Amasoong Collective’s project at ‘The WhyNot Place’ residency, New Delhi

Essay by Lyla Rao from the exhibition catalog:

Amasoong, which means ‘and’ in Manipuri, is the mastermind of two creative Delhi-based personalities, Korou Khundrakpam and Kundo Yumnam, who are originally from the North Eastern Indian state of Manipur. Working under the banner of Amasoong since 2009, their individual and collaborative art practices are informed by a strong need to “dig up dirt” in contemporary society. Previous projects have seen them successfully tackle portentous abstract notions, ranging from patriotism and nationalism to war and power struggles, by deconstructing them into deceptively simple concepts that demand a more critical involvement on the part of the viewer.

As part of the WhyNot Place residency, Amasoong decided to create a work that would respond both physically and conceptually to their new working environment at Religare Art. Intrigued by the inclusion of an art institution within a financial company’s headquarters, Amasoong began to work through a series of ideas, analysing the dynamics between these two contrary areas of production: What are the rules of engagement when producing art within a corporate organization? How does art, for which nothing is sacred or above critique, exist within an environment that adheres to certain sacrosanct beliefs and practices? An encounter with a Religare security guard perhaps provided Amasoong with some insight into these questions. Early on in the residency, finding the gallery space too cold, the Delhi-duo sought respite in a warm corner on the steps alongside the atrium’s water fountain. Barely had they sat down when a uniformed security guard (with an expression of sheer disbelief, I imagine) rushed forward and urgently ushered them to a set of plush leather couches, arranged neatly in a square, a few feet away.

For Korou and Kundo, this curious yet rather amusing incident of corporate etiquette posted myriad questions regarding the physical and metaphorical dilemmas involved in negotiating this art/corporate space. The more they studied their surroundings the more aware they became of the “corporate stiffness” of their environment. Accepting of the difficulties that would befall a project that directly or indirectly critiqued corporate culture within the sanctuary of its own walls, Amasoong and Sumakshi went back and forth in search of the perfect project that would “challenge the environment and change the rules”, while remaining respectful of the sensitivities of their host. Proposals that examined the ‘white cube’1 as a concept and not as a physical space were discussed and rejected, as were those that investigated the notion of painting as a commodity. Long and stimulating conversations on the commodification of art and the power of a signature to determine market value, ultimately led to an examination of identity as expressed through the concept of branding.

A project on brand building made perfect sense as an Amasoong project on a multitude of levels. Amasoong’s preoccupation with notions of identity, and by extension those of nationalism and patriotism, as socio-culturally constructed concepts, that are marketed and sold in the form of maps, flags and other such pride inducing commodities, allow for parallel examinations into the construction of corporate brand identity through the commodification of goods and services sold. At its most basic level, the corporate visual brand identity is the single most important marker for a company. For Amasoong, it graphically represents the company’s identity, and to a lesser extent that of its employees, by virtue of them being a part of the company’s workforce, in much the same way, a nation’s flag or the map of a country represents a part of an individual’s identity by virtue of them being a citizen of that country.

Having identified a working concept, Amasoong set out to formulate how best to communicate these ideas. Referencing their environment in the most direct manner possible, Amasoong conceptualized a whole campaign for the launch of their very own company. Introducing Begilare!

At the time of this essay going to print, Begilare promoters, Amasoong, have informed us that the proposed launch of the company, and its newest product, is to coincide with the grand opening of the new Religare Art Gallery in Saket. The product on offer has been designed by the Begilare promoters, who have painstakingly conceptualized and developed a simple yet effective dark green, three-leaved clover logo to serve as the visual identity of the company and its tag line ‘Begilare – Values Assigned’. The arrival of Begilare, we are told, would be announced with much fanfare (sans the non-vegetarian starters and alcohol, of course!) through multi-coloured graphic advertising posters placed strategically along the walls in and around the gallery, designed for one thing and one thing alone – to lure the visitor in and sell them the product.

Admitting to the possible influence that the Religare Enterprises Limited brand might have had in shaping their company name, logo and tag line, Amasoong maintains that since their fictitious company falls under the license of an art project, they are exonerated from any charges of plagiarism or identity theft, aligning their project to that of ‘a spherical horse in a vacuum!’ – a Russian metaphor for highly simplified scientific models of reality.

Often seen sitting at their round conference table in the centre of the gallery space, Amasoong were kind enough to give us a sneak preview of the product they have designed for the launch of their new company. Although currently still at the drawing board stage, Amasoong propose to create a hundred finely crafted 1×1 foot pearly white boxes, sealed tight with Begilare printed across one side of the box with the logo cleverly placed at one corner so that each petal occupies one side of the corner. How these boxes will be stacked and where they will be placed remains to be seen, however, one thing is clear, the new Begilare product promises to deliver. But what exactly is being delivered? Is the white cube the packaging or the product itself? Does the Beligare white cube critique the concept of the gallery as a ‘white cube’ neutral in nature and free of context? Is the rigid structure of the cube a reflection of the perceived stiffness of a corporate office as compared to the flexibility of an art space? These are but some of the questions we hope will be answered at the keenly awaited launch of Begilare.