Insignificant as substance
One has observed Surekha’s work in its evolution from painting to two and three-dimensional pieces characterised by emotive qualities embedded in the physicality of their unconventional materials, to installation involving photographic elements and to video. Her focus has moved from the feminine condition and craft reference to an increasingly broader angle concerning society with its locales and eventually to interaction with individual people, their stories and situations epitomising, nevertheless, vast phenomena of the changing reality as well as a number of rudimentary questions and values. Two years into the latter kind of effort, she projected several videos arranged very effectively in an environment-like installation (Samuha, January 2 to 11).
The somewhat awkwardly titled display of “Un-Claimed & Other Urban F(r)ictions” had a multitude of old, worn out computer keyboards with loose cables cladding the walls and a piled semicircle of shakily stacked monitors on the floor. The installation conjured a veritable architectural surround that let one intuit the altered structure of our world brought about by the omnipresence of digital technology. At the same time, yet, it indicated the transitory nature of this world which constantly produces, uses and discards communication machines as though in an artificial metamorphosis of the ancient life cycle. One of the longer videos in a large-scale projection – “re-source” addressed the business of computer recycling.
The refuse of the global age was handled there quite like any modest, traditional trade in scrap. The camera alternated and sometimes blended passages of conversation with the dealers and those of the masses of computer parts in their store. As the speakers oscillated between matter-of-fact and passionate tones and the machinery from structure to rhythmic surface, indeed, the old and new dynamisms of life seemed to permeate. One appreciated the coexistence there of documentation, personal engagement and visual expressiveness, although tighter editing would have helped.
The choice of apparently insignificant, rejected objects which are nonetheless essential became complemented by the images of their marginal human equivalents. “An Empty Bench”, with a simple directness, objectivity and empathy that were both intimately touching and making one wonder what is really important, told about an aged, homeless woman living in Cubbon Park who disappears to be replaced by an old man. The viewer responded in particular to the mood of normalcy and unaffected respect of “Un-Claimed”, the film following the men who bury anonymous bodies in the city. Surekha attuned herself to the pulse of Bangalore in ordinary areas where people find quiet, sometimes strange, ways to cope with the tension of drastic transformations.
The computer installation suggested the framing of such warm nooks, some of the monitors playing her short pieces, like one about a small time eatery serving ragi balls or another where two flights of walls - with exposed houses under demolishing and solid ones painted in naively grand pictures - curve, diverge and contradict, yet echo. The artist’s almost brutal frankness and irony did not diminish her love for the place, as she layered the gradual staccato of spit on a public surface to turn into a painting of gestural abstraction. Bewildering exuberance
“Habitus”, Murali Cheeroth’s painting exhibition at Sumukha (January 8 to 30), offers an imagery around the rapidly globalising city as a site of dizzy, exuberant occurrences and atmosphere. Ambitious in its scale, the brilliance of colours and the accumulation of motifs, it however loses somewhat in account of the indulgency in the sheer formal attractiveness of what is being conjured, especially that the style remains a variant of the presently popular mode. A vision of enchantment at the crossroads of different realities in the shaping, valid as such, has not been deepened despite the sound workmanship.
The vast canvases are pieced of together and partly merge a density of urban street elements. Massive construction equipment, metallic grids of bridges and scaffoldings mount, cut across and destabilise the space whose frontal flatness ambiguously coincides with recesses and layered horizontal bands of the sky that has absorbed the radiant hues and mists of digital and glamour advertising areas. Headless monuments and soaring as well as falling people add to the impact of energy and intoxication underscored by fantasy but also confusion and discomfort, as a winged man can be seen next to a human or locomotive-tree hybrid. The artifice of the novel world holds residues of plant-life and old-fashioned objects, while the opaque, out-size bulb of domesticity reflects both realities. The marriage of sharp, photographic realism and diffused near-abstraction may be suitable here, but again, it seems a little formalist, similarly to how the artist handles his videos.