Monday, 28 February 2011

A Lingering Fragrance - Ranjani Shettar [Review] Talwar Art Gallery

Walking off the dusty, noisy streets of Delhi into ‘Present Continuous’ an exhibition of recent works by Ranjani Shettar at Talwar Art Gallery [19th January to 3rd April 2011] one meandered through a bubble-like structure called ‘Scent of a Sound’ [224” x 190” x 30”] suspended from the ceiling. Its stainless steel armature was covered in the softness of muslin, layered stiff with turmeric and tamarind, enveloping you in its shadows of serenity. Walking through its wispy curves, escaping the mechanical cacophony of a city enraged, senses imbibed the aroma of its unutterable song. Nudging with its yellowed whiteness and ‘spacious’ crowding of form, her installation left a deep impression. It represented nothing I knew, but was familiar in its lightness of being. It was the most captivating piece on display and while the other works did provide a contrasting backdrop that enhanced its viewing, they lacked its elegance and engagement.


On another level of the gallery, ‘Aureole’ [2010] had similar lines. Cast in bronze [size variable], butterfly-like wings cast their delicate shadows quite predictably across the full length of the gallery wall. Missing the intimacy of fingers that wound and layered muslin around the metal, this ‘Aureole’ did not invoke the presence of divinity. It was not nearly as evocative as ‘Scent of Sound ’to which one returned again and again. Wanting to get close and inhale a little of its peace; un-wrapping the clinging layers of muslin, coated in a burnt sienna tanginess and warm stains of yellow, with envious eyes.

Contrasted with these works was ‘Stretch’ [2010] a sensuous but solid rosewood sculpture [9” x 61” x 16”]. The natural wood was highly polished to bring out each line of its grain, which looked like marks of a tiger skin. The shape was ambiguous, morphing from a spoon to pipe or could even have been a boat yet un-carved or something else. You had to use your imagination as the artist while alluding to form did not define it. In addition to this were three wrought-iron and teak-wood artefacts of varying sizes, called ‘Kinetics [2009]. Each was independently displayed throughout the gallery. Their forms were drawn from the lives and tools of folk living in rural India. The inspiration could have shears or cutters or just the wind. ‘Kinetics’ had a strong rustic quality that was brought out subtly through the use of rusted looking iron and wood, even as the relatively robust forms seemed to whistle in the wind with iron that twisted and curled.

Each work had been carefully displayed, there was no sense of crowding or rush as you walked through, returning again and again to imbibe their qualities. Relishing this reprieve from the pressures of urban dilemmas, one questioned whether their quietude could be a sustainable reality or merely a moment away to deliberate. The cutting edges of three twisted knife-like structures [Kinetics] hung on a wall: a sharp reminder of the paradox of a simpler life where the chaos of being, may not be as externalized as life in a throbbing metropolis, but in the relative quietude, could cut like a knife within.

‘Lagoon’ [2011] was an installation [72” x 72” x 98”h] using lacquered wooden beads, glass beads and fishing line. It lacked the wistfulness of ‘Scent of Sound’ and minimalism of ‘Kinetics’, evoking an altogether different rural characteristic, but one that jarred for its comparative lack of depth and finesse in exploration and execution. Shettar has used these beads more effectively in earlier works such as ‘In Bloom’ [2004]. In trying to create the environment of a lagoon, the beads were painted in shades of blue and hung from the ceiling of the basement gallery rather gawkily. It was disappointing to see this awkward sculpture/installation after the judicious forms and delicate lines of other work on display.

The artist worked across media, using highly industrial material such as stainless steel and also brought in the crafting skills of Karnataka via a rosewood sculpture. Therefore it was conceivable for her to have enhanced the environment of a lagoon by using digital media, especially lighting projections, to re-create the feeling of being inside the waters of a lagoon; looking at some coral or underwater, naturally sculpted forms. The piece as displayed was uninspired and hung heavy and dull.

However, as one walked out of the gallery ‘Scent of Sound’ came into view again. The artist’s engagement was evident as it drew you into its form which was ethereal despite the use of heavy industrial material. I’m a butterfly she whispered as you turned to the wall: See my wings, trace the lines of nature’s design. It just depends on where you choose to shed the light and how deeply you’re interested in my shadows. Then the white-washed walls met the raw grey of a cemented floor. Their shadows spoke to each other in differing tones of a gravity belied by the glistening waves that hovered above: shining under the electric light, somewhere orange, somewhere white; sometimes just disappearing under its gaze, its fragrance lingering.