a very late story about art chennai 2012

while chennai has a strong tradition of carnatic music and kathakali dance, the city is not known for its support of the visual arts.  a local businessman/art collector began an art festival last year, to bring the visual arts to a wider public. i attended the photography group show and made contact with the curator so that i could be volunteer to support this year’s show (and possibly get a few works in myself). my gambit worked, although the theme of the group show was such that i wasn’t happy with the pieces they selected for it; however, i was more successful with the “chennai 24/7” public art project that opened the same day in one of the larger suburban line train stations.

chennai’s metropolitan rapid transit system (mrts) had its roots in the suburban lines of the 1930s, but the system in its current incarnation was completed only in 1997. many of the stations are behemoths of concrete stretching a city block; three stories tall, they were designed (it is said) to house shops and offices, but those plans never came to fruition, and they were left empty instead. over the years, the stations have accumulated layers of grime and dust; the stairwells reek of urine, the bases of the walls are caked with betel juice spit, and one can find the occasional condom or (as is rumored to have happened) a dead body in one of the dark corridors that dead-ends into a locked door or stairwell to nowhere. even with all that, however, they have fantastic interior spaces for showing public art.

with the help of the goethe institute, we got mrts to agree to turn six stations into public art galleries for the week of art chennai 2012.  (over the month, this number was reduced to one.) photographers from across the city were invited to submit photos of chennai taken during a specific week, and then we went through the over 1,100 submissions and made a selection of 130 which we printed on flex vinyl so they could withstand public handling. the mrts staff swept the floors and repainted the walls for perhaps the first time in a decade, and we contracted with local crews to paste the photos on the walls. i won’t go into all the snafu’s here; i’ll only say that the job, which the contractor promised would be done in two days, took five and only was finished the morning of the opening.

scenes from the installation, and the results. at each spot where photos were to be pasted, the guys would assemble scaffolding from bamboo poles, climb up, and attach the flex, after which they’d climb down, untie the poles, and move them to the next spot. to be fair, the guys who did show up worked late into the night to get the job done.

abby took photos of the opening and of my six works.