Jitish Kallat’s work titled Postulates from a Restless Radius in acrylic, gesso, lacquer, charcoal, watercolour and pencil on linen.
Ishara Art Foundation, Alserkal, Dubai, has opened its 2022 season with Order of Magnitude by Jitish Kallat, the artist’s first major solo exhibition in the Middle East and the Levant (Feb. 16 – July 1). Presenting new works that include paintings, multimedia installations, drawings and site-specific interventions, the exhibition reflects Kallat’s deliberations on the interrelationship between the cosmic and the terrestrial. His oeuvre is situated between fluid speculation, precise measurement and conceptual conjectures, producing dynamic forms of image-making.
Using abstract, schematic, notational and representational languages, the artist engages with different modes of address, interlacing the immediate and the cosmic, the telescopic and the microscopic, the past and present.
In Order of Magnitude, one could find a contemplation of overarching interconnectivity between the individual, universal, planetary and extra-terrestrial dimensions.
The viewer is first confronted with Integer Studies (Drawings from Life), which run through the space, resembling both the horizon and the equator. Since the beginning of 2021, Kallat has followed a ritual of making one daily drawing as part of a durational study in graphite, aquarelle pencil and gesso stains.
Each work comprises diverse forms anchored by the same three sets of numbers: the algorithmically estimated world population, the number of new births, and the death count noted at the particular moment of the work’s creation.
Human life and death are abstracted in drawings that are both graphic and painterly, prompting questions of extinction and evolution. Seen alongside these studies is a wall-sized painting titled Postulates from a Restless Radius, whose perimeter takes the form of the conic Albers projection of the Earth.
The work begins as an unstable, cross-sectional grid (in aquarelle pencil) that opens up the globe on a flat plane. There is no cartographic intent here; in place of planetary geography, it assembles signs and speculations, at once evoking botanical, suboceanic, celestial, and geological formations.
Postulates is an exploratory abstraction of forms that suggest signatures of growth and entropy. Placed centrally are four double-sided and multi-scopic photo works titled Epicycles. The series began during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, with a hand-drawn journal capturing minute changes in Kallat’s studio - such as cracks surfacing on walls.
Kallat embeds these chance encounters with iconic pictures from the Family of Man exhibition organised by photographer Edward Steichen at the MoMA, New York, in 1955. The resulting prints combine the artist’s everyday observations with archival images of human solidarity taken by photographers from around the world.
Jitish Kallat’s composition titled Epicycles.
Composed on a lenticular surface, the figures depicted appear and disappear as one moves around the work, yielding a complex portrait of time in its transience and ephemerality.
A new iteration of Kallat’s immersive installation Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) occupies Ishara’s mezzanine floor. Images from the Golden Records that travelled as part of NASA’s 1977 Voyager 1 and 2 space mission, rest on shelves along two opposite walls.
Placed inside programmed LED frames, 116 parallax prints flicker. They include scientific, anatomical and cosmological diagrams as well as flora, fauna and architecture; it is an attempt to encapsulate a summary of life on Earth.
Permeating the exhibition space are also sounds of salutation to the universe that were on the Golden Records in 55 languages. As the two Voyagers continue their journey in space, currently over 14 billion miles away from Earth, the work is an epic presentation of our world to an unknown other.
At a time when we find ourselves in a deeply divided globe, Kallat foregrounds these images and reverberations for a collective meditation on ourselves as residents of a single planet, where the “other” could be an unfamiliar intergalactic alien.
An obsolete map of our cosmic neighbourhood, the return address marked on the Records, is projected within the installation facing a bench in the shape of the Doomsday Clock.
The symbolic clock proposed by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is reset every year, representing our growing proximity to a hypothetical man-made global catastrophe that is expected to strike at midnight. Finally, a site-specific intervention by the artist titled N-E-S-W serves as an allusive clue to reading the exhibition. Embedded within the foundation’s architecture, a functional magnetic compass is inset within the flooring.
N-E-S-W summons the cardinal directions of the Earth, aligned to invisible force fields, rendering both the exhibition and Ishara into planetary surveying devices.
Order of Magnitude is accompanied by physical and virtual tours, educational and public programmes, a newly commissioned text by Amal Khalaf and artist conversations over the duration of the exhibit. Kallat was born in 1974 in Mumbai, the city where he continues to live and work. His compositions over the last two decades reveal his continued engagement with the ideas of time, sustenance, recursion and historical recall, often interlacing the dense cosmopolis and the distant cosmos.
Ishara Art Foundation was founded in 2019 as a non-profit organisation dedicated to presenting contemporary art of South Asia. The Foundation facilitates exchange between South Asian and international artistic networks that include museums, foundations, institutions, galleries and individuals. Smita Prabhakar, Founder and Chairperson of Ishara Art Foundation, is an entrepreneur, collector and art patron who has been based in the UAE for over four decades. She is on the Advisory Board of Art Dubai, a member of the South Asian Acquisitions Committee at Tate Modern (London), the Middle Eastern Circle of the Guggenheim Museum (New York) and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice).
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