Over the course of the two years, in the middle of the strict lockdown, Nai worked with fabricators in Gujarat and later, Mumbai, and made over 500,000 compressed aluminium roundels and 300 curved bars.
Mumbai: As the pandemic raged across the world in 2020, artist Manish Nai had a single-focus agenda. He needed to come up with a way to cut stainless steel into curved bars. He also needed to figure out how to compress aluminium into small roundels — a motif that is strewn across his works, albeit in more pliant material like cloth, paper and jute — and glue them on to the bars. Over the course of the two years, in the middle of the strict lockdown, Nai worked with fabricators in Gujarat and later, Mumbai, and made over 500,000 compressed aluminium roundels and 300 curved bars. He then spent over a year putting the installation together.
Each stainless steel bar served as an armature on which 300 roundels were glued on using specially-designed hydraulic machines. The bars, which by now weighed 1000 kilogrammes, were then placed side by side in a circular fashion — part of them below the ground and supported on a foundation — such that a person could take a walk inside the installation. The end result is for all to see: walk into the Godrej campus at Vikhroli, and the donut-shaped installation titled Zero lies on a patch of green between the two office buildings (Godrej One and Godrej Two), surrounded by other remarkable outdoor installations including one by Subodh Gupta (Worship for All) and another by Neha Choksi (Child’s Grove).
“I wanted to experiment with an outdoor sculpture. I knew that it had to be something that people would be able to see from all sides, day and night, and at the same time, something that they could walk in and experience. Zero is a natural form, it’s extremely simple but aesthetically beautiful,” said Nai.
An iteration of Anish Kapoor’s Spire, which has been shown in multiple locations around the world, including New York City, Boston, Mumbai, and Kensington Gardens, London, lies close to Nai’s work. The piece itself is part of Kapoor’s exploration of what he referred to as ‘non-objects’: the 9-ft tall sculpture, sharpened to a point at its very tip, has a highly reflective surface, which enables a different kind of interaction with the environment. From various vantage points, you can see the glass facades of the offices, the grass on the ground below, and even the spire itself, staring back at you from this work.
A short distance away is Gupta’s familiar idiom — stainless steel vessels, dabbas, pots and tumblers — arranged in the form of a sculpture that mimics water flowing out of a large pot. The placement of the work inside a small lily pond is clever and, on a particularly rainy day, serves as a reminder of the city’s predicament with inundation. Like Nai’s Zero, this outdoor work too was made on commission. Gupta, who is no stranger to public installations — in India itself, you can find them across locations, from the lawns of the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi to the Rajdhani Park in Patna, and the Godrej office in the city’s Bandra Kurla Complex — said he was “proud” to be part of a public space. “Yes, outdoor art is visible to common people walking on the street. But let’s not forget, a poet could be walking by too, an artist could view this too. Art has a huge impact on our lives. It stimulates our minds.”
These sculptures, which came up between 2020 and 2022 (Nai’s work was the latest to be installed here in May) are at the heart of what Godrej Properties calls The Trees, a 35-acre mixed-use plot which comprises 1.8 million sq ft of office space, residential towers, an upcoming five-star property of the Taj and retail outlets, including popular bar and restaurant, Social. Thus, these works are meant to be viewed by a cross-section of people: office-goers, residents on their walks, those out socialising at the coffee shop and restaurant, even the occasional art lover who may wander here to view these works.
“We wanted to create a vibrant public realm with a great street life, and art that would liven up the space, and make for meaningful experiences every day,” said Anubhav Gupta, the chief executive officer, Vikhroli, and chief, CSR and Sustainability officer, Godrej Properties, who worked closely with Pirojsha Godrej, executive chairman, Godrej Properties Ltd to design the urban space with art works.