Fabrizio Ajello – Nikhil Chopra
“There is no object in the world that is not ready to welcome the glory of the sign, the splendor of that signature, which is possession and grandeur, an indication of rhythm, an abstract play. Everything is ready to lose its boundaries, to be nothing more than a fragment of a page, a vehicle for a devoted, liturgical ornament; the air isn’t different from the wall, the cup is a jewel, the carpet is a building; all forms, all materials collaborate.”
These are the words written by Giorgio Manganelli at the conclusion of a critical text about the interesting exhibition titled “Occident-Orient.” However these same words echoing when I am faced with the work of the artist Nikhil Chopra. The reference to poetry is inevitable as an art of creation, as indeed indicated by the etymological origin of the Greek word “poemì” (to put words in Greek) from which it comes back. Chopra’s work stands precisely on the edge of material creation and pure thought, dragging into the webs of the poetic, where everything ferments and inevitably transforms. Considering time and space is necessary, but what time are we talking about? What space are we discussing?
Time does not exist. Space does not exist. It’s as if it’s all in our minds. Nothing more than a projection to believe in for reassurance of certain points. The stakes of the giant, delicate tent of our existence. A precarious shelter to adorn with care, so that we can narrate our passage in this life. Traces in the landscape, signs of the landscape within us. The signs, perhaps, not only represent, but they also have the function as nails capable of fixing an unstable perception, a skirmish of vision. The fervent search for lost time confirms the fragility of our steps, our exclusive alignment with an hypothetical identity.
Nikhil Chopra, Fire water – 2018 (Courtesy: GALLERIA CONTINUA)
F.A.: In these gloomy days I thought of a famous passage where Gilles Deleuze stated that music and painting have a common issue: capturing forces. He added also, the aim of painting is defined as the attempt to make forces that are invisible visible.
Speaking of you and your work, is it possible to consider you as a “painter” and is it still possible to be a painter today in an ultra-technological society increasingly relying on artificial intelligence?
N.C.: Of course it is. In painting, there is nothing artificial. It’s a distinctly human activity. Think about the paintings inside the Lascaux caves in France, which bear witness to how the need for images has always been a distinguishing trait of human beings and it is also an inevitable connection with memory and language. These are features that have always greatly interested me. While artificial intelligence allows for connecting and producing, it currently cannot replicate the quality of touch, smell, taste and cannot reach the warmth of life. Therefore painting will always be relevant, just like literature, music and every other human expression bound to creative languages. It’s an instinctive matter, inherent in us.
F.A.: Your work of 2021 Remembering Being There impressed me because I was struck both by its requiring time to be experienced and understood — in fact, it seemed to me a prayer, a mystical journey (like a shaman’s one?) — and, then, by its non-obvious approach to the theme of the landscape as a dappled reality, lived and faced in a very deep and all-encompassing one-to-one relationship. Could you tell me something about this work?
N.C.: Indeed it’s a kind of pilgrimage. Simultaneously, it’s an inner journey and an exploration of a mountain landscape that reconnected me with a deep part of my personal history. My grandparents had this little cottage in an Himalayan valley where I used to spend my summers and my grandfather was a painter who created these very romantic landscapes. The underlying idea of the project was to, during the pandemic, return to my childhood by physically walking into those paintings. The sensation of being there, the memory of being there, inhabiting and living the landscape, the cold and the thin mountain air was a very strange and at the same time a challenging experience. So coming to childhood, the connection with nature, with that specific landscape, was like composing a geographical map that also links me to the place where I now live in Goa. It’s a space between the past and the present, simultaneously real and tangible, but also reconnected through memory and artistic action.
Nikhil Chopra, Remembering Being There (Wahan ki Yaad) – 2021 (Courtesy: the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA)
F.A.: The body seems to be another focal point of your research and work. The body is the place where an array of power tensions converge and tend to transform it into a territory for trial. The body as a form in the making, as an opportunity, as a malleable and unstable matter. After analyzing your work for a long while, a sentence by our famous actor and artist Carmelo Bene came to my mind: “The trouble arose when one god put in his mind to be unique”. This is perhaps a free association, but I think we cannot ignore the dynamics of becoming, changing, being one with our surroundings by means of embodying a part of them temporarily. Could you tell us more about the theme of the body in your performances?
N.C.: I believe that it partly depends on my love for the theater. Transforming myself and becoming the narrator is a fundamental phase of my work. Furthermore my father was a “man of the theater” and breathing this atmosphere, living in this dimension, had a strong impact on my upbringing. The situations we experienced at home were sometimes dramatic, sometimes joyful and sometimes both once at the same time. However, this pushed me to always consider the importance of the relationship between the actor and the audience, the flow of energy, the special connection created between what happens on stage and on the other side.
Moreover, my experience with painting developed as a natural extension of my theatrical work. This process became crucial for me precisely at the moment when the act of painting and the theatrical action merged into the energy of presence, of being there, but also in a sense, beyond the identity of my body. When it happens you turn into the midst of painting, you become the charcoal, the dust, the color itself. This can be observed in lots of artists, such as Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, not to mention how this type of experience sometimes surprises you, giving a strong emotional intensity.
F.A.: Ok, but, how can you define the limit of your intervention? When it is possible to understand: “Well, I can stop now”?
N.C.: When time is up. Nevertheless, it’s always complicated to determine when a work is finished. It’s something that is both an emotional experience and something tangible. When can we say that a gift is complete? Is it when we’ve bought it? When do we give it to the person we bought it for? When the person unwraps it? It’s not easy to define. Sometimes the work is complete as soon as the set is get, the charcoal is there waiting and I put on the selected clothes for the task. Other times, it’s when the first mark is made, perhaps a single horizon line and still other times, it’s when the final mark is executed and the tension dissipates. This is indeed the promise and constraint of performance that there is a beginning and an end. The artistic action must fit within the framework of time.
Nikhil Chopra, Burn – 2023 (Courtesy: the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA)
F.A.: And if something unexpected was to happen? How do you approach the unforeseen, the uncalculated event?
N.C.:Well, it’s important to maintain a point of arrival, not lose sight of the destination. There are many ways to reach it, but the key is to arrive at that point while adhering to the predetermined process along the way. It’s a bit like a map: you know where you want to go and must get there, but you can make travel variations. The crucial thing is to reach your destination without going off course, always remembering that staying within the project’s track is essential, as it’s always a work of research, memory reshaping, a live and performed artistic experience.
F.A.: Australian aboriginals perceived their territories and the articulation of their environment throughout cognitive rituals peculiarly connected to the memory of songs and dreams.
Thinking about the performances The Death of Sir Raja III in 2005 or Land, Water and Skies more recently in 2022, a dreamlike nature evidently emerges, a travel through space, time, materials and especially an experience conveying the deeper sensations of dreaming. Do you consider the dimension of dreaming important for your work and how much does it carve it?
N.C.: My imagination mostly operates while I’m awake, even, for example, in the work I do in my studio. Of course, a certain kind of imagination is important, but I believe that everyday life, political relationships, dynamics between people, communities and important everyday issues, the essence of being citizens, are even more important. All of this inspires me, but inspiration is not a passive process; it doesn’t mean waiting for something to come from who knows where, inspiration is a reaction to an action.
Nikhil Chopra, Drawing a Line through Landscape – 2017 (Courtesy: the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA – Photo by: Ilan Zarantonello, OKNO Studio)
F.A.: How important is sound, rhythm in your works?
N.C.: Extremely important and it’s becoming even more so. I love silence, but over time, I’ve discovered how crucial sound is in my research and my work.
F.A.: Then an undoubtedly narrative perspective emerges, both in the most theatrical parts and in the process of action, which seems to free the scenic act from trite pre-established interpretations. This peculiarity brings me back to the key work of Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author, where reality and artificial representation collide in front of the spectators.
N.C.: When the so-called fourth wall collapses, you realize that there are no defined rules, or rather, there are rules but they can be surpassed and acted upon. I believe that performance demands performative reactions from the audience, in a way, being a work of art that cannot be a consumable object, not being a passive art object, because as you look at me, I look at you and this completely transforms the relationship between the spectator and the artist. The audience becomes aware and responsible for the experience it is having and in the end, the work is created, in a way, with people and not just for people.
Fabrizio Ajello – Nikhil Chopra A dialogue
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