As the stars viewed the Palace' Aug. 25
Nikhil Chopra spent 78 hours of his four-day weekend drawing a mural. His canvas? The 132 feet by 48 feet East wall of the Palace Theatre, located at 34 W. Broad St. in downtown Columbus.
Chopra’s performance “inside out: As the stars viewed the Palace” is the seventh in a series of 12 public works of art put on by Columbus Public Art.
“Columbus does not have a public art ordinance … (or) a public art program. One of the goals of the Art Commission is to establish that,” said Malcolm Cochran, program director and Ohio State professor in sculpture.
Chopra’s performance is part of the 2012 series “Finding Time.”
“One of the goals of ‘Finding Time’ is to show as broad a range as possible to what public art is now. We have these 12 projects that are very, very different,” Cochran said.
“inside out: As the stars viewed the Palace” is structured as a performance.
It includes the mural and the act of painting it, as well as walking the nearly three miles between the Palace Theatre and OSU’s campus, where he camped on the Oval at night.
Wearing only a black catsuit, white face makeup and a bowler hat, Chopra looked more like a mime than an artist sitting on the Oval Friday. And similar to a mime, he didn’t talk for the duration of the performance, but was willing to write.
In a handwritten interview with The Lantern, due to his vow of silence as part of his performance, Chopra wrote that he decided to camp at OSU to get back in touch with his alma mater.
“I went to grad school here, so I really want to reconnect with this city and the campus,” Chopra wrote. “I studied with some amazing people.”
Chopra mentioned current art professors Ann Hamilton and Suzanne Silver.
“The studio spaces in the art program were large, spacious and there was never the pressure to make work like a machine,” he wrote. “It was here that I first experimented with performance.”
Shelly Willis, curator with Columbus Public Arts, applauded Chopra’s commitment to the project.
“I’ve never worked with an artist who does this, who has a character that he holds on to for this length of time during the performance,” Willis said. “This process of moving from the campus to the site and back again, to me is a huge part of the project. Not just the drawing on the wall, which of course is really incredible, it’s this artifact after he leaves, but it’s this idea of people wondering.”
Chopra also wrote that he was unsure what sort of reaction the public had or would have about his performance.
“I need to come out of it and talk to people to really know what effect it has had,” he wrote.
Cochran spent several hours at the performance site over the weekend and said an eclectic group stopped to observe.
“One of the things that I think is wonderful is the people that have stopped have included people in suits, walking back and forth, maybe on their lunch hour, the custodian for the COTA building, three electricians who are working in One Columbus (Place) Tower, delivery people,” he said.
Willis said she was also pleased by the effect Chopra’s performance had on passersby.
“It startles you into reality, somehow, in a different way. I think that’s something that doesn’t happen to us often. We go through our environment and they sort of disappear around us, we become invisible, it becomes invisible, and Nikhil’s project makes us aware, and that’s pretty powerful.”
Thom Kuehn, an OSU student studying molecular genetics, stopped to look at the mural.
“As seen by the stars, everyone who looks at it gets that unique view that they never get to see. It’s nothing special to be here, but it’s special for them,” Kuehn said. “It seems like it’s making it so hard, to do something so massive with a little stick of charcoal.”
Chopra’s drew his mural solely with charcoal and chalk, impermanent materials that will wash away.
“I think if they’re going to take the time to make something that beautiful, they should take the time to make it permanent enough that a lot of people are going to get to enjoy it,” said passerby Ladawnya Carpenter, a Columbus resident.
But for Chopra, the work’s impermanence is a part of its message, reminding people that “life is not permanent.”