As you wade through the exhibits at Aspinwall House, the main venue of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, you may come across a neatly maintained washroom. No, don’t use it please; it’s only an artwork.
It may immediately remind you of Marcel Duchamp’s 'Fountain' (1917), if you are a bit familiar with the history of modern art. While the French master’s provoking artwork at the pre-installation era was an iconic porcelain urinal, Hyderabad-based Dia Mehta Bhupal has created an entire latrine to occupy a significant space in the Biennale.
If Bhupal’s concept has just jolted you, her choice of medium is sure to take you aback. You have to take a closer look to find out that the tiled floors, painted walls, the wooden door and the porcelain washbasin and urinals are all made of just paper.
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The installation is an extension of Bhupal’s unique practice of making life-size sculptors of elements in the public sphere using paper and glue. Her previous works include similar models of a medical shop, interiors of an airplane and a waiting room. They are all available as photographs.
Bhupal finds her material in the colorful pages of scrap magazines. The printed material turn into mere paper rolls in her hands. Look a bit more closely; you will see that the latrine has been made roll by roll. The installation mesmerizes the viewer with its perfection and detailing.
For art enthusiasts who are curious about exploring meanings of a work, Bhupal’s installation offers too much space for interpretation. First of all, it challenges the traditional notions of art, just like Duchamp did in the early decades of the last century. The mere act of placing a latrine, which may not look artistic to many, amid a celebration of art questions the traditional and conservative art practices. It also seems to be a celebration of finding art in ordinary, daily-life objects or perhaps making the ordinary the extra-ordinary.
The presence of a neat and well-maintained latrine also prompts one to think of its absence in thousands of homes across the country. Thus, Bhupal’s paper washroom remains a symbol of the many faces of Indian realities.