New Delhi, Jan 2014
Regeneration and transformation power leading contemporary artist Sudarshan Shetty’s aesthetic sensibilities. Shetty,
who plays with old mediums and material to create new organic patterns by improvising on existing objects, believes that the “old can be used to tell new stories about the same subject”. “I constantly look to the possibility of presenting the same things through various ways – and also bring in an element of human vulnerability,” Shetty told this writer at the opening of his solo exposition, “Every Broken Moment, Piece by Piece” (at Gallery SKE) in the national capital. This is Shetty’s fourth solo exhibition at the gallery – the previous ones being “Listening Outside this House”, “Six Drops”, “Love” and “Eight Corners of the World”.
The fifty-two year old artist, born in Mangalore and raised in Mumbai, is known for his larger than life installations, glittering bling and intricately crafted skeletal creatures from pre-history to comment on “loss, metamorphosis, void and the other world”. His iconography for his multi-discplinary sculptures and futuristic installations vary between the mundane – tea cups, saucers, recycled wood — to the massive (like fibre glass giants) oscillating between his experiments with the bling and little concerns of the heart.
The ongoing showcase in the national capital is hosting Shetty’s new installations that the artist made throughout 2013, moving back into the familiar terrain of cups, saucers ( made of cheap porcelain for the Indian markets) and wood (away from the mammoth forms) to explore the fragile aspects of life — seen through the layers of existentialism, flux and bit of music- a reference to his growing up years where music was in abundance. .
The new motifs are dominated by wood assembled from old discarded furniture and vintage doorways from old homes that Shetty buys in bulk to recycle the material. Some of them lie in heaps for years, but eventually “fall into peices” along the way when the artist finds “suitable” expressions for them.
“By morphing the cups, I try to make them come biologically alive though it will never happen in the reality. I replace the cracks in the cups (which I break) with wood to show that loss is another condition for regeneration. The object then becomes something else,” Shetty says.
Shetty has been investigating into new forms of expression since the beginning of his artistic career with familiar mediums — wood, mechanical toys, small machines, fibre glass, cutlery glass, porcelain and discarded furniture, often described by the artist and critics alike as “fairground spectacle”. This time, he has introduced an element of direct communication in his installations with “ingenious poetry” as a cameo personal appearance – to mark his presence in his art and probe the power words as yet another artistic medium.
His works differ subtly— moving away from the fantastic to smaller remembrances of loss, closer to the ground and perhaps his childhood. They come across through his signature cups, saucers, ceramic pottery, wooden memory planes, embedded furniture, mechanical devices, a live action film and a wooden shrine that the artist calls a “gateway to the shrine of life”. “Even god envies my mortality” – says a slogan inside a wooden hut of a shrine that Shetty has created as a centre-peice for the exhibition. A cauldron of broken tea cups and saucers rotating with mechanical motor is the road to the shrine like a “sacred rite of passage”, the artist says.
“The shrine does not house any god that you may expect inside. It may be a final destination,” Shetty says.
“I have been trying out things. I have never shot a live action film before. I had made videos. I have been doing mechanical pieces … I am not an engineer, I come from outside,” Shetty points out about the new elements in his art.
His objective, as Shetty explains, is to trigger a sense of recall – of cups and saucers breaking into shards and crashing on to the floor— and then trying to regenerate them by mending and morphing the fragmented realities.
“It is a condition we all kind of live in – recalling things we have known for long…,” Shetty muses. All the objects in the show express this need — whether that loss and the effort to regenerate it can exist in the artist’s space of expression. The tea cups and saucers occur in specific scenarios — they are either arranged at random in “transformational shapes” like mutants, broken into fragments and in acts of sliding over surfaces to crash on to the ground symbolic of destruction. The cups are mostly made of wood and ceramic — with porcelain and gold finish that the artist especially creates to drive home the message of distorted reality and contrasting mediums.
A series of untitled wooden “dishes” arranged in a row on wooden pedestals against the wall is fired with patterned ceramic. It stands out as “the ornamental flashes of beauty in life and elements of the non-existent that the artist constantly infuses into his work”.
“The objects become something else because of the layers of experience. The broken cup can never be mended – the fact that I am trying to mend it becomes part of the impossibility of the work- the impossibility of bringing it back to life,” Shetty says.
A triptych live action video (Untitled) film that the artist shot at a chawl (a heritage home converted into a tenement houses in Byculla in Mumbai) uses a superimposition of wooden table with a cup sliding across its surface accompanied by a dragging sound (a electrical vibrator attached to the table makes the cup move). The cup moves to the edge of the table and crashes to the ground. It repeats across the three frames of the building — where shackers flit in and out of the doorways along with odd stray dogs and birds. It is a personal recall for Shetty — of another chawl in Mumbai where he grew up. “It will soon be demolished,” the artist says. The cups here embody the loss – of a landmark. “You see the cups in the video breaking again and again. You try to bring it back to its original shape through another material. It is an inclusive act – and requires so much your time, so much pain. You need engagement – you have to believe in doing that,” Shetty says.
In an untitled installation of reclaimed wood, marble dust and polyester resin, the artist tries to put “reclaimed old chairs back on the walls” — against a wooden frame with poetry. “All these furniture, old broken furniture, that I try to put it back on the wall giving it a new life. We use marble dust and resin on the surface. It gives the dying wood installation a sense of monumentality,” Shetty says. The poetry is an effort at recall — it is a fictional piece of writing moving between the specific and the metaphorical, the artist says. “You don’t know whether it really happened,” Shetty explains.
“Having been inside the art world, it is very important not to be professional. There is more to gain from going as an amateur. The idea of writing came through that- is it possible that a world of objects can be dictated through words. The idea was to approach objects and art through other ways,” Shetty says.
The artist’s shows a new facet to his “nuanced self” through his jottings — a sadness and fable like prophetic insight into the empty future of a consumerist world – of brittle realities and meaninglessness.
“He walked as the rain drops poured down his cheeks…. And slowly filled his pockets, submerging the cashless leather wallet to imagine he was losing a lifetime of fortune to a grand deluge….”