Phule Museum is one of the eight locations where ‘Habit-co-Habit’, the third edition of the Pune Biennale, is taking place and artist Amol K Patil’s work is the first I encounter. Thoroughly conceptual, and deeply motivated, his work spoke volumes about humble labour and a disadvantaged workforce of the urban cityscapes. And I decided I wanted to talk to this gentleman and know not just about the work on display but him too, as a young artist.
Below are extracts from my telephonic interaction with him.
Me(AK)– What really inspired or pushed you to take up art as a career? How was your initial journey?
Amol K Patil(AP) –Actually, my brother forced me into art and it was his idea I study in an art school. The plan was that I could pursue book illustrations and caricatures, after my second year. But by that time, I was really interested in art as a whole and went ahead to complete my art studies. College was from 2005-2009.
In 2012, I was invited to showcase my work in a group show, in Clarkhouse gallery, Mumbai. Other artists were from colleges like J.J school of art, Baroda college, and I was from Rachna Sansad. Here I got a good response for my work and got invited to showcase in other shows. I got my first solo show in 2013 in Clarkhouse again, which is a non-profit space. And that’s how it really started.
AK – How do you gauge response to your work?
AP –While creating new work, I show my creatives to people around, take an opinionabout my work.The people also ask me random questions during exhibitions which test my concepts and process. I also give out feedback forms to people who come to my shows. My family doesn’t like my work and are my worst critiques. So selling them the idea for my work also helps me test response and helps me find loopholes if any.
AK – How did you happen to showcase your work at the Pune Biennale?
AP – So it’s not me who makes the choice here. It’s the curators who choose what kind of artists would be featured based the premise of the exhibition. So, the Pune Biennale approached the curators, Zasha (Colah) and Luca (Cerizza), to curate and organize this nearly month long festival. They know what kind of work needs to go up, so they shortlist the artists and approach the respective artists. I was invited by Zasha, who I’ve worked with before in 2014, to exhibit my work here.
AK – So tell me a little about the video Molt?
AP – So actually the main object or the ‘creative’, is not the video but the jacket I created, whose process of creation is in the video. The video was placed opposite a display of an antique crocodile hide. My work was in a way, in relation to that. ‘Skin’ or ‘Molt’ is representation of a lot of things. Firstly, the henna that was used represented culture, which is to say there was no differentiation on the basis ofcaste, especially when living in a housing system like Chawl. Secondly, it’s a playat the concept of fairness that cosmetic creams promise, which is entirely fake. It is also used to convey the idea of leaving behind your dead skin like the snake does, shedding old skin, but still being the same.
AK – And what’s ‘Dust objects’ about?
AP – Dust objects is mainly a dialogue on three issues, first being the bad upkeep of objects in Phule museum, collecting dust and put up on display in no particular order or relation. I found it funny that next to an old china vase was a wooden toy of a different time. I wanted my art to become a part of this mood of the museum, and not stand out. Second issue I’m trying to convey through the dusty and moldy objects is the sad state of affairs of the Dalits who are sweepers by profession. The government doesn’t take much care of their health, and as an occupational hazard, lots of dirt get collected in their bodies. They suffer from health problems and to deal with them, drink cheap alcohol. This brings down the average life expectancy of the sweepers. Lastly, my work is also a representative of the practice of creating counterfeit antiques. I used to pick up a lot of stuff from Chor Bazaar in Bombay, which was actually 30-100 years old, but not anymore. Now, they create fake antiques by ageing new items and don’t even use good material. Dust object also seeks to be the same, by the intentional dust finish, that blends in with the other real items but doesn’t actually belong.
AK – Finally, can you tell me a little about Transformers?
AP-The first version of these I did was in Dublin, but I didn’t use glass bottles there, just glass tumblers. Again, this too is dedicated to the humble workforce. Here, they are the construction site workers, who work on repairs of old buildings. What happens is that for a short while, the buildings are declared Heritage Sites, when in fact, they are not. Once the workers stop working on them and move away from the site, the buildings are broken down, and in their place, new high rises come up. The losers here are the workers because they lose work and the place to live while they are working. So, the reason I’ve used glass here isbecause these new towers are all made of glass. The etchings are all representative of the situation of the workers and the ever changing landscapes around the cities, especially Bombay.