A recently-concluded exhibition at Delhi’s Bikaner House explored the various points of convergence between art and architecture. Displayed at the show were drawings and marginalia by five of India’s best-known architects, writes Bhumika Popli.
“Can we take art out of architecture? If we do so then what are we left with? Soulless buildings?”
These are some of the questions Gayatri Singh, director of the Gurgaon-based gallery ArtPilgrim, is addressing to the public through her exhibition, Connecting Lines, which recently concluded at Delhi’s Bikaner House. The show was aimed at diminishing the boundaries between art and architecture, and it featured works by five of the most prominent Indian architects of the contemporary age: Gautam Bhatia, Rajeev Kathpalia, Brinda Somaya, Martand Khosla and Rohit Raj Mehndiratta.
Historically, architects were also fine painters and hence art was very much an integral part of their practice. Singh says, “If we look at the Renaissance period, architects like Michelangelo and Baldassare Peruzzi among others, were architects as well as artists. There was no segregation between the two disciplines. But over time, art has been detached from architecture with the latter moving towards more of a scientific side. The whole idea of this show is that we shouldn’t be looking at architecture as something separate from art. We are trying to bring that old connection back, and architects back into being artists.”
It was Gautam Bhatia, one of the participants in the show, who came up with the idea of bringing this historical link between art and architecture to public view. Bhatia, known for his work on buildings across Delhi and Udaipur among other cities, is also renowned for his paintings, writings and satire.
He says, “This exhibition tries to show to the visitors the way artists think, draw and build. The idea was to engage the general public, rather than only architects. And the show records the thought process of architects through various drawings, models of the buildings they made, installation pieces, sculptures and so on. In my drawings, too, I have shown work that I will never be able to do due to a number of hindrances. You can see lopsided buildings and structures below the surface of the earth.”
According to Bhatia, his drawings express “his unhappiness with the city”. In his recent book, titled Stories of Storeys, he wrote, “The impoverished Indian city is poorer for the contribution made to it by architecture.”
Speaking to Guardian 20, he says, “What we build in the city, is much less than what we can build. It makes more sense to show people new ideas of how we might like to live. You move away from reality because the reality is sometimes depressing. There is much greater hope and optimism in an exhibition—something which is missing in real life.”
In Bhatia’s drawings, on display at the Delhi exhibition, we also see his satirical imagination at play. One of the drawings, titled Conference, is inspired by The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. It shows a group of men at a board meeting. Bhatia says, “We can’t achieve anything in a board meeting. We just sit and talk.” His anger stems from various limitations he encounters in his profession—like too much interference by the patron, lack of adequate budget, and so on. “Some of what I have created is not in the show but I have ideas where we can build a park on one of the floors in the high-rise buildings and a library at a metro station,” he says.
The exhibition works on two levels. First, it introduces viewers to a given architect’s building ideas; then it takes us deeper into his creative imagination, presenting an architectural model as a work of art. We see Pages From the Diary, enlarged onto the wall, by Rajeev Kathpalia. These pages show us how Kathpalia approaches his work, through a series of preliminary sketches and writings. He says, “I still like the idea of sketching, doodling and writing by hand rather than making structures digitally. I always carry my diary around.”
We also see the model of a structure he made in Smriti Van in Bhuj, Gujarat—a site dedicated to the memory of the victims of the massive earthquake that hit this region in 2001. Kathpalia has named the structure Celestial Yantra. It embodies the ideas of cosmic energy, circadian rhythm and circumstances. “The structure was completed around two years back and also incorporates the client’s desires and the social, cultural, geographical and historical contexts.
Kathpalia’s four horizontal bright-toned digital paintings, his impressions of Ahmedabad, are also here. “He says, “Some of the projects I am currently building, they have been rendered into miniature sort of paintings. Through the images of bulls on the streets, the factories, buildings, tied together, I have let go the precision and tried to display the spirit, here in this case about the city of Ahmedabad.”
He adds, “Through the exhibition, we have also tried to bridge the gap between the public and the architects. There is nothing in architecture that should be considered esoteric and the structures should connect to people and the way they would like to live.”