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Designer Kallol Datta on how he played with the internal workings of the body to make art of a different kind

The ‘Blood Song’ installation at Paranoia Pronoia

This year onwards I knew I was willing to pause and take time out from running my clothing label to widen my practice and include words, installations and ink-work into it. I sent in a project proposal to KHOJ after Pooja Sood (director, KHOJ ) encouraged me to apply to the year-end residency. I was a bit sceptical since I’ve never been good with juries since school days.

I was very pleasantly surprised when they invited me to be part of a dynamic group of artists from all over the globe. My mindspace was a bit more coherent heading into KHOJ this time round. I was aware of the process from my earlier experience in 2011.

When I reached Delhi for the residency, I thought I’d interact with various fashion professionals in the city because a lot of them were based there. I thought I’d take all the information I got from talking or interacting with them and somehow make a composite of all of it and give it a physical form. Like perhaps a manifesto. But then I began to feel that I was being unfair, that I shouldn’t expect people to subscribe to my point of view forcibly. So then I moved to trying to internalise everything and come up with a sort of ecosystem of images, text, maybe even sound, if possible. And with my work, even when it comes to writing or sketching or designing, I always go back to the human body and it’s mostly always the insides. So they get referenced be it in terms of prints, pattern cutting, concepts or storylines. So that’s what I did; played with the internal workings of the body and brought that into conversation with how emotions played into my line of work.

I think my interest is not really in talking about the body as this amazing source of life that is beating and pumping blood through the veins and all of that. For me it’s more about when the body is going towards a state of putrefaction or towards a state of decay. Once again, I like (Salvador) Dali because of his symbolism of putrefaction, the crawling ants or the very in-your-face work of a man defecating in his trousers. With books, authors generally state a full disclosure of intertextuality. This I relate to though I am not wholly comfortable, with fashion, film and music — the allusion, plagiarism and even parody. How artists borrow and transform an existing image, clothes makers’ reference and reconstruct an existing pattern. I remember Dali was a great reference point for me when I started designing because all my prints were kind of based on that concept of trying to show decay.

The ink-work was framed and arranged with pipettes dripping blood into beakers placed below the frames on a 9ft-long light-box. My writings were formed into a poem called the Blood Song. Four hundred-plus alphabets were hand-cut with irregularities and pasted onto two walls to spell out the poem. My journal during my stay at KHOJ was digitised and was made into a four-minute film, Blood Song Journal. This film was projected onto the ‘Blood Song Poem’. The Poem in effect became a watermark to the Journal.

I used my blood for the microscope slide artwork and for lettering on the floor. Not for anything else, but I wanted there to be some remnant of mine, which was intrinsically me. The temperature of the display space was bone-chillingly cold. And sound was incorporated with heartbeat, blood dripping sound and the flatline noise. Collectively it was called Paranoia Pronoia. I have been known to have undergone both at regular intervals.

My work has to bring forth into conversation humans, their insecurities, the symptoms that accompany such fears like self-worth, loathing and paranoia. When I am forced to face the same, the way in which they’re brought forth, motivates the not-so-happy, shiny part of me. And that is a good thing. At the end of the day, I wanted to humanise and then dehumanise all that I was going through the past one year, at KHOJ. Personifying a thought, an experience to acknowledge it and then immediately give it an inanimate attribute. To detach from it.

The moment I came off the residency, I heard rumours of how I have shut down my label, how I am moving to Delhi, Hyderabad. That art is all I want to do. Sorry to disappoint, but I will be expanding upon both as well as my writing.