The starting point of this exhibition was an inquiry amongst colleagues at AAA in India on what cannot be seen, and therefore ascertained, about the artistic research process. This display’s title quotes the late sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee (1949–2015), and presents a selection of materials from her personal archive. It is an attempt to make sense of the varied impulses and tensions in the artist’s methods, which appear to draw on intuitive improvisation and an openness to growth, while at the same time the instructions for installing her works are measured and codified to the utmost precision.

There are no preparatory sketches, drawings, maps, or blueprints that give an idea about how Mukherjee planned and executed her sculptures, and this became the crux of our investigation—how did she create such monumental sculptures of intricate symmetry without a single outward mathematical measurement, without any demonstrative notes? Noticing Mukherjee’s own reticence in describing her process, we began to read the images, documents, and her lecture notes more closely, and sensed an embodied process, unmarked in documents, and so evading the template of our own of archives.

This display shows a small selection from the abundant photographs of Mukherjee’s travels to art historical and cultural sites. Captured in quick succession and carefully annotated, these are documents of Mukherjee’s artistic research process, where we catch fleeting glimpses of her pursuit of ancient forms and architectures, postures, the cracks created by natural forces within stone and concrete artifice, how light falls on carved stone, and the affective charge of once sacred spaces and caves—elements that can be seen in her sculptures in form and display. These are positioned alongside photographs of her back home—in New Delhi—where she would experiment with unconventional materials and install them in familiar sites such as garages, shop-fronts, and the rooftop balcony of her Nizamuddin barsati. In these, we see hints of what Mukherjee has described as her method of “working improvisations,” where she makes space for her sculptures to “grow” and extend.

Also highlighted are a unique, detailed series of hand-drawn, collaged instructions on how to install Mukherjee’s hemp sculptures in her absence, composed during a time when Mukherjee’s work began to be exhibited in highly institutional spaces in India and internationally. Made by her then-architect-husband Ranjit Singh on Mukherjee’s directions, these are accurate to the centimetre, and portray a finality, a high level of control, which appear to be at odds with Mukherjee’s own scant claims to intuitive improvisations and the “flopping” decadence of her sculptures themselves.

The installation instructions—which appear almost like diagrammatic studies of Mukherjee’s own work—seem to echo her impulse to photograph her sculptures to the point of excess. A section of the exhibition presents 35mm slides and contact sheets that suggest a rigorous compulsion of the artist to study her own work, where each sculpture is photographed multiple times, with imperceptible shifts in angle, with careful markings and control of the final representative image that makes its way into public circulation through catalogues and other such materials.

There is a transition that takes place, the growth stops, and is made finite, but the nebulous how hangs as a question and provocation. This archive has stretched our own frameworks of what the artistic research process may look like, and how the wider circulation of these documents opens up the potential for new layers of meaning.

 
Mrinalini Mukherjee (1949–2015) was a prolific sculptor based in New Delhi, India. Best known for her monumental sculptures in fibre, ceramic, and bronze, Mukherjee was trained in the painting and mural design at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda (1965–72) and studied sculpture at the West Surrey College of Art and Design, UK (1978). Mukherjee received a fellowship from the Government of India in 1981 to work at Garhi Studios in Delhi, where she worked recurrently till the early 2000s. She participated in residencies at European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC), Netherlands in 1996 and 2000. Mukherjee began exhibiting her sculptures at an early stage of her practice and her work has been shown in several solo and group exhibitions in India and abroad ever since, including the Paris Biennale (1980); Sydney Biennale (1986); Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1994); Asia Pacific Triennial, Brisbane (1996); Nature Morte, New Delhi, and Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai (2001); Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2007); National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (2015); Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2018); Met Brueur, New York (2019); and Venice Biennale (2022).

This exhibition is organised in conjunction with the recent launch of the digitised personal archive of Mrinalini Mukherjee by Asia Art Archive in India, with support from the Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation, accessible online on AAA’s website.

Public Talk | Temperamental Disinclination to Convention
Date: Sat, 26 Nov 2022
Time: 6:00—7:30pm IST
Venue: Reading Room, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), India
This programme invites artist and art educator Rakhi Peswani and anthropologist and philosopher Sarover Zaidi to respond to the exhibition and extend its propositions on materiality, embodied knowledge, and the artistic research process.

Workshop | The Language of Birds: A Reading Session on Artistic Research with Raqs Media Collective
Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2022
Time: 11:30am—3:30pm IST
Venue: Reading Room, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), India
In this session, artists Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Jeebesh Bagchi of Raqs Media Collective will revisit their writing on artistic research with participants, reflect on their engagements with interwoven histories, and share their process of working with suppositions, facts, and hunches. The discussion will also expand on how artistic research can be read and made legible in archives. This is open to MFA or MA programmes related to visual arts practice or theory in the Delhi-NCR region. 

 

“…and it is something which grows in all directions” is curated by Noopur Desai, Pallavi Arora, and Samira Bose of Asia Art Archive in India, with support from Sneha Ragavan, Ӧzge Ersoy, John Tain, and Vidya Shivadas.

Exhibition Design: Shambhavi Gairola

Venue Support: Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA)

This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of the Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation.

 

Relevant content

Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive
Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive
Collections

Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive

Introducing the Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive
Programmes

Introducing the Mrinalini Mukherjee Archive

Tue, 1 Nov 2022, 7–8pm HKT/4:30–5:30pm IST