Art review

Art review

Distilling evil, goodness

Dimple B Shah’s “Katharsis in a forbidden zone” (Sumukha, October 1 to 20) is a fine exhibition whose theme, spirit and form come in response to the prevalence of violence, materialism and degradation in today’s world as well as from trust reposed in the redeeming potential of love.

The artist does realise one’s inability to change the overwhelming forces of darkness, locating the only antidote to it in personal cleansing, awareness and propensity for good feelings. Individual purification becomes then compared and equated with the cathartic character and compensative role of art.

Shah adopts here the central metaphor of alchemy in order to, on the one, hand, in a quasi-scientific manner analyse psychological, social, political and environmental phenomena and their mechanisms distilling those to their core nature, while on the other hand, by evoking the processes of refining and transformation of one substance into another she asserts the possibility of intimate purity, culture and goodness to be discovered and survive in connection with likeminded people. The concept behind the show and its actual manifestation are simultaneously complex, even deliberately arcane, often necessitating explanation, as well as simple in their poetic expressiveness and direct impact.

The method that probes things physical while conjuring a gravely lyrical atmosphere stimulates the viewer to react through sensation, part bafflement, part understanding and at least anticipated participation. Such reception is enabled by the linkage and performative quality of the works. The large canvases deal with the basic metals of classical alchemy, their ancient European reference motifs translated onto contemporary situations, astrological and astronomical terms along with domestic and emotive ones.

Whereas lead represents Saturn, satanic and criminal properties, mercury oscillates between positive and negative properties, silver and gold stand for dream and amicable, unifying feelings. The researcher’s tables are positioned in symmetrical perspective to as though objectively display the samples, their symbols and vessels, but in a somewhat theatrical way are staged so as to reveal their true nature.

The study becomes a domestic interior that expands onto a sad, grey landscape merged with clouds and unending vastness. The mood lightens over the areas of glass indicating precious aspirations and the warmer tonalities of the imagination and tenderness. The acting objects of metamorphosis acquire physicality in the sculptural kitchen-cum-bathroom laboratories pieced together of old copper boilers, steamers, strainers, cooking pots, pipes, and such. Like the fire under the retorts in the paintings, the rough, old-fashioned stoves here embody the purifying, transformative potency of human warmth on the family plane.

While the performance video has the artist as though an emblematic statue being wrapped in and unwrapped from an aluminium foil signifying the inseparable duality of preserving and stifling life, the two quite extraordinary sculptural installations invite the spectator to actively enter an optimistic region of purity and love. A cool environ is created in a shower cubicle, its prosaic steel and raw bodily and elemental samples permeated by the luminous translucency of the hundreds of tiny phials and sheets of glass and inscribed curtains, enhanced by the sound of water mingling with alchemical hymns.

The intuited purification it affords lets one experience the empathy of its companion. The visitor needs to set the heart rotating barbeque-like in the black stove on wheels, as the gold foil around the image of live flames reflected in the mirror lid makes one sense the tactile heat. A wonderful framing is provided to the display with the recurring art process drawings and laboratory vessels holding rough but aesthetic metal samples.

Chance encounters

“Innerscapes” (Alliance Francaise, October 2 to 3) meant to speak about the ever-changing modern culture, morality and spirituality. Rarely as cutting-edge as claimed by the curators Sreenivasa Reddy and Hari Rao, the works were decent, often interesting, but hardly interacting or adding to a tight whole.

One appreciated Barbara Ash’s immense rabbit that with playful seriousness conjured a still-life mood around childhood fables among the allure of today’s popular synthetic reality.

Rohini Sen’s installation offered a riotous dig at the marketing of facile ideas embodied in soft, bright brains-scrubs or sweets on a festive pushcart. Hari Rao’s shifting geometry aimed at uncovering the hidden, taw structure of things looked fine yet with an excess of High Modernism abstraction.

Hariharan K’s landscape nicely, if a little too smoothly, blended the actual with the lyrically phantasmagorical. The crushed vehicles and confounded bodies of Sreenivas Reddy intended to capture psychological complexities and the verge of the messy and the beautiful without achieving strength. The portraits and spaces of lower-end cities by Jitha K and Sunil Lohar seemed genuine but somewhat literal or design-like.

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