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    Posted on 31 March 2012
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  

    Documenting potentiating non-performers

    Sarnath Banerjee, one of the four artists to participate in this year’s Frieze Art Fair as part of the London Olympics, on how his artworks will celebrate the losing sportsman

    Amrita Madhukalya
    New Delhi

    Photo: Tarun Kumar Sehrawat


    AS A KID growing up in Kolkata, young Sarnath Banerjee and his brother (like most of us) were, many a times, unceremoniously pitted against a bunch of performers — two sisters staying in the locality who always ‘came first’. They aced academics and would even win painting and drawing competitions, much to the delight of their proud mother and to the horrifying chagrin of the Banerjee brothers.

    As he grew up, Banerjee dabbled in several sports, only to never win each time. The list includes basketball, volleyball and boxing (in which he trained vigourously well for weeks only to be knocked down in three seconds flat), amongst others.

    This feeling of being almost there — with a win within reach, but somehow never succumbing to glory — is what Banerjee will explore in his newest project, Frieze Projects East, a series of public art projects as part of the London 2012 Festival. Commissioned by the Frieze Foundation, the projects will take place in the six east London Host Boroughs for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Banerjee will design 48 billboards across east london and his artwork will appear as strips in London newspapers. Other participating artists include Can Altay, Anthea Hamilton & Nicholas Byrne and Gary Webb.

    In a delightful conversation over video-chat, the artist digs out childhood memories of not winning and why cricket never fascinates.

    How did it come about? How do you plan to go about it?
    When Sarah McCoy (curator of the project) and Frieze invited us to submit proposals, I was instantly drawn to the idea of people who train for hours, but don’t make it. More than winners, it is losers that excite me — those with potential who are forever potentiating, but don’t win. Ours is a winner-oriented system; a lot of power rides on winners. My idea is to subvert that. I am a non-performer. I have spent hours training for various sports. But, to my credit, I have never managed to win a single competition I have taken part in.

    There are so much resources spent on winners. My work will stand as a gallery for the non-winners. East London is well-known for its multi-cultural construct.

    Needless to say, it has a deeply personal logic behind it. I want to look at loss objectively. What makes a person do it again and again, only to suffer defeat once more? or, the hand that is pushing you from reaching the finishing line.

    Artwork photos: Sarnath Banerjee

    The project website puts that your work is drawn from ‘a shared history of competitive sports’. Shared history of UK and India? Or globally?
    I think, simply put, it is about cities where sports is a culture — cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. But, also the philosophy that sports build around it. I remember this quote by Cicero: To learn to accept death, one must face defeat.

    There is a certain humility with sports and it is universal. This is not ipl. We all loose. Personally, I was never into competitive sports. Hence, I am an outsider — a bystander documenting non-performers.

    I read somewhere that to get under the skin of your characters, you are actively trying out various sports currently. What are the experiences that you are drawing from?
    (Laughs) The only activity I indulge in these days is shopping. As an artist, while you approach your work, you enjoy the luxury of getting within the life of say, a cyclist, or an athlete. As of now, I amstill working on my characters.

    Once, a celebrated Mohun Bagan striker, who is a close friend, confided to me his insecurities. Being privy to his concerns opened me to a different world. In the Sao Paolo Biennele in 2008, I had to profile a judo player who had lost the finals for one of my characters. My attractive Brazilian interpreter wondered if I would look fake since I had never played the sport myself. But during the course of the interaction, the player picked me up 12 times only to drop me softly, to show me how the thing works. It was not about throwing, but about falling.

    What are the sports that you do not enjoy?
    Cricket will top the list, invariably. Also, I could never understand sports like Formula one, golf, football or tennis. It has a lot of glamour attached to it. Instead sports like athletics and boxing are sports where you sweat out so much. The 50km walk, or swimming are underrated sports.

    The Frieze Projects East will open to public in east London on June 25.


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    Posted on 31 March 2012
 

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