Piles of cracked bitumen sheets, slices of rubber sealant and cloudlike puffs of construction foam clutter one corner of Vikram Divecha’s living room. From his small apartment in Al Barsha, Divecha works on figuring out the urban environment that towers above and around him and expressing it in his mixed-media and installation art – usually fashioned from the same materials.
Although we catch him at home, due to the nature of his work he cannot produce his art there. His studio, rather than being somewhere fixed, is any donated space acquired through connections and favours within the industrial community, suitable to accommodate each project. “My work is production-intensive,” he explains. “I work with construction and industrial materials but I am not in the situation of owning a studio or a warehouse so I somehow have to find a space where I can work.”
Last year, for example, Divecha spent two months in the basement of a construction site and a further two months, over the summer, in a factory compound in Jebel Ali for his Urban Epidermis collection. The result was a series of landscape works made from layers of bitumen, aggregate and sand, stained with used engine oil, scraped with burnt tyres and complete with reflective markings to replicate the surface of a road.
Like the actual layers that make up a road and the metaphorical layers of the environment they represent, the fact that the piece was produced in a makeshift studio added to its conceptual layers. “It became about a lot more than just creating work,” he says. “During the process, the work became part of the neighbourhood. It lived in another space and created an unknowing audience – that brought in the narrative of the city.”
That narrative was the seed of inspiration. After moving to Dubai from Mumbai in 2005, he became fascinated by the apparent perfection of the construction in comparison to the dilapidated city he had come from and when, during a trip back, he ran into his uncle, it was his story that sparked the idea. “He was an older man and kind of broken and somehow his life was a reflection of the city. So, it opened up the question as to whether the urban condition reflects the human condition,” Divecha muses.
The road thus represents the wheel of industry that keeps churning to keep a city alive and, after time, it too becomes tired and worn like its inhabitants. “I would like to believe my work is about the city and urbanisation and that affects everyone,” he adds.
When the pieces were displayed in Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, which represents Divecha, they were accompanied by a sculpture titled Concrete Blur, which was also made in a donated space – a small alleyway behind a warehouse.
Made from pigmented porous concrete blocks, this work explored the notion of how we live in stacks above each other in a city and the idea of urban loneliness that blurs out individuality. “After making these pieces, I feel like it is important for people to venture out and find spaces to work in. It is far more interesting to do that and to make relations with people.”
Since then, Divecha has explored many other corners of the metropolis around him. For Sikka Art Fair in March, he persuaded the Road & Transport Authority (RTA) to pull up the bricks from a bus station in Bur Dubai and he paid a worker to lay them in the courtyard of House 33 in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood for a piece called Degenerative Disarrangement.
“The process of this project generated a loss of the original context,” he explains. “This in turn opened up a dialogue of how cultural identities disintegrate, ideologies pixelate and how changing times threaten preservation.”
He’s now back at home, where he can conduct research and experimentation on a small scale and can work on ideas such as his latest project, which “explores erasure”. Divecha continues to ponder the constant flux around him as the city is built and rebuilt, fixed and expanded.
“Now I want to take my work outside of the galleries to create work which adds to the city,” he says, explaining plans for a public artwork in Business Bay that he has already proposed to the RTA. “I want to borrow from the city and reuse the material. I feel like Dubai is still blank right now.”