Review: Excrescence

This was first published on Mumbai Boss.

Abnormal Outgrowths

Tushar Joag's "Bombay to Shanghai Post Box"

Chances are you’ve never used the word excrescence in conversation but after seeing the show titled “Excrescence”, we think it might just pop up in your social chit-chat because the art on display is thought-provoking and worth talking about. Curated by Maya Kovskaya, this group show is inviting, engaging and erudite, but not inaccessible.

“Excrescence” has works by Ashutosh Bharadwaj, Sheba Chhachhi, Han Bing, Tushar Joag, Prajakta Potnis and Wu Gaozhong. The title of the show can mean either “an abnormal outgrowth” or “a disfiguring addition”. Every work in “Excrescence” responds to this idea and fills the gallery with a silent anxiety. The most cheerful piece in the show are Tushar Joag’s drawings and the “Bombay to Shanghai Post Box” (see image). They are part of his series titled “The Unicell Project”, in which he imagined public service items like the letterbox and the lamppost as superheroes.

The idea of something rotten or toxic looking beautiful appears repeatedly. In Han Bing’s gorgeously technicolour photographs, landscapes with sylvan trees and neat homes are seen reflected upon polluted, dirty water. Prajakta Potnis’s wonderfully ominous “Still Life” photographs (see homepage image) show fruits and vegetables in a fridge but instead of being fresh, they have mysterious, icky clusters growing on their surfaces. Wu Gaozhong’s photograph of rotten organic compounds that look pretty and ethereal are excellent complements. Potnis has also done site-specific “interventions”, which you’ll miss if you don’t keep your eyes peeled. We’ll give you a hint: look very closely at and past the switchboard.

Our favourite work in “Excrescence” is Sheba Chhachhi’s fascinating interactive video, “Bhogi/Rogi”. It’s been years since Mumbai had a chance to see Delhi-based Chhachhi’s work and this one work gives you an idea of why she is considered one of contemporary art’s brightest minds. Stand in front of the video and an image of you will be projected upon the screen. See what happens to it as the images change. Made in technical collaboration with Thomas Eichorn, “Bhogi/Rogi” taps into our narcissism and fascination for technology. Your glee at seeing yourself distracts you from noticing how the idyllic image of a field of yellow mustard flowers turns into bubbling oil and then disturbing red globules. The video keeps changing, shifting from consumption to disease to violence and back to consumption. Having seen “Bhogi/Rogi”, we’re now extra dubious about genetically-modified food.

There is a handout that you can pick up once you enter the gallery and it’s a daunting document, beginning as it does with a quote by Ludwig Wittgenstein and going on to salute other philosophical heavyweights like Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag. Keep it with you and read it after you’ve seen the show. It’ll all make sense.

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