A ‘public restroom’ has been attracting a lot of attention at Aspinwall House. The facility is, in fact, a life-like installation by artist Dia Mehta Bhupal, who uses repurposed paper to craft public spaces.
The installation, titled ‘Bathroom set’, as well as large diasec photo prints of her other paper-mache structures, such as a life-sized supermarket, the waiting room of a clinic, a bookstore and the inside of a airplane, are on display at Aspinwall House and Anand Warehouse – two of the 12 venues in the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB).
“The idea of objectifying and telling stories is what I do. Capturing something of the ‘unreality’ in the mundane existences of people’s lives, in the labour and repetitive action of everyday life, informs my work,” said Bhupal, a Hyderabad-based artist whose practice incorporates still-life, photojournalism, documentary and fashion photography.
She is also particularly interested in the ephemeral nature of life: how it keeps changing and how each person views the change in a different way.
Typically, Bhupal spends hours constructing habitats using paper cut-outs from magazines that she then rolls up and glues together to form the layers – “like building blocks” – for her installation. After photographing them, she proceeds to dismantle these elaborate sets.
The Biennale installation is, then, a break in this routine. It is the first time ever that Bhupal has showcased the installation behind her image.“I have used rolls of recycled paper to create 3,500 wall tiles with each tile containing 350 rolls of paper. There are 250 tiles on the floor and 138 tiles on the ceiling of the set,” she said.
Built over a period of 15 months through “an intensive and meditative process,” the installation is an attempt to explore different kinds of sensibilities.
“I moved from Mumbai to Hyderabad after my marriage and was excited to live new experiences and form new relationships. Over time, I realised that most of my relationships – be they public, private or secret – sometimes reflected on experiences I had felt before. It was almost different, but familiar in a strange kind of way. The installation of the bathroom feels strange and familiar at the same time,” Bhupal said.
A closer look at the work, which at first glance appears to be flat and two-dimensional, reveals subtle variances on the surface. “All the shades of blue are different very slightly, but they seem the same at a glance. So is the case with white. This is to me a reflection of my experiences. I am constantly questioning whether the experience is real or whether the moment is real,” she said.
Recreating the supermarket in her installation posed the biggest challenge, said the artist.“It was a huge task to find all the different colours. I had to rummage through many more magazines. It is interesting to note that in the supermarket each shopper’s cart or basket different from the other. What is really interesting is that our reflection and our reaction is different even though our external realities are the same,” she said.