Susanta Mandal is a visual artist based in Delhi NCR. Born in Kolkata, he originally trained as a painter, but since then branched out into more conceptual installation-based work. His highly imaginative and innovative works have been exhibited widely in India and abroad, including at the ‘Chennai Photo Biennale’, Chennai (2019), ‘Chobi Mela IX’, International Festival of Photography, Bangladesh (2017), ‘The Contemporary 2, Who Interprets the World?’, 21st CMCA, Japan (2016). He has worked as an artist in residence at Khoj in New Delhi, Britto in Bangladesh and Theertha in Colombo.
In Susanta’s works quotidian materials and events invite viewers to witness and confront raw reality in interactive kinetic environments that are seemingly playful but are ultimately disconcerting constructions. Using chiaroscuro, the works’ narratives and performative elements echo the tradition of vernacular storytelling in India, where painted scrolls are brought to life with lamps at dusk. Alongside, digital images, slides, videos and complex programming all come together to create multiple dialogues.
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
SM: I never really thought of being an artist. During my school days, I created different kinds of paraphernalia using wood – boxes, cars, tables, etc. At the same time, I also enjoyed sketching, painting and making papier mache, which I would later use for painting. Later, after I joined College of Art, Calcutta (now Kolkata), the methods and practices of art became clearer to me. Art practice has limitless possibilities; we can create a world of our own where we can express ourselves in our own unique way.
I have encountered endless challenges in every step of my journey as an artist.
One of my mentors once told me:
“To become an artist, you essentially need three things. One, you need to have enough time for your project; two, you need a decent amount of money to spend on the project as also to sustain you; and three, you need good ideas for the project. If you can bring these three things come together, no one can stop you.”
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Please share few images of your recent works.)
SM: For the last couple of years, I’ve been engaged with a few sculptural works inspired by what has come to be known as the ‘magic lantern’ – a projection device that came in vogue during the Victorian period. With simple mechanics, lenses, an oil lamp and hand-painted slides, it gave immense aesthetic pleasure to the people in the 19th century. I’ve tried to bring the old technology to our times, albeit in a different manner. For instance, in one of my works, I created a structure with a few lenses along with a candle. Viewers see the slide images projected on a small screen, barely 3” x 4” size. Here, viewers have to set the focus on their own. This is not easy – the focus keeps shifting because the candle flame is not fixed to a particular point. My attempt through the work was to bridge the gap between old and new technologies and to finally create an object that would offer multiple experiences to the viewer.
'Refrain' is another work I’ve been focussing on currently. In this structural project, a video footage of about 20-30 min will be projected on a screen through a simple mechanical contraption. It is an endeavour to watch the city – most of the time we manage to only get a momentary glimpse of the cityscape before it becomes a blur. In the project, a set of restless lenses quickly blurs the images in the video. Here, I’ve used a particular pixel size as a ‘masking’ on a few specific signages of the city and, more importantly, on people’s faces to protect their identity: nowadays, people are scared of being captured in camera by the unknown. After an interval of two minutes or so, an iron plate would appear automatically in front of the video to obstruct the images.
The text on the plate would read, “Why do we have to close our eyes to fall asleep?"
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
SM: Of course it has, which is why in my practice I’ve continuously attempted to bring in together several diverse elements from film, slides, painting, text and sculptural structures to create a visual language.
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
5. Where do you create your art? What is your process? (Please share a few images of your workplace/studio while at work.)
SM: In the beginning, I do all the thinking in my head – calculating, planning, structuring, restructuring. I then search for relevant materials from books, journals, and cyberspace. The next step is to identify the right materials that can translate the idea for the project. Simultaneously, I keep making multiple drawings that I later use to develop the physical works. At times, these drawings themselves become part of my actual work or they lead me to another new project.
Though I have a studio space, it is not always there that I produce my entire work. The project is built in fragments at various places; once I take the call to complete the work, I do the final set-up in the studio.
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
SM: It’s too early to say anything concrete at this juncture. But it’s obvious that a drastic change will take place. Let’s see, time will reveal the truth.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have beside your art practice. Does it get reflected in
SM: From my childhood I’ve had an interest in growing plants on my rooftop. In Kolkata, we had a small place where we kept some potted plants. This habit has remained with me. Here, in our home in Indirapuram (UP), my daughter and I grow some plants on our small balcony. Though I don’t think it has any direct connection to my work, it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing all my life.
The artamour questionnaire is a regular series of interviews with visual artists across disciplines, who share their views about art, their practice and their worldview on a common questionnaire template. Like, comment, share and subscribe to stay updated.