SQUEEZE LIME IN YOUR EYE: Kausik Mukhopadhyay

“The second part of his apparatus was a square wire hanger. That was the receiver. If he was right, invisible waves would fly out from his transmitter, travel across the auditorium, and reach this metal hanger. To confirm that they had arrived, he had cut a tiny gap in the hanger. If an invisible wave arrived, it would have to cross that gap and would produce yet another spark.”

~ David Bodanis, Electric Universe1

  • 1. David Bodanis, Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched On the Modern World (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005), p. 98.
'Fatherʼs House'.
'Fatherʼs House'. © Kausik Mukhopadhyay and Chatterjee & Lal

‘Squeeze Lime in Your Eye’ marks Kausik Mukhopadhyay’s triumphant return to the Indian art scene after many years spent in research, experiment and teaching at one of Bombay’s most energetic architecture schools. Like the protagonist of Ritwik Ghatak’s cinematic masterpiece, Ajantrik, Mukhopadhyay is happiest when he is talking to machines. His workspace is more laboratory or factory floor than studio, replete with motor components, IC chips, fretsaws, adzes, drills, drill bits, blowtorches, screwdrivers and cables of every conceivable size and specification (growing up as the son of an engineer, the artist embraced tools and the mechanical arts as part of his early socialisation). Improvising in the borderland between sculpture and mechanical object, he assembles and reconfigures the most fundamental machine elements – gears, levers, pulleys, motors – into complex, precarious choreographies.

Mukhopadhyay incarnates the archetype of the artist as inventor; his art-making is based on a voracious collecting practice. His primary material, as he puts it, is “discarded household gadgets”, the disjecta membra of a postcolonial economy that has made the transition from thrift to throwaway in a matter of decades. His assemblages are composed from parts found, crafted, repaired, repurposed from the tidal flows of white and brown goods on which we sail: toasters, kettles, ovens, printers, scanners, headphones, SLR cameras, computer keyboards, monitors, vacuum cleaners, and the occasional squat rotary-dial telephone that was once a standard feature of metropolitan Indian homes. Entire life cycles of manufacture, exchange and recycling are exposed to view through Mukhopadhyay’s orchestrations.

‘Composed’ may not be the right word. Riffing on the scientific working model and the booby trap as they do, these fantastic, seemingly whimsical ensembles refuse to sit still. Once the artist and his acolytes have propitiated the deities who preside over the wiring, and the synapses have fired across the contacts, rotors whirl, printer carriages shuttle and chatter across take-up reels, alarms go off hooting and screeching. Calibrations of speed, an interplay of the regular and the erratic, a counterpoint between anticipation and unpredictability are integral to the performance: for these kinetic sculptures play their role in an eccentric ballet or marionette dance of mechanical and cybernetic objects. Depending on how the circuits are organised, these works can lie still until the viewer has been lulled into trustfulness, then burst, all-systems-go, into a festive, percussive momentum verging on frenzy. Exposing the innards of the machinery at his disposal, rendering these everyday objects startlingly unfamiliar, Mukhopadhyay celebrates the latent, too-naturalised magic of the mechanical: invisible waves and fields, signals passing through the ether, forces at a distance. He is the von Karajan of a high-spirited cacophony orchestra.