Tucked within the quiet lanes of South Bombay’s art district is a young, independent gallery that is slowly but surely ushering in a new era of artists, including the neo-futuristic Spanish artist J. Demsky. Is Method Art Space fulfilling the needs of a previously overlooked audience, or pushing viewers to rethink the definition of art?
Visiting on a weekend evening could mean any number of things: performance art, interactive sound installations, a rap gig, or a pet snake. Yes, really. Founder Sahil Arora assures me that last one wasn’t a conscious decision. “We’ve never said, ‘Method is a snake-friendly place.’ Some things happen simply because we don’t stop them – which is another way of allowing anything to occur.” You get the impression that there are no rules defining what the space could be. It’s somewhat at odds with the more established venues in the area that cater to more traditional interactions between the art and the viewer. The ethos of ‘letting things happen’ reflects something about how Method operates – a stream-of-consciousness approach that permeates the roster of artists, the gallerists’ personalities, and the construction of the gallery itself.
“We’ve never said, ‘Method is a snake-friendly place.’ Some things happen simply because we don’t stop them – which is another way of allowing anything to occur.”
The space was to be an office for Sahil, who also works as a marketing consultant. “The stock broker who was renting the place for ages had vacated it. But after breaking down the cubicles inside, Sahil decided to make it a gallery,” said Emma, his wife and co-founder of Method. It’s over 3 years later, and Method is currently exhibiting ‘Interdimensional Hypnosees’ by the much-coveted Spanish artist J Demsky.
Demsky’s neo-futuristic art – influenced by 90s graffiti, sci-fi, and architecture – has made it to over 50 countries, with collaborations including Ballantine’s, Adidas, Nike and Junya Watanabe under his belt. What made him take a chance on this fairly new, fairly small space? Perhaps it’s that most galleries would flinch at the idea of undertaking a conversion of the entire ground floor into an installation called a HYPRSPC ROOM™️ that makes the artist’s characteristic graffiti style come to life. Demsky would probably agree.
“I had a lot of freedom,” he says, “Without a doubt, it’s been one of the best experiences.” The wager paid off. The exhibit has inspired art of its own, including a performance piece, audio-visual sets, an interactive sound installation, and even a virtual extension, all of which Method has provided a platform for. This appears to be an area that Method has mastered: the confluence of art, theatre, poetry, and sound – something Demsky has long been interested in as well. “Music is necessary as much or more than a visual stimulus. Sometimes I even try to imagine what sound each type of paint could be.” Clearly, his work has found a space in Bombay that honours that interdependence.
Method’s popularity amongst a counter-culture crowd could be attributed to his attitude of never shying away from speaking truth to power. Amidst heavy clamp-downs on India’s anti-CAA protests, Method hosted ‘Awaz Uthao’, an open mic session for those looking to speak out about government policies. Other notable examples include an installation by CATS (Create Against The System) resisting the oppression of free speech, and ‘Pati, Patni aur Woke’, a show by anonymous political artist Smish Designs. Was it just a question of identifying a gap in the current art market and catering to it? To Sahil, the idea is laughable. “The real issue was that we used to travel to have good experiences with art. In India, we couldn’t find a place to regularly satisfy the need to experience something new. So instead of looking for it, we decided to build it.” Plus, doing things out of the box comes with its share of problems, although the gallerists made sure he was able to complete it at a later time. The police initially stopped Demsky’s painting of a mural on the exterior walls of Method, although the gallerists made sure he was able to complete it at a later time.
“The real issue was that we used to travel to have good experiences with art. In India, we couldn’t find a place to regularly satisfy the need to experience something new. So instead of looking for it, we decided to build it.”
It’s clear that the founders’ approach of “letting things happen” is steered by their own taste, identifying what they would like to see, providing support and encouragement, and then getting out of the artist’s way. “We never look at saleability. I know that other galleries may see artists they like, but if they know they can’t sell it, they don’t put it up. For us, if it excites us, we put it up, regardless of the market-factor,” says Emma. Demsky’s art serves a similar purpose for him. “What I try to transmit is the need to create for myself, rather than to transmit a message to others,” he laughs. “For me, the stimulus may be difficult to identify but it creates a sensation in the viewer.” But what if people that have seen more traditional forms of art are looking for a clearer message? He seems okay with it. “I remember on a guided tour of the HYPRSPC, an older woman arrived first, and she kept asking me if that was all, if there was nothing else? It is logical and necessary that what I try to capture doesn’t reach everyone. I’m not trying to recreate an easy stimulus so that it is understandable by the viewer.”
This obviously puts gallerists in a tough position – both in taking a chance on experimental artists and on whether viewers will appreciate it. But Method’s founders are singularly focused on supporting and protecting artistic freedom. At the core of their philosophy is providing a platform for early to mid-career artists to create work as they envision it, unhindered by the restrictions of commissioned or client work. “This has to be an artist-led movement, and right now I think that India’s at a breakout point where things are going to look very different in the next couple of years,” Emma says. “There are too few opportunities here to help artists to really take a chance, or give them space to create, or to foster the madness that comes with really astounding art, or even afford their life along with the high-quality materials that they need to make more impressive works. We aren’t the ‘doers’; the artists are. But we are facilitators open to anyone who is brave.”
“The message,” he says, smiling, “is encouragement.”
Demsky and Method’s collaboration, then, is truly in service of fostering the madness, playfulness, and eccentricity of art. Sure, he doesn’t need his work to be understood by everyone, but there is inherent communication within that too. “The message,” he says, smiling, “is encouragement.”