What does the vat contain that is not in the river?
What does the room encompass that is not in the city?
This world is the vat, and the heart the running stream,
this world the room, and the heart the city of wonders.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
Excerpt from ‘The Sufi Path of Love’
Following its critically-acclaimed presentation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Subodh Gupta’s sculpture ‘What does the vessel contain, that the river does not’ will be on view for the first time outside India at Hauser & Wirth’s Savile Row gallery. Through his use of found, commonplace objects, the New Delhi-based artist explores cultural dislocation prevalent in an era of shifting powers, as well as personal histories. ‘What does the vessel contain, that the river does not’ evokes the conflicting feelings of belonging and displacement, movement and stability, and explores the liminal space between these states of being.
Inspired by the work of the 13th century Persian poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, ‘What does the vessel contain, that the river does not’ is a traditional fishing boat from Kerala, India that measures over 20 metres and straddles the entire stretch of the gallery. The boat is filled from bow to stern with chairs, beds, window frames, fishing nets, plastic jars, cans, an old radio, cooking pots and pans, suitcases and a bicycle.
The ancient Sufi philosophy embedded in Rūmī‘s poetry speaks eloquently about the idea of the microcosm – the containing of an entire universe within the human soul. With this large-scale work, Gupta too creates a microcosm containing one person’s entire existence, bundled together and crammed into a vessel which appears as if it is about to set sail. For the artist, this boat ceases to be just a simple mode of transportation, but has evolved into an extension of the greater paradigm of survival, sustenance and livelihood.