He called me many times, I wanted to go. Just couldn’t make it, till yesterday. I always felt good about people who make an effort, sincere & unapologetic. He was waiting for me and there was no one around at that time of the day. I looked around, a double height exhibition space where he arranged his ‘exhibits’.
At first glance they looked like aquariums. A fish tank sort of thing. With a filter, and light above. I can see the strain on the budget for his exhibition looking at the way they were put up together, but he managed to get this out there. People visit, just like me. They spend their day’s half an hour at least there to see what he has done. You could feel the exhaustion of many days on the exhibits, which happens towards the end of such events.
We shook hands, chatted. I knew what he was into, and had a kind of idea of what to expect. I have seen his works with suspicious eyes, thinking, judging- glorified aquariums! Someone trying too hard, but this time he managed put it out there. For cynics like me to see, on our face.
The first aquascape installation didn’t charm me at all as I was struggling to understand the narrative. With my little knowledge of the under water life, I couldn’t be excited enough, national geographic channel wasn’t there as I grew up. I tried to study the composition of things to find some sort of art in it. First glance, it was like rock and plants packed inside a glass tub filled with water. He explained how he grew the plants, how they are threatened, handpicked rocks from some god-forbidden Amazon wild.
He was delusional, I thought. Who cares? Does anyone care for these things anymore or is it just me? He takes an average three to four months to make one installation. How does the math work? But art is not supposed to be assessed that way, isn’t it? Artists are supposed to die of hunger, fed by their own thoughts, isn’t it? Nevertheless, he didn’t look starving, so I wasn’t worried.
We moved on, to the next ones. I gathered it’s more about life under water than about fish or the aquariums. Yes, there were fishes, just to complete the under water setting. He showed me the plants breathing under water- I believed. I was keen to see how much he believed in what he was saying. As he explained, I saw him sitting on his workbench with his tools trying to figure out the composition. Day in and day out. I started to think about the process, about the first point, the targeted image, the thought. He didn’t try to convince me or impress me with his words, he didn’t have to, he got it out there, it was effortless.
The next one had a fish stuck to the glass wall. There were many fishes there. He tapped on the glass, trying to make it move, he didn’t move. That, I felt was interesting. He sensed it, I suppose. ‘Sit please’ he said. I noticed the chair. Then I looked around, realised all installation had a chair in front of it. I sat. Now, my eye level almost parallel to the fish on the wall. I surveyed the setting, the rock, the plants, the pebbles, the blue light. I zoomed in. I started to see the thriving life within that box. I zoomed in as he continued to talk and show me the very little life forms inside. I zoomed in to the fellow on the wall.
As I started to look for things, he switched off the light inside the tank and stopped talking. Now, it was me and the tank. Silence. I zoomed in further. The rocks turned dark, silhouette. I saw the mountains, the valleys and the sky. I felt a civilisation existed there beneath the cold mountains. Water disappeared and a blue sky appeared. He wasn’t on the wall but was hanging in air. I saw a group of fishes moving in the background, were they flying? A flock of fishes. As the water in the tank disappeared, I felt water around me. I was zooming in, maybe I am inside the tank now. But he is still hanging.
Lights on. I came out of water, zooming back. Noise took over. I stood up thinking what just happened. I realised what he was doing, then. Each of these pieces were to be experienced in solitude and one needs to immerse, plunge. Be one with it. Swim with the creatures, sway with the plants, get small, grow fins, tails, breathe. It wasn’t just about the composition or the narrative but the experience.
I sat in all the chairs afterwards. The eye level was important. To get the right perspective, to get your zoom level right. Until the next call I received, as I walked back to the car, my friend on the wall was on my head. He came and stuck there almost at the center of the tank! What was he thinking, with a mind of his own, what are his aspirations, what is his next move?
I zoomed back to reality.