Mega-cities define the modern world. Over only a few decades, vast metropolitan organisms have become the most common habitat for all human life, and in Asia in particular, the transition has been lightning fast. For two young artists – Suhasini Kejriwal from India, and Young In Hong from South Korea – examining our relationship with the modern city is fundamental to understanding our world today. After many years of friendship and intellectual collaboration, Maximum City is their first exhibition together.
Suhasini Kejriwal takes the raw materials of the city as her starting point. Her painted fibreglass sculptures recreate formal arrangements of everyday objects: fruit, shoes, pots and pans, bricks, wheels, advertisements, junk… Like monuments to the jumble of daily life, they suggest how the high ideals of Progress are manhandled into practice by human beings (those unreliable but indispensable cogs in the city’s machinery). Suhasini’s large-scale drawings of city life take the viewer into this same all-enveloping environment via a different route. Their size, cinematic breadth, and almost indigestible volume of detail create an overwhelming intensity. This is the metropolis as it lives and breathes, sustaining and suffocating at the same time. By following the city’s relentless logic of accumulation in constructing her work, Suhasini highlights the frequent mismatch between idealism and the human realities it seeks to govern.
From a different perspective, Young In Hong looks at the fragility of identity in the face of rapid change. Her monumental embroidered tableaux stitch together disconnected images as a means of probing the processes of decontextualisation. By re-framing familiar images and motifs into irrational contexts, Young In explores the idea of “fluid identity” – as if the individual were cut adrift on the sea of references that the city continuously throws up. In her video piece she shifts focus to the concept of the community, in this instance of a former Korean mining town where the government established a casino to revitalise the economy. Invited to march across the town wearing bright orange, the Miners’ Orange parade depicted a collective identity caught in the teeth of a grand economic agenda. At both individual and communal levels, Young In uses her work to question the idea of continuity within an environment of constant change.
The title Maximum City is taken from the book by Suketu Mehta, which Suhasini gave to Young In in 2006 because it articulated many of the ideas they both grappled with. In it, Mehtu returns to Mumbai (the Bombay of his youth) to discover a mutated, sprawling megopolis riddled with poverty, crime and corruption, but which is nevertheless fascinating and mesmerising. The book was to become the catalyst for a creative collaboration that has spanned several years and many thousands of miles. Six years later, the result is Maximum City.