Art basel diary Between tradition and modernity
India's India's finest critic, curator and theorist Ranjit Hoskote wrote in 2014, that Sudarshan Shetty's works reference the "formal and conceptual ability to counterbalance the aura of the monumental with the plangency of the intimate, the promise of stability with the risk of precariousness."
At Art Basel, Gallery SKE will stage a small cameo with seven works by Shetty, four vases and three windows amidst works by other artists. Over the years, Sudarshan has created his own stage with poetic titles that evoke multiple meanderings, and his idea of rehashed modernism with an eye on the lexicon of dualities. He unconsciously uses Shakespearean ideations of equivocal identities when he creates his attractive installations that seek to destroy once they draw you into their maw because they are forever creating an insignia of mortality in a world of materiality.
The four vases in the classic white and blue china legion speak to us about the attachment to a precious piece of porcelain, that we treasure as a beloved relic - and how it breaks and ceases to have that value - so while it is about to be cast off it is regenerated, revivified with the warmth of recycled wood. It's that priceless Shetty ability, that Gallery SKE will put the spotlight on as they put these four vases on small wooden shelves, to give us the dichotomy that exists when an artist of history and verve like Shetty refigures the dead to put it on a pathway that makes dying sublime, to give grace and regenerative redemption to an object so loved.
In an interview in 2014 when he had his show of Every Broken Moment Piece by Piece in 2014 at Gallery SKE in Delhi he had stated: "Many art forms have survived unbroken through the colonial times, from Nirgun poetry to Yakshagana or Kathakali, they are among common references that I use in my works. I have often wondered what makes them melodramatic. Then I look at their history, artists who have spent lifetimes on these forms provide answers. I have always felt the need to find those ideas for myself in modern times. It gives me a sense of resonance and reverence but pulls me into realities that spin from invisibilities of contrasts."
In these four vases, Shetty emphasises that broken objects needn't remain broken. The missing link may personify the idea of reconstituting the object as a whole, but it can have a fresh identity. But the combination or the melding is done with precision, the act of combining the porcelain with wood is tenuous and tedious. The wood is carved to fit the contours of the missing porcelain. Unlike many artists who never mention craftsmen whom they work with Shetty has always been honest about collaborations. The confluence of wood and porcelain is his initiative of bringing together polar opposites, to see how these opposites could be contained within a single space as mutually inclusive ideas.
Move to the three windows created out of recycled wood that are neat incantations of Moghul arches with trellis woodwork. Each window is animated with a little bird on the ledge. At once we find the cohabitation of the past and the present. The bird belongs to the present and speaks to us about threats of extinction and endangering. The latticed designs in the windows hinge on the history of decorative embellishments in windows, in mausoleums and mosques as well as modern day architecture.Suddenly we are confronted with what is malleable as well as nebulous. Paradoxes run parallel to lived lives.
While the three little birds contextualise all living things, they also speak about the fragility of planet earth and how we are rapidly changing habitats according to circumstances and development initiatives. Suddenly through these three windows, Sudarshan is provoking viewers into questing for locations anywhere in the world, centring around the places where we become most vulnerable where we may or may not lose our sense of spirit and become listless souls who know not whether we are existing or living. When asked about the different contexts that he attaches to the objects created in his installations Sudarshan explains: "I don't bring meanings to objects, that is not my intention. I am interested in the evocation of meaning. A singular object can evoke multiple meanings… that is something I constantly look for. It is also about perception and understanding that our perception can be limited in itself, by nature and by circumstance."
The recycled wood windows, as well as the four vases, are a testimony to museums and artefacts and architectonics in the modern era. In an interview in 2013, in Delhi Sudarshan stated:
"Many Indian museums remain in the realm of entertainment, quasi-academic spaces where dates and locations are often left unstated; the contents of the museum then, much like that of the flea market, are temporally renewed with each subjective engagement."
At Art Basel 2017, in more ways than one, Sudarshan subverts Shakespeare's Sonnet 55, Not Marble nor the Gilded Monuments, to give us artistic mortality as a prerequisite condition for regeneration.
Images: Gallery SKE Bangalore