“It’s not just us watching the trees, it’s like them watching us watch them,” said Jiten Thukral as he accompanied me on a walk through of his latest exhibit at Chattarpur’s Dhan Mill compound. The contemporary artist duo of Thukral and Tagra is behind this mind-glitching piece of masterwork that is being showcased at Dhan Mill’s Nature Morte studio. Arboretum by Thukral and Tagra features intricate, photo-realistic paintings, pixels and palettes folding and unfolding onto themselves as we try to scour through the increasingly murky boundaries of our online and offline worlds.
As we walked around the compact gallery, looking at all the fascinating artworks lined on the walls, Thukral explained how just as you capture a tree or a shrub on your phones, their entire data is there–date, time, place, name–for everyone to see. “That’s how the seed of the idea was planted.”
Tell us about the process of conceptualising your new show
The work is a culmination of various instances; family history, future speculations and fact-finding. It’s actually quite magical to see these things fueling our sense of awareness and enabling us to work in an ecosystem. The subject matter comes to us, and it’s just a matter of seeing it through, holding that spark of an idea and building and creating it into something new. Our studio research into the subject matter is a prolonged exercise, which is then churned into a visual form. The process takes months of work, and research continues to build the discourse for the future.
How did you both decide to make the team?
We never thought of working together, with no strategy in mind. We both like to make things and make work that is complex and compelling. We met in Chandigarh in 1997 and started working in 2003 in Delhi.
When did you realise art was the way for you both?
We had our inclination very early on. Both of us have similar family backgrounds and dialects. We both learned drawing and making art from our parents. And we are glad we were always encouraged to create art that brings change. These similarities played a significant role in paving the path for us to work together.
What made you choose this theme?
As we find our lives are now dependent upon efficient net speeds, we are moving forward in spaces where phones are extensions of our bodies. Governing how we speak, behave, walk, engage, and form relationships. Our behaviour of seeing, contemplating and deep thinking has changed as we have altered our attention patterns. We, as a society, fast-forwarded our usage of tech and dependency because of the pandemic. Our ways of consuming the environment and clicking pictures become part of the hourly experience. The work looks into the idea of consumption of nature in the time of newly found intimacies with technology.
You have travelled extensively for residencies and exhibitions. Most memorable travel story?
Travel makes us build more community connections; I think we were inspired by Japan very early, and it’s been on our minds.
What is your favourite project you have showcased to date and why?
This is very hard to choose, just one of our projects. But the last decade was about working with farmers and understanding their narratives. The process was intense, and that also questions our status quo. The project is called Weeping Farm.
Where did the idea for your project, Memoir Bar, come from?
We are pretty vulnerable about our work and relationships. Maybe it’s a weakness in today’s time. We used the Memoir bar to bank certain emotions of ourselves and made a platform for people to let go of theirs as well.
Any more plans to include any travel concept in future projects? Any other new projects you are working on?
There are lots of things in the pipeline, but we want to take it slow. We will be doing something at Art Dubai and also a couple of residencies this year.
Any role models, inspirations and muses?
Nothing in particular, but some books have helped us in the near past to understand ourselves, especially by Yuval Noah Harari.
What is your favourite piece of art by any artist in the world?
Many works to think of, to name a few Anish Kapoor, Hilma af Klint, and Theaster Gates.
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