its own. As a fish slices and glides through water, it opens up a path for a brief window of time. Those who are not condiment of doing the same for themselves follow the fish around. This process facilitates the process of revolution. Evolution is the gradual movement and change of beings and the way they manifest their presence. When a ball is hit, it does not move in isolation. As it moves through the air, it creates a sharp current of speed and friction. All events in the world are synchronized and follow a similar rhythm. This rhythm is broken with the shot. The shot rings into the silence of cosmic space. It creates echoes, ripples and resonance. But after the shot we get to examine all the inter-connected elements. Like a comet has a tail, the ball flying through the air has a whole array of charged particles around it. The nature of a ball’s charge determines where it will fall and how it will present itself to the other player. A wise player makes it his business to be sensitive to the entire flow of a ball’s passage and not just the physical reflection of how and where the ball falls. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

NARSIMHA, 2017, 80.5 X 66 X 2.5 INCHES, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, METAL, PLASTIC AND TABLE TENNIS NET

Red flags highlight a struggle for power. The ball is tossed around from player to player and no one is able to take a lead. When Hiranyakashyapa got a boon from Bramha that made him almost invincible – Vishnu has to take a hybrid from to rein him in. The form that Vishnu took had elements of the animal and human both. The oddness of the shape of this table speaks for the odd set of conditions that Narsimha (the man-beast avatar of Vishnu) needed to fulfill in order to defeat Hiranyakashyap. The ball as it bounces over the flags, gets animated with strange energies. These strange energies make the ball dance in odd patterns that it can do nothing about. The table is unpredictable, and it yields unpredictable results. The red flags also seem to be like claw marks that have drawn blood. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

Rama, 2017, 84 X 54 X 2.5 inches, Acrylic on canvas, metal, plastic and table tennis net

An intensely mapped territory which looks like a dense mass of small territories. Every step could be technically trespassing. Ramayana is not just mythology; it is a symbolic representation of the backbone of the Indian cultural ethic. A ball would be in a state of constant spin as it would not be able to figure which is the surface of the table and which would be the boundary. All the events in the narrative of the Ramayana are connected through the belief that Rama was an avatar of Vishnu. The moment the ball become a part of the contested territory of this table it does not fellow rational rule sets anymore. It becomes a part of a charmed narrative and acts under a magical logic. Rama has become a role model of sorts for a certain Indian male. Although the basis for Rama to become this role is not contested, in the narrative of the Ramayana there is no deviation from him being represented as someone who can do no wrong. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

Buddha, 2017, 72 X 72X 2.5 inches, Acrylic on canvas, metal, plastic and table tennis net

Buddha was a sage from an entirely different tradition and time than the lineage of other avatars of Vishnu. But the appearance of Buddha in this list speaks about the oneness of the divine being that is intrinsic to an understanding of Indian mythological texts. There is an all-encompassing thread and urge in our traditions to think in a non-denominational, spiritual sense which absorbs everything in its narrative. A ball bouncing on this table would not ever touch any surface. It would forever remain in flight and swish around like a bird facing a strong gust of wind. The only things which appear to be surfaces a strong gust of wind. The only things which appear to be surfaces in this airy landscape are the clouds. Clouds are matter and non-matter at the same time. They can be photographed but you cannot sit on them. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

KRISHNA, 2017, 16 X 16 X 2.5 INCHES X 9 CANVASES, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, METAL, PLASTIC AND TABLE TENNIS NET

Krishna was a matter of disguise. And the ability to take different forms is useful in a game because the opponent can be tricked into doing things they would not do otherwise. The ball on this table is in the thrones of confusion. It is hit to land in a specific place but on the surface of Krishna’s table, the ball gets enveloped in a flax and floats about like a landless refugee. Krishna is sometimes considered the source of all the other avatars and the point at which all the narratives begin. The nine circular islands are floating in the middle of nowhere to link to the historical narratives and spaces mentioned in the mythology but actually their link to a specific space is vague. We cannot study a mythology like we study history. From a fact-based eye we need to shift to an awe-struck and wonderful perspective. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

KALKI, 2017, 24 X 12 FEET X 2.5 INCHES, WOOD, LAMINATE, IRON AND LED LIGHTS

The ball does not travel easily from one end of the world to the other because of the distance that it has to travel. But there are holes in the landscape and these holes’ act as end-points of tunnels which expedite the travel. The environment is filled with primordial sounds from the beginning of time. The sounds resonate with the bodies of dancers who blend in and out of the scene. The bodies of the dancers come from darkness and go back into it. There are two screens which provide light through an animation that blurs the negative and positive. The positive and the negative forces balance each other. While the ball continues bouncing, the world unravels around it. The vastness of the table also signals the enormity of this epoch and undetermined of its beginning, end and continuance. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

The ongoing act in

Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio

The space when the act is over.

Photo © Archa Desai

AI3_20_2017_3_14_53_AM_Resized_bikaner_house_Main_Image_1.jpg
Lab 06 Mar 2017

Sensory Experiences: Playful Prayers by Thukral & Tagra

Thukral and Tagra’s latest show ‘Play Pray’ exhibited at the Bikaner House, Delhi, from January 31 to February 15, 2017 talked about how as new-age Indians we juggle our daily lives and work with an undertone of religious faith and rituals we indiscriminately follow, all the while ignoring the quest for `truth` and the knowledge of how we are only a miniscule particle traversing through the universe. They take the viewers to the past with their quintessential style of surrealistic portrayal of mythological events and back into the present with a choreographed performance of how meditatively, playing can be praying.

Thukral & Tagra (T&T) – a collaborative working name for artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra – have always treaded on the fine line where art and design meet. Their shows stand out for their holistic qualities that go beyond the ocular. For them it is an opportunity to engage with a space, an idea and the viewer. Working jointly as T&T since 2004, their work is derived from the collective Indian subconscious, society and impetuosity that has accumulated over years of our perplexed sense of identity. 

‘Play Pray’ was planned as an extension to their 2015 exhibition `Games People Play` at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum. For the show, the artists turned the Museum into a gaming arena, where games were categorized into the physical, mental and spiritual, spanning the past, present and future. They reinvented known games and created experiences that challenged the viewer to think about life’s many aspects as a game of chance and to reflect on the nature of their participation in both life and art. The work explored tradition through a contemporary sensibility. 

Plan for the Exhibition

Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio

‘Play Pray’ at Bikaner House underlines the vital question, “Where is God?” A commonly asked theological question, this stands as a pertinent inquiry today, with this part of the world finding it tough to break away from the long-established ritualistic notions of God, and the other part, watching lives being displaced due to strong preconceived religious biases. The show is assembled as a reflective passage of time, seeking an answer to the question, juxtaposing renditions of Dashavatara (ten mythological reincarnations of Lord Vishnu) with the vocabulary of a sport. The show is spread over three rooms in the newly renovated Bikaner House and in the order of circulation, divided into the Preparation Room, the Past Room (seen as the cover image of this article, and the first in order) and the Present Room.

The Preparation Room

Photo © Archa Desai

Play - Pray shoes covers.

Photo © Archa Desai

As one walks into the Preparation Room, a pedestal full of various three-dimensional shapes made out of orange ping pong balls fills the vision. Only on a closer look can one observe one odd golden ball in each configuration, fit in seamlessly with the other orange balls. This orchestrated gesture – a reminder of how we make up only a tiny speck in the vastness of this universe – in the beginning, establishes the direction of dialogue that is to follow into the spaces.

On two walls to the left and the right of the pedestal, are two games: Walk of Life (1) & Walk of Life (2) Water, that the artists devised inspired by Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatara, for their 2015 show ‘Games People Play’. Some interpreters look at the Dashavataras of Vishnu- from simple life-forms to more complex as a Darwinian theory of evolution that the Vedas conveyed even before Darwin. But here the artists use it as a means to reiterate, how the perceptions of karma (deeds), blessings and curses are ingrained in our lives. The two games are displayed only to establish a visible association between the old and the new work. The wall opposite the entrance has a bench where one must sit and wear shoe covers that have ‘Play’ and ‘Pray’ written on them in an emblematic way. The board near the bench, instructs the viewers on how to go about the spaces and  reasons out why they must wear the shoe covers before entering the spaces:

“When you walk through, you have to be conscious. The sequence of actions to be performed now are going to have significance in this space and time. To sense and sync with the rhythms and patterns here, you have to cover your shoes with the fabric.

Do this for couple of reasons -

First –- Walking produces a rhythm of its own, the sound of your footsteps needs to muffle and quieten so they don`t argue with subtle rhythms which have been created in this space.

Second –- To be able to float in this space without leaving a mark behind.

This is a ceremonious void, because the depth of mythology has left a mark here.

You may now proceed.”

Mythologically, Lord Vishnu looks after the preservation and balance of the universe and takes incarnations on earth time and again to restore cosmic order. Lord Vishnu has already appeared in four avatars (lives) of MatsyaKurmaVaraha and Narasimha, in the Satya Yuga, three avatars of VamanaParashurama and Rama in the Treta Yuga and two avatars of Krishna and Buddha, in the Dwapara Yuga,making it a total of nine incarnations in the past. The tenth and the last of the Dashavataras, Kalki, is foretold to appear at the end of the ongoing Kali Yuga. For viewers not aware of the nature of Hindu mythology, the explanations to the nine avatars are noted down onto nine plaques and are accompanied by a representational image of each painting, right before entering the Past Room.

MATSYA, 2017, 46 X 61 X 2.5 INCHES, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, METAL, PLASTIC AND TABLE TENNIS NET

When Vishnu took the form of a fish in order to save Manu and reserved a place for himself on the boat to the new order, what he was doing had a deeper narrative history behind it. The fish can navigate all water bodies but it also responds to the water by evolving a jet stream of its own. As a fish slices and glides through water, it opens up a path for a brief window of time. Those who are not condiment of doing the same for themselves follow the fish around. This process facilitates the process of revolution. Evolution is the gradual movement and change of beings and the way they manifest their presence. When a ball is hit, it does not move in isolation. As it moves through the air, it creates a sharp current of speed and friction. All events in the world are synchronized and follow a similar rhythm. This rhythm is broken with the shot. The shot rings into the silence of cosmic space. It creates echoes, ripples and resonance. But after the shot we get to examine all the inter-connected elements. Like a comet has a tail, the ball flying through the air has a whole array of charged particles around it. The nature of a ball’s charge determines where it will fall and how it will present itself to the other player. A wise player makes it his business to be sensitive to the entire flow of a ball’s passage and not just the physical reflection of how and where the ball falls. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

NARSIMHA, 2017, 80.5 X 66 X 2.5 INCHES, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, METAL, PLASTIC AND TABLE TENNIS NET

Red flags highlight a struggle for power. The ball is tossed around from player to player and no one is able to take a lead. When Hiranyakashyapa got a boon from Bramha that made him almost invincible – Vishnu has to take a hybrid from to rein him in. The form that Vishnu took had elements of the animal and human both. The oddness of the shape of this table speaks for the odd set of conditions that Narsimha (the man-beast avatar of Vishnu) needed to fulfill in order to defeat Hiranyakashyap. The ball as it bounces over the flags, gets animated with strange energies. These strange energies make the ball dance in odd patterns that it can do nothing about. The table is unpredictable, and it yields unpredictable results. The red flags also seem to be like claw marks that have drawn blood. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

Rama, 2017, 84 X 54 X 2.5 inches, Acrylic on canvas, metal, plastic and table tennis net

An intensely mapped territory which looks like a dense mass of small territories. Every step could be technically trespassing. Ramayana is not just mythology; it is a symbolic representation of the backbone of the Indian cultural ethic. A ball would be in a state of constant spin as it would not be able to figure which is the surface of the table and which would be the boundary. All the events in the narrative of the Ramayana are connected through the belief that Rama was an avatar of Vishnu. The moment the ball become a part of the contested territory of this table it does not fellow rational rule sets anymore. It becomes a part of a charmed narrative and acts under a magical logic. Rama has become a role model of sorts for a certain Indian male. Although the basis for Rama to become this role is not contested, in the narrative of the Ramayana there is no deviation from him being represented as someone who can do no wrong. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

Buddha, 2017, 72 X 72X 2.5 inches, Acrylic on canvas, metal, plastic and table tennis net

Buddha was a sage from an entirely different tradition and time than the lineage of other avatars of Vishnu. But the appearance of Buddha in this list speaks about the oneness of the divine being that is intrinsic to an understanding of Indian mythological texts. There is an all-encompassing thread and urge in our traditions to think in a non-denominational, spiritual sense which absorbs everything in its narrative. A ball bouncing on this table would not ever touch any surface. It would forever remain in flight and swish around like a bird facing a strong gust of wind. The only things which appear to be surfaces a strong gust of wind. The only things which appear to be surfaces in this airy landscape are the clouds. Clouds are matter and non-matter at the same time. They can be photographed but you cannot sit on them. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

KRISHNA, 2017, 16 X 16 X 2.5 INCHES X 9 CANVASES, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, METAL, PLASTIC AND TABLE TENNIS NET

Krishna was a matter of disguise. And the ability to take different forms is useful in a game because the opponent can be tricked into doing things they would not do otherwise. The ball on this table is in the thrones of confusion. It is hit to land in a specific place but on the surface of Krishna’s table, the ball gets enveloped in a flax and floats about like a landless refugee. Krishna is sometimes considered the source of all the other avatars and the point at which all the narratives begin. The nine circular islands are floating in the middle of nowhere to link to the historical narratives and spaces mentioned in the mythology but actually their link to a specific space is vague. We cannot study a mythology like we study history. From a fact-based eye we need to shift to an awe-struck and wonderful perspective. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

KALKI, 2017, 24 X 12 FEET X 2.5 INCHES, WOOD, LAMINATE, IRON AND LED LIGHTS

The ball does not travel easily from one end of the world to the other because of the distance that it has to travel. But there are holes in the landscape and these holes’ act as end-points of tunnels which expedite the travel. The environment is filled with primordial sounds from the beginning of time. The sounds resonate with the bodies of dancers who blend in and out of the scene. The bodies of the dancers come from darkness and go back into it. There are two screens which provide light through an animation that blurs the negative and positive. The positive and the negative forces balance each other. While the ball continues bouncing, the world unravels around it. The vastness of the table also signals the enormity of this epoch and undetermined of its beginning, end and continuance. (Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio)

The Past Room, symbolically painted in grey displays the artists’ visualization of nine of the avatars in their distinctive styles characterized by hallucinatory and surreal imagery of people, places and objects floating in mid-air. The organic shapes of canvases extracted from the artists’ understanding of each incarnation are overlaid with deconstructed elements of the ping pong table. The paintings were ping pong tables, with two sides of the table interpreted by the artists as two opposing forces of negative and positive and the net, the threshold between the two. The floor, also painted grey, is laid with 84,000 orange ping pong balls – an element that loses its relevance after the game of ping pong – in a circular spiral, giving a restricted movement to the viewers and emphasizing on how we know of our pasts only in ways educated to us by our predecessors. This is also figurative of the ethereal nature of time, where the past can be revisited but never re-lived.

From here the viewers proceed to the Present Room: a space that is representative of today’s age, the Kali Yuga, a space where the story of the times leading up to the appearance to Lord Vishnu`s tenth avatar is showcased through a performance. This dark room is occupied by a giant ping pong table of 24x12 feet in an organic shape, that emits light from underneath. This table stages a game of ping pong between two opponents who struggle to continue the play. The play is seen as a game between two extreme forces that existed in all the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Whenever a player conceded a point to the opponent, four performers dressed in black and a self-reflective jacket, making them prominently visible in the dark, appear around the table performing a narrative on one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The performers interrupt the play by holding the ball, racket and sometimes the players, as the space oscillates from being a sports arena to a theatre. The performance, layered with modalities, was an introspective act that ruffled a few layers of perception. While the performance space was not used for the performance, it displayed a video of a ping pong ball being bounced at various locations in the city. 

The ongoing act in

Photo © Thukral and Tagra Studio

The space when the act is over.

Photo © Archa Desai

After the performance, thoughts of the question “Where is God?” asked by the artist in the beginning echoes in one’s head. As Joseph Campbell said, “God is a metaphor for that, which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.” It is indeed as simple. God is everywhere. The mythology has no proven factuality associated with it but the core that defines it lies in the metaphors. When examined metaphorically, these narratives hold a fundamental value but when trickled down to us as facts, hold close to no meaning.

Location: Bikaner House, New Delhi, India

Exhibition: 31January-15 February 2017

Artists: Jiten Thukral & Sumir Tagra

Text explaining each of Dashavataras: Jiten Thukral, Sumir Tagra & Prayas Abhinav