Arts Illustrated

October 15, 2020

Across the Dotted Line

An alternate artistic platform or a co-working space, The Grid weaves its pathways around you in an all-encompassing way that is hard to predict

Amritha Dinesh

Justine de Penning often thinks that the upstairs, outside restroom with its mirrored ceiling and burnt silver walls would make a perfect alternate performance venue. I extrapolate and imagine the small audience streaming out to the expanse of white terrace wall where they can release their creativity post the performance. Right now, it has one diamond of intricate paint. Justine wants others to come forward to decorate it. They have been hands-off with the little community herb garden in the downward niche next to it too. The inside upstairs bathroom has hand-painted bowls converted into wash basins. I understand the hesitation. When you wash your hands into works of art, it can get intimidating.

We sit on a white sofa inlaid with woven cane – the colour of the logo. The room can also be converted into a performance space. There is a duality at play here. The Grid is a co-working space and a creative platform. It is open to artists and non-artists. The fabulous art adorning the professional space is from Justine’s personal collection that reflects her performance training and Chennai upbringing. The co-working space fuels the programmes that are carefully curated to reflect the alternate, niche nature of the space. A self-sustaining ecology like the Shaun D’Sa terrarium with its crown of a taxidermy tarantula at the intersection of two rooms in the ground floor.

The refurbished furniture for the workspace by Vincent Roy includes a table from Anna University – scribbles intact. The conference room with hand-hewn wood panels and floor has a majestic teak table with ebony wings. The black wood is considered unlucky in India so three teak wood dots line the sides and act as destroyers of the evil eye – a drishti pottu. Waste wood reapers in a faded verdigris hue make a stunning table that runs through the central room, overlooked by artwork by artists that ranges from Parul Gupta, Pushpamala N, Dayanita Singh, Srinath Iswaran, Fiona Clark, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Aman Khanna to MUNA.

The art is constantly changed, rotated, refreshed. There is a telephone booth in bright red, lined with cork board. The space is constantly evolving to fit in with whoever uses it. A graphic designer has a specially designed desk to keep art supplies. Tables fold into the wall and provide space for performances that do not find a place in normal settings, such as Rana Ghose’s REProduce collective EDM experiences that take advantage of the aesthetics of a space. The Chennai Photo Biennale uses their space, not just for exhibiting but also to work in. All of this enveloped in a house built during the 1970s next to a quaint little public park.

A roughly triangular path with benches leads to the small park where the thwack of a badminton racquet competes with the sound of the wind running through a million leaves. Like most public spaces in our city, those looking for privacy often grace the benches immersed in each other and, more often than not, in the mural that faces them. Sameer Kulavoor’s work covers the entire side façade in a heady mix of pink, ochre, white and orange on grey. A contrast to the ever blue Chennai skies and the canopy of green. It celebrates the melting pot of ideas, art and work in all their creative and collaborative glory that lies inside the building and runs through the philosophical veins of The Grid. After taking in the vast mural, the entrance encourages you to look closer with its glass illustration by Joyston Christopher Vaz, a contemporary graffiti artist. The intricate work is inspired by the magnetic lines that run through the earth and influence its inhabitants in a number of known and unknown ways. The illustration almost weaves through the glass condensing into smaller and smaller lines at the centre.

A leafy quiet lane leads to an unassuming gate with a helpful watchman. The square logo is the only sign. The building is hidden from the road by bunches of bougainvillaeas in bloom. A small garden and a smiling face greet you. Justine de Penning founded The Grid after seeing a dearth of artist-run spaces in the city. With The Grid, she endeavours to usher in a new co-working culture with diverse disciplines coming together in a freethinking space designed to spark ideas.

In an age where we need to rethink our way of living, exploring this atypical space with its blurred lines between the personal, professional and artistic in a way that throws every sense of beginning and end out of its beautiful mural framed windows is an exercise in fluidity. The Grid starts wherever you want it to and works however you wish it to. Even if that means starting with the reflective ideas thrown by a restroom and ending with the unaffected gate.


Quotes used with permission from Justine de Penning.

More about The Grid h͟e͟r͟e͟.

All Images Courtesy of The Grid, Chennai.


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