G.159 Signs Off at It’s Peak: Final Review

Three days after the closing of G159’s last-ever exhibition titled “Final Review,” I stepped into the white walled, sparse living room of my friend’s apartment and saw the last dregs of the elaborate exhibition, having shown over 30 artists across backgrounds, practices and lines of enquiry. Walking aimlessly around the house (out of habit, if not protocol), I encountered once more, a small metal ball-bearing hanging from the ceiling by a thin white thread. Yogesh Barve’s slight installation is one of the exhibits from G.159’s past shows, hung once again from the exact same spot on the ceiling. This piece in my opinion, worked as an efficient tribute to this space, in the very personal self-reflective bearing of the contemporary art it has embodied.

I looked to my left and the apartment’s clothes rack stood emptied of Leslie Johnson’s mockingly self- referential towels. One of these towels asked people to check what they felt applied to the towel onto a row of blank checkboxes embroidered on to the fabric. Not many get to experience art in such proximity and without its assumed surety, acquired in a gallery space or an auction before or after its becoming as an object of intention.

Much of the experience of G.159 as a space has been equivalent to being a temporary home for art; a residence for the work of art itself, as it comes into being, lives its life of intended communication and becomes a part of the familial history of the place. Such was the nature of Rakhi Peswani’s site sensitive installation in the abandoned elevator shaft outside the apartment gallery. This installation occupied a novel space in the building, starting from the ground floor, where a red curtain hung by the staircase leading up to the apartment, and continued up the shaft, visible along the height of the building. On the second floor outside the apartment, the shaft was draped by a jute curtain, with pointed nails embedded into it in straight parallel lines. As one swept the curtain aside, they encountered a worker’s outfit hanging like an invisible man on a noose, along with a hefty sack, a rolled up mattress and a steel tiffin box suspended by thick ropes from the top. On the third landing further up was a tangle of workers’ tools and a hanging lightbulb. Titled “Work Margins (Hidden Matter),” the piece presented an imagined home, the illusion of a construction workers’ life suspended in the (hidden) space.

Several other artworks in the show also engaged with the theme of ‘home.’ Christine Rogers’ “Home Movie” presented on an old box TV showed her eating dinner and watching TV with a number of American families, none of which are her own. When I dropped by to visit the gallery on a weekday, I saw Christine’s film playing on loop in one of the bedrooms as Salman Javeed (one of the residents of the apartment and one of the artists in the show) sat opposite the video on his bed. Other artworks like Thanik’s second year sketchbook and Smriti’s box of keychains make it hard to distinguish between life and exhibition in this room. “I turn the volume down when no one’s here.” Salman told me.

The novelty of having an alternative art space in a living room, especially while in ‘art school’ in India is quite obvious; it allows for the kind of engagement with (the often alienating, challenging or even problematic) contemporary art as if  it occupied your best friend’s apartment. You have the chance to look at it, and then look at it again in between conversations. You see it at different times of the day and glimpses of it never leave your peripheral vision. While the empty living room generally acts as the gallery, this final exhibition also extended into two of the bedrooms of the house, allowing the art to merge with the other objects of daily life in the house.  

In the space of the bedroom another interesting feature of the show could be witnessed – brought together in this show are a range of artists across disciplines and across stages of practice. In Nihaal’s bedroom were two abstract paintings by Roshan Sahi who teaches at the prominent art school in the area and sculptures by Salman Javeed who is a first year student at the same college. Salman’s sculptures require further mention in that they were artworks created in this apartment. Having moved here a year ago, Salman recently began his practice of sculpting with air-dry-clay – a quick drying and synthetic clay that he found Nihaal Faizal (his flat-mate and founder of G.159) using. Nihaal was himself informed about the material by his friend Ragini Bhow who also displayed her air-dry-clay sculptures in the show.    

Being a space born out of sheer need and independent enterprise, G.159 lacked the decadence that surrounds layman discussions of contemporary art and the meticulously curated “Final Review” exhibition became a collective show, arising from the context of specific pieces in relation to the space as a whole. Poonam Jain’s diversely sized black rectangles that have encroached previously dull corners of the building, further punctuated the poetry of this space, visible in full bloom at this final show. From these unexpected black doors to deteriorating painted seed pods and palm trunks, to childlike scribbles from a drawing party hosted on the closing day of the exhibition everything one encounters in this building was more likely intended to be art than not.

In conversation with Nihaal, he recalled a prophetic vision from one of his friends at the time when G.159 was slowly emerging. This friend had proposed a large exhibition that would extend from the living room and occupy the entire building, and truly create a radical space and context for art in Yelahanka. What seemed like a distant and impractical dream then has now manifested as their end. However, even on this scale, the show is executed through the tried and tested G.159 model of informal and collective responsibility. Old Monk rum and the fruits for the opening are bought last minute with money collected from the residents of the house and TV screens are borrowed from other neighbouring apartments. Over the years G.159 has had no resources per se beyond the resourcefulness of the people around it, and that seems to have been enough.

As I continued to reflect on the exhibition, the essence of the space reappears in seemingly unrelated works. Curated without a central theme, the show presented artists who have exhibited at G.159 before, or have had some responsibility towards the space in terms of community and practice. Suresh Jayaram who runs 1Shantiroad in the city of Bangalore, has been a guiding influence to G.159 and his exhibit, a befitting series of ‘art school compositions’ stood like an enthusiastic godfather on one side of the gallery-living room. The show is an unintentional yet elegant consolidation of G.159’s spirit, underlined through the presence of artists’ associated with other alternative art spaces in the city (such as Chinar Shah’s apartment gallery Home Sweet Home and Gavati Wad’s extended exhibition series in a restaurant “Taste of India”). Gavati’s takeaway piece for the show gave it a sense of homeliness – on the day of the opening and closing of the exhibition were 50 silver boxes with arrangements of oranges and grapes inside. The piece titled “Just For You” was intended to be picked up and the viewers and visitors could be seen walking around the exhibition, casually eating fruits out of the box. Chinar’s piece “Found People,” a work that exists in multiple forms, presented itself as 23 large prints of the same photograph. This photograph was a close-up image of one of the faces in ubiquitous community hoardings in the area in which multiple stakeholders are presented.

The prayer room was a tight space specific exhibition in itself, with a bible printed entirely in wingdings font by Saranya Murthi, the ashes of a calendar, burnt by Treeya Brooks, and later swept away accidentally by housemaids, and Moakshaa Vohra’s charming and witty take on old Hindi cinema through a curated video of Switzerland landscape featured in Bollywood. On being informed of the unfortunate sweeping, Treeya shrugged it off and said it was like time; gone.

Exploring contemporary concerns of post-internet authorship was Tara Kelton’s series of pencil drawings instructed by popular drawing tutorials on Youtube. In this work Tara (who also founded T-A-J Residency & SKE Projects, a residency programme in the city), questions conventions of originality. My favourite from the series was a drawing of a slightly deformed Justin Bieber reminding me of my dad’s lesson on copying. He said to me, “copy, but copy it right.” Copying the wrong as right, Tara draws Justin Bieber not as her best perception of him, but as that of the maker of the tutorial.

Another artist, Sohil Bhatia (who, along with Gavati claims to have done the most number of events at G.159), read from a script on the day of the opening. This script comprising of actual WhatsApp conversations with his boyfriend was thicker than my copy of “Gone with the Wind” and was on display for scrutiny for the duration of the exhibition. Until the day of the opening this performance was intended to have been enacted by Sohil and his partner but following an argument, Sohil was left on his own. In the absence of his lover, viewers were invited to sit in and enact the script with the artist. For those who witnessed the performance, Sohil’s private life now inhabits a space in their collective memory, much like the second floor of house number 159 at Yelahanka New Town.

On the day of the opening party for Final Review, I found myself drifting, from room to room and in and out of conversations. On the rooftop, where rum was served alongside a large tub of iced tea, I poured myself a glass and climbed up to the small raised roof. Here, in a chance first encounter and in my tipsy clarity, I saw what this place was most important for. I’ve often complained of how we need more stimulating places for first dates and I seem to have found one such place, on the rooftop of what I could call my friend’s temporary residence. G.159 has been a space for real, comfortable encounters; with art, with people and with space, and their last show has been a befitting final review; for some, marking the end of an era in Yelahanka, while starting new dialogues with contemporary art for others.  




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