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Bharti Kher : Artist

Posted on : 13/11/2019 06:15pm
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Bharti Kher was born in the United Kingdom in 1969. She studied painting, graduating in 1991 from Newcastle Polytechnic. At 23, she moved to New Delhi in India, where she now lives and works.

Her work encompasses painting, sculpture and installation, often incorporating found materials, using them to transform objects and dissolve the distinction between two and three dimensions. Sculptures she has made since the mid-2000s combine animal with human body parts to create hybrid female figures which confront the viewer with a compelling mixture of sexuality and monstrosity. In contrast, her bindi ‘paintings’ are abstract and aesthetic, turning the mass-produced consumerist items into artworks of sumptuous beauty. Her work is engaged with the ready-made, minimalism and abstraction (through repetition), mythology and narratives.

Solo exhibitions include Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2014); Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London (2012) and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England (2008). She has taken part in numerous group exhibitions at various institutions including Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Khoj International Artists’ Association, New Delhi, India; Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Art Contemporain, Lyon; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Australia; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea; Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo and Serpentine Gallery, London.

In this conversation, Bharti Kher discusses her work three decimal points. of a minute. of a second. of a degree (2014), on show at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.



There’s something tangible or tactile about Kochi that really seems to draw artists into the history and context of the site itself, to generate work that somehow belongs here and is inextricably connected to it in a way that other biennales don’t, would you agree with that?


Yes, because it is so raw and amazing to work in these historically invested spaces and to also have a completely blank slate. It is not a white cube and something happens to the work because of that; it becomes transient yet devoted to the space. You experience the buildings as much as the art. The view to the sea, the boats ferrying past, the ship building docks with their gigantic gantries, the islands in the distance and all around you the debris and residue of Indian, Portuguese, Arab and Chinese travellers and their trade.


It is also different to other biennales. Many rooms have their own authority and autonomy, and the artists have claimed it as a space of intervention, which is interesting. And it’s an artist-curated biennale.



Your work is perfectly positioned in the space at Pepper House; the fact that you can see the ocean through the windows and that the work is centred around the concept of coordinates, of geographical, philosophical and existential positioning. What process did you go through with the curator, Jitish Kallat, specifically in terms of selecting spaces?


Most of the artists, if they could, came to the site in preparation for the biennale. Especially if they were looking at making works that would be specific to the space. I do that anyway for a lot of my work. I like to consider the architecture and the narrative of a space … it’s a process that helps how the work manifests. I like to respond to a space like I would a person—the way they speak and change or I sense them and that process gives each work its own gravitas, unique to that particular exhibition.


When I came to the site, I was already making these triangles and the counter balance protractors in my studio. They had been going on for a year and a half, and when Jitish invited me to be part of the biennale I was excited, because I read his curatorial note. I was really interested in developing this piece and the context of Kochi added to the work and its considerations. I then spent a year researching. I went up to Everest’s house in Mussoorie where I made a film, spent some time at the  Survey of India Museum. I was collecting and looking at objects, such as calibrators and theodolites (a precision instrument for measuring angles in the horizontal and vertical planes) and all sorts of wonderful measuring and calibrated instruments and materials. You have to edit hard what’s in your head and around; so much noise at the periphery is unnecessary … just to get to the places that you want to with the work.


To me, the triangles and the counterbalance protractorsy look like they have been extracted from another plane of existence, like they belong on an old ship from a world where scale is distorted to giant proportions, from perhaps some sort of fantastical context, like instruments plucked from another land. You often draw on quite specific lyricism, fables or mythology with your work, it is a running thread in your practice, however often more literally represented. Here you maintain a sense of narrative or drama, but the work it quite minimal, drawing on hints to other, less mythically-related subjects, for example the boat or ship and the journey?


Interestingly enough, in my studio the rope would go through a ship pulley to come down to the floor. But this space is too small, but I think you do get the sense of the ship without actually having to illustrate it.


That’s how I started the project, and then we just basically had to find a place with a high ceiling. At Pepper House in that top space you’ve got about 24 feet, so that’s kind of high enough. The work is all of the research and none of it.


Would you talk to me a little bit about the lights on the right, the triangulation?


These are searchlights. They were developed in the sixties for the Suez Canal navigations. The light went out 2km into the darkness so in one way they are seeking something… but practically they need these to navigate, to journey and map but also to trade and yet I like that they cut through the skies.

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