Thukral & Tagra are rewriting rules of visual grammar : The Tribune India

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Thukral & Tagra are rewriting rules of visual grammar

Thukral & Tagra are rewriting rules of visual grammar

Thukral and Tagra’s new show, ‘Arboretum’, unfolds like the pages of an open book, drawing the viewers in its folds



Nonika Singh

WITH each new body of work, they push the envelope and fuse the boundaries. Internationally-acclaimed artists, Delhi-based Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, better known as Thukral and Tagra, lend new meanings to the world of art while continuing to redefine what artists can and can’t do. Actually, in their scheme of art, there isn’t a border or frontier that artists can’t transcend. Blurring the boundaries between videos, paintings, furniture, graphics and fashion and between popular culture and art, they rewrite the rules and create their own visual grammar.

Nature-inspired installations at ‘Arboretum’ displayed at Nature Morte, Delhi.

In their latest exhibition, ‘Arboretum’ (Botanical Garden), they not only voice environmental concerns but also dig into how online and offline realities are merging and coming together to create a new world of digital intimacy. As they provoke us with a pertinent query, ‘If a tree falls in the metaverse, does it echo and shake the earth?’, the purpose, clearly, is to point at destruction and technological advancement at the same time.

From blatant consumerism to migration, from agrarian crisis to the issue of abandoned NRI wives and, more recently, ecological concerns, every new idea of theirs has its roots in the previous one. “Just as different stages of life are interconnected, so is our art,” elucidates Sumir. Jiten, who belongs to Jalandhar, was always aware of issues like migration. As they dug deeper, they realised a host of reasons — “unemployment, low returns from farming, etc” — were behind the lure of foreign lands.

View of an installation.

Undisputedly, art is not a simplistic reflection of the world they inhabit. More so in their lexicon, where it’s not just one single medium but a host of mediums that jostle, coalesce and blend seamlessly. This again is a lesson that Jiten, an alumnus of Government College of Art, Chandigarh, may have learnt from his alma mater. Recalling his days at the art college, he says, “Though I specialised in applied art in the first year, there were no boundaries. From painting to sculpture and graphics, one could easily flit from one class to another.” Not surprising, they paint, sculpt, create installations, incorporate video games in their works and make films too.

Jiten observes, “People are not audience for us but parts of our art works, be it the show ‘Games People Play’ at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai or ‘Lullament 2’ at Ludwigsburg, Germany, which was created as an immersive experience around sound.” Earlier, during a project on HIV, they gave viewers flip-flops carrying a message on safe sex practices. The present show, ‘Arboretum’, unfolds like the pages of a book, drawing the viewers in its folds.

The genesis of their current artwork is easy to decipher. The trigger lay in the long period of Covid isolation, when one could hear the song of birds and rustle of leaves, when people were disconnected yet connected through technology. Interestingly, in following the photorealism technique — they painted leaf after leaf in oil on canvas — the process itself became meditative. Only trust these disruptors to add their touch by way of glitches. Thus, amidst the recreation of nature, they add eyes in one painting. The idea behind the artistic suggestion is: are they watching us, or are we? In yet another work, they have painted 224 canvases and defragmented these to the size of a mobile phone.

Indeed, in times of increasing surveillance and artificial intelligence, ripples are likely to be felt in the galaxy of art too. Sumir adds, “The market is flooded with AI-generated images. As of now, we have not employed AI to create visuals, but we are trying to understand how AI enables us to see life.” Though they can’t say what the future would look like, they’ve had a chat about their show with ChatGPT, a chatbot developed by OpenAI.

The two have been working together for the last 26 years, and in future, there will be greater cross-pollination of ideas. Their Pollinator project, which they plan to bring to Jalandhar soon, is like a nursery where different cultural practices like poetry, a performance and a culinary experiment will coexist with other art forms. Each question that they pose with every new exhibition is itself a marker of time. As artists, they only think of themselves as “an agency with the privilege to ask questions”. The underlying idea, however, is not to seek answers. As James Baldwin said: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.” Thukral and Tagra not only reveal the fast-changing world around us but add many layers to our understanding and perception of art.


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