By Renuka Sawhney
T.V. Santhosh began working on this iconic work in 2009. The workflow was smooth and it took almost three years for the artist to complete this mesmerising work. The work which was completed in 2012 was on display at the Heritage Transport Museum, Gurgaon, for a while. The Threshold into a Dream was showcased in Art Projects section, which was curated by India Art Fair’s Artistic Director Girish Shahane and supported by The Guild.
History is written and re written many times. It assimilates and discards the attributed or forced meanings in a constant process of building its narratives. Its consistent ideological negotiations with the documented against assumed facts bring forth a necessity to re-access the foundations of the history itself. Similarly, once a grand, spectacular gothic structure that represented colonial power changes its meaning and impressions as the country become republic and starts absorbing new ethos of its changing course of time. Thus, Victoria Terminus became almost like the heart of the city that seemed to be never sleeping, carrying people within and rest of the country, always welcoming and cherishing people’s dreams. It absorbed the impressions of longing, angst and worries of thousands of new migrants coming from hinterland from all over the country. And, in the course of time, the name Victoria Terminus was changed to reflect the prevailing nationalist mood to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) thus erasing the colonial legacy inherent in the previous name. Though, to a majority of individuals who traverse through its structure on a daily basis the building is referred to as VT Station. This little discrepancy reflects the echoes of habit as well as selective memory – both tied inexorably to nostalgia and hectic pace of living and working in Mumbai.
T.V. Santhosh addresses these shifting historical perspectives by tilting the carved wood sculpture/installation of the Terminus at a 30-degree angle, as if to look underneath at the foundations of this iconic structure to examine its traces of unwritten narratives. He understands the ambiguity of this act of tilting, since it is both conceptual yet technical, it is meddled with problematic associations; as the Terminus is a railway hub – mobilising migrations from the outer regions of the city – the centrality of the Terminus in the daily workings of millions of individuals makes it a necessary cog in the economic machine of the city. At the same time it is also a transitory place through which individuals bring their narratives into the city and return with those narratives altered by the city. Santhosh wonders whether the Terminus is the symbolic residue of these dreams – a timeline that stretches back to the point at which it was built as an image of colonial power to emblematic of the present that is wrapped up with these dreams/narratives, including the shocking instance of the recent terror attack leaving deep imprints of fear.
In the year 2008 it was the focus of terrorist attacks that shook the city – a city that is not unused to violence on a daily basis, became the focus of terrorism on a scale unprecedented; it sent waves of panic in to the psyche of the city. As a result, the ensuing security measures to protect places of public gatherings, transit, and temporary domicile extends to metal detectors in shopping malls, theatres, hotels and railway stations, becoming an essential practice. Memories superimpose various layers in time; it could be a fragile or random process. Sometimes, man’s will and survival mechanism adds new narratives over the old memories. Hence, life in Mumbai continues to ‘move on’. Santhosh’s sculpture here, on the one hand, functions as a monument to the inevitability of a witness to forget the temporality of the human conditions and of the historical past in an effort to move forward. And on the other hand it functions as a reminder of dark realities that shape the political conscience of the urban landscape.
The omnipresent counters displayed strategically throughout the sculpture countdown to an uncertain point. According to Santhosh the timers could be counting down to a catastrophe or the next act of terrorism, or to departing or returning trains. The counters function as reminders of the contingent nature of movement and migrations, dependent as they are on economic, political and social conditions, needs and desires of individuals. Or perhaps the counters placed on the façade count down to the point at which collective memory and past is shed as each individual step over the threshold of the terminus and enters the city to fulfill some purpose. This range of unknowns neatly defines the possibilities of the future of this structure while simultaneously embedding the past, and the present within the signifiers of the counters counting down, thus completing the sculptural integrity of the work by allowing it to encompass these varied interpretations, and implications.
(Courtesy: The Guild and the writer)