Subodh Gupta @ Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row

Hauser & Wirth presents the solo show of Indian born and based artist Subodh Gupta. Titled ‘What does the vessel contain, that the river does not’, after the work of 13th century Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, Gupta’s installation is on view for the first time outside India and following its first presentation at Kochi Muziris, India’s very first Biennale in 2012.

As we deduce from the exhibition title, Gupta’s sculpture embodies a canoe type of vessel 20 metres in length and placed diagonally within the blank canvas space of the Hauser & Wirth’s North Gallery. His boat contains an innumerable account of objects directly referencing the human presence and identity; bicycles, door frames, sacks, household containers, chairs, to mention just a few.

Gupta’s sculpture partially suspended from the ceiling and touching the floor on one side gives the feeling of a floating mass of objects but with a suggestive force of motion, a boat ready to depart and sail. The juxtaposed dualism of a large amount of objects reminiscent of the human identity, but at the same time the underlying human absence, severely confront the viewer.

The registration of all involved objects in the viewer’s conscious or subconscious terrain may create an imprint of empathy for the unidentified and absent passenger, whose belongings are re-assigned as the carrier of their personality and idiosyncratic hallmark. This situation may well be a template for the viewer’s own hypostasis. Can everyone see themselves embarking this vessel and taking ownership of these very same items?

The symbolism of the vessel has undoubtedly been a very popular feature in the iconography of art for centuries. Ancient Greeks saw the boat as the medium for the passing between lives, leading to a state of catharsis. Contemporary artists frequently use the depiction as well as the habitat of the boat to suggest dislocation, displacement, immigration, emotional distress and an intense human distinctiveness.

But for me Gupta’s work is above everything the narrative of a journey, that being emotional, spiritual or physical, with or without baggage, or several other belongings. His monumental vessel contains the narrative of an entire lifetime; it is the personification of everyone of us and our own private journey, our individual trajectory and the medium for a personal quest. Kostas Prapoglou