An abandoned letterbox cries because it is hungry. No letters have been dropped in it in a long while. The artist- narrator, passing by, hears the sobs and runs home to bring it a diet of letters but that only brings temporary relief. So he draws a picture and feeds it to the letterbox. The picture of a tree made of words. Unlike letters, trees grow by themselves, after all. And so the sketched tree did, too, flourishing with an abundance of fruit in the shape of letters and words...
This lovely little fable, hand-written on paper in ink by Prabhakar Kolte, generates an emotional ambivalence at the core of the Harrington Street Arts Centre’s recent show, Lost in Transition: an elegy to a waning way of life — symbolized by the letter anchored to geography and now threatened by cyber communication — and an acceptance of a change that saves trees.
The immediacy of touch — the sender’s and the recipient’s — through the object of the letter, the kind and colour of paper and pen, the script itself, the accidentally-confessional idiosyncrasies of the writer, the envelope and even the postage stamp lent a distinctive identity to something once taken for granted. The show, wrapped in nostalgia, is also a reminder of what used to be important evidence in history and detective fiction, a literary device and an intimate tool that flavoured romantic love in generations past.
Most of the 40 participating artists contributed what they were asked to: a letter box, a letter or note and two postcards. Despite following the diktat of the curator, Avijit Dutta — which left little room for surprises — they imprinted their personality on the exhibits in two ways: dressing up letterboxes and postcards in their signature styles and writing different scripts that reflected individual thoughts.
Dutta set the theme with displays like spiked letters and a bulky consignment that played commanding sentinel in the main hall. A decrepit door and letter box by the same artist evoked the cinematic ambience of dingy neighbourhoods. Anuradha Pathak took up an entire floor to map, with colourful bands, the city of Calcutta in the manner of Monopoly game boards, but also brought Mondrian to mind. Partha Pratim Deb’s whimsy and George Martin’s dramatic figures (picture) declared a kinship with pop and cartoon vocabulary. Jogen Chowdhury, Laxma Goud, Anupam Sud, Jayashree Chakraborty, Paresh Maity, Jayasri Burman and Veer Munshi, in particular, remained faithful to their distinctive idioms.
Partha Dasgupta’s letterbox acquired a period status in an embroidered cover, while Chippa Sudhakar’s robust simplicity and Sunil Padwal’s breathtaking intricacy of lines stood out. In another vein, Anandjit Ray’s images of a skull and severed wing fitted with wires acknowledged the inevitable dialectics of life: the old yielding place to the new.