Shalini Passi in conversation with Thukral and Tagra

Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra - known to many as T&T - have been collaboratively creating art since 2000, producing a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, installations, interactive games, video, performance and design. Following their recent exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, we speak with the dynamic duo about art as an important medium to reflect social change and their drive to create ‘mega-spectacles’ in their work.

You recently opened an exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the UK. Can you say something about how this opportunity came about?

Thukral and Tagra: Helen Pheby is a senior curator and head of the curatorial programme of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. She visited our studio in 2013. The exhibition came along as a response to inaugurate The Weston, a brand new visitor centre/gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the midst of the natural landscape.

Thukral and Tagra, Bread, Circuses & TBD, 2019

This work, Farmer is a Wrestler, is very political in its subject essence; how powerful do you think art can be in effecting real change?

Thukral and Tagra: As artists working in the public realm, we cannot operate in isolation. Our work has to reflect the social change as a part of our artistic journey, negotiate ideas/thoughts daily to trigger questions and also ask ourselves what forces we are with. We both are aware of our limitations to voice the larger complex issue and are proud to have found a space to perform this exercise, to gather subject matter and disseminate information through our artistic agency.

We cannot really comment upon what change it might bring. However, art can be seen as an attempt to absorb, comprehend, and find alternatives to narrate the issue. We question ourselves and our fellow artists, “What does an artist do in volatile situations?” There is a lot to say, and through an artistic voice, we can respond to urgency and take risks to make things more empathetic and humble. We are interested in commentary that is informed and brings knowledge.


Thukral and Tagra, Farmer is a Wrestler, 2019

Your works are often full, interactive experiences, including puzzles and games; what is the motivation for this and how does it affect the relationship between the artist and the viewer? Share your thoughts, please.

Thukral and Tagra: The initial works started with metaphors and tropes as expansions, which allowed the process to draft deeper meanings about the origins and its popular culture. Our interest in games and looking at their aesthetics developed very early on when we did the exhibition Match Fixed/Fixed Match at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in 2010. The project developed while we were doing our research on the Indian diaspora of holiday wives in the Doaba region of Punjab. Then the idea of 'Match Fixed/Fixed Match' came to us because of the location of two entry points in a square space. We wanted to play on the idea of the arranged marriage through the metaphor of a manipulated game of sports, so we decided to turn the whole exhibition space into a kabaddi match.

We have always been attracted to this idea of a mega-spectacle, and that's where the idea of scale comes into our work. Our continued interest in games, play, and sport comes from a point of view of taking the complexity of social issues and refreshing the way one approaches this subject matter and as the audience, everyone is present to bear witness to the play. We are not reporters, nor are we social activists in the normal sense. We've always said that the exhibition should look like a powerful magnet to bring viewers together and thrive on the energy of the players. We like to imagine that our exhibition could give the feeling of a 'mega-event', which is very close to the feeling of a sporting event.


Thukral and Tagra, Match Fixed/Fixed Matched, 2010

You have been successfully working for more than ten years now; can you tell us a little about your creative process? How do you conceptualise and develop ideas together?

Thukral and Tagra: Our creative process or practice is not definite or static. It has evolved and developed with time, all it requires is to immediately respond via an artistic agency. The process looks in from both aspects, poetic and problem-solving. Our approach simply tries to break down complex cultural matter into something more immersive, interactive, and playful for the viewers. The process allows us to learn more and comment in a way that allows us to organise our thoughts and analyse our changing times.

In retrospect, we chose to process things in a certain way because of our communication design education and fine arts became a way-finder to develop a project that is poetic in the narrative, but also layers the information. We have always been sincere about the fact that our collaboration would be rooted in cultural understanding. Hailing from Punjab, we both have delved into our personal histories and memories to address socio-cultural changes. Since the beginning, we were interested to respond to the current urgencies, most of the projects had this idea of finding our own status quo in order to comprehend and seek ways to address them.


What are you working on at the moment, what can we look forward to?

Thukral and Tagra: At the moment we are continuing our discourse for the larger debate into the farming community and agrarian crisis for our upcoming show at the gallery Nature Morte in September 2019. The exhibition takes reference from the recent uprising by the farming community questioning their rights, existence and daily survival in today’s world.


Find out more about Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra and their works on thukralandtagra.com