Tallur L .N.’s artistic career has proceeded along an unusual route. Following his bachelor’s degree, he spent two years studying museology before returning to study contemporary art. Having failed to gain admission to the prestigious MA in painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda, India, Tallur accepted an offer to study museology at the same institution instead. His years in Baroda were spent as though in limbo, fluctuating between the taxidermic cabinets and dark corridors of the museology department, and his own aspirational experiments with assemblage and sculpture that borrowed equally from the more macabre and outlandish dimensions of natural history, and the modernist inheritance of the absurd and the surreal. It is possible to see the apparently disjointed and incoherent result of this intellectual and epistemological hybridity in the entirety of Tallur’s oeuvre since the beginning of the current decade.
A degree of biographical detail is essential when seeking to understand Tallur’s work. Hailing from the village of Koteswara (population c.14,000) on the westward-facing coast of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, Tallur’s life has been characterised by a series of migrations. It is anyway a leap from Koteswara to the erstwhile princely capital of Mysore where he studied painting for his bachelor’s degree at the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Art. This was followed by the more central (in terms of contemporary art culture at least) destination of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda for his master’s degree in museology, and again, to the UK for a second postgraduate degree at Leeds Metropolitan University, this time in contemporary visual art practice. In recent years, he has divided his time between his ancestral home in Koteswara and Daegu, Korea, where his wife’s family comes from. A continuing peregrination—Koteswara-Mysore-Barpda-Leeds-Daegu-Koteswara—interspersed in recent years with detours to Seoul, New York, Beijing and Bombay, have created for Tallur a sharpened sense of being in the world. Whether in small-town South India or the industrial urbanity of South Korea, Tallur encounters a relative monoculture where the sheer otherness of his other life serves to cast the familiar as strange in a constant double-take. This series of displacements has been vital to the development of Tallur’s his work, making it possible for him to focus on the substratum of the uncanny beneath the thin veneer of everyday normalcy. It was in Leeds that Tallur was able to experiment on a large scale with the possibilities of material manipulations, and where his earlier experiments withinvestigations into the quotidian nature of the absurd and the surreal came to bestarted being realised. It was also in Leeds that he started to develop his particular perspective on the global, peppered as it is with fragments of local cultures that surface persistently in the form of the outlandish, the absurd incongruous, and the subversive. Like many other artists from India before him, it was the experience of profound cultural displacement conjoined with the availability ofimmersion in a cosmopolitann internationalist art environment has been instrumental in the development ofthat led to Tallur’s being able to stake his particular, sharpened claim to contemporary visibility.
While Tallur’s recent work can be situated in a post-conceptualist lineage of object and installation oriented practice, it is also interesting to think about his work following in the footsteps of the late self-taught painter Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) who having failed the entrance test for the same degree in painting, had spent two years (1962-64) studying art criticism at the same school some two generations before Tallur (1998-99). I invoke Khakhar here to situate Tallur in a trajectory of subversive absurdity in contemporary Indian art. While it is true that owing to their difference in age and material practice, Khakhar may not be a prominent figure in Tallur’s own account of his influences, it remains art historically attractive to place Tallur’s practice in a tradition of the absurd that is so vital to international (and Indian) accountstrajectories of modernism, in India and internationally. Like Khakhar, Tallur is attracted to kitsch and popular culture; he is fascinated by the morbid and the macabre; he is both an “insider” and an “outsider” to the painful humour of a vernacular culture in transition, inevitably displaced and irredeemably distanced both from local roots and the spectral phantasms of cosmopolitan experience. Alongside Khakhar, the example of Atul Dodiya (b. 1959) is significant in devising an art historical ancestry for Tallur, particularly in embracing the culture of kitsch, and in the critical use of popular imagery and practices of memorialisation that are suffused with a deep disquiet. Unlike his elder contemporaries, however, Tallur more completely partakes of the deliberate conceptualist strategy of aloofness and distance. His work warily skirts the edge of emotional investment in his subject, while offering the audience a series of deferrals that simultaneously tantalise and confound, not least because of the exotic nature of their forms, materials and references
- Excerpt from an essay by Chaitanya Sambrani