Art review

Art review

Alluring architecture

Photograph by Karen Knorr.

“Transmigrations”, the just concluded exhibition by Karen Knorr (Tasveer, October 9 to 30), was a deceptively exquisite and almost allegorical study of human dominance as revealed by the structure and decoration of royal palaces. This renowned, senior artist and professor of art photography living in Britain but of a cosmopolitan background, has been preoccupied with power and class equations as expressed in cultural phenomena of different countries.

The wonderful thing about her work is that, while avoiding any literal statement, it embodies conceptually formulated strategies in highly poetic, visually potent images. As such it allowed the spectator to sense the atmosphere around observations and thoughts, when sheer enchantment sharpened one’s attuning to the illogic of the scenes which yielded cool clarity and criticism impregnated by admiring indulgency with a tinge of humour.

The impact was all the stronger that the collection consisted of two slightly different parts that complemented each other thanks to their common core. “Fables” were shots from French royal edifices converted into museums, whereas “India Song” comprised of mostly Rajasthani palaces and havelis that too have often become foci of tourism. The element of ostentatious display behind the presentation of aristocratic might both to itself and to society passed onto the performative behaviour of the buildings as objects of cultural significance for public viewing today.

The prints focussing primarily on interiors underscored the ornate splendour of the décor which intended to embellish and glorify private spaces and individual egos along with the timeless supremacy of their position in social hierarchy. The intimate boudoirs with emblems of grandeur and living rooms turned into regal audience halls were filmed so as to, by accentuating certain details, evoke their absorption of or hold on the external reality and to capture their creating a complex architectural world within, intuited through the spread of surfaces, through rooms enclosing as well as opening onto rooms and their mirror reflections.

If the interiors devoid of people enacted their drama of pure but structured expression, the artist introduced another kind of performing actors in the shape of wild birds and animals. Sitting, roaming and flying through the spaces as if those were their natural habitat, they simultaneously appeared lyrical and strange or incongruous, which was enhanced by their digital technique collaged against the analogue whole. The mood allusive to the phantasmagorical fable remaining in the background, without its didacticism the creatures incorporated various aspects of the human condition at a subtle and essentially evocative level. On an indistinct line between the actual and the illusory, especially in the images from western palaces, it suggested something unnatural in the institutions of power.

Their Indian counterparts focussed on zenana areas bringing out their opulent, brilliantly coloured comfort in seclusion and restriction, their being debarred from the outside and guarded by masculine beasts.

Whilst the elephants or tigers exuded proud male ownership, stricture and pleasure with notes of irony, the graceful feminine animals oscillated between languid contentment and restlessness. With much finesse, Knorr was able to at the same time pick up aesthetic echoes of their shapes, hues and dynamism in the environs and imply discomfort, even a desire to flee.

Chennain review

“The Madras Accent” (Venkatappa Art Gallery, October 16 to 26) was a selection of works by artists active in Chennai, curated by Prabhakar Krishnan, the owner of the Safion Gallery.

Offering several examples from the studios of familiar artists of modernist orientations and a few younger, contemporary faces, the presentation looked somewhat like an objective array of different styles, akin to regular Lalit Kala exhibitions, rather than aiming at either deeper connections or highlighting quality and cutting-edge originality.

Old-fashioned, modernised ethnic stylisations and abstract compositions inspired by traditional indigenous motifs of decoration were frequent among senior and not so senior painters such as Alphonso Arul Das, Bhaskaran R B, Vasudev S G, Senathipathi M, Muralidharan K, Gopinath P.

Whereas intensely atmospheric abstraction proper was cultured in the contributions of Viswanadhan V and Achuthan Kudallur, one was disappointed to see many weak clones of Adimoolam. Against the dominant formalism of the modernists, one appreciated the subtle, if often grave, contemporary idioms of Palaniappan Rm.

And Douglas. Although some of the youngest participants appeared to be playing safe and conventional, a positive surprise came from Benitha Percival K and Prasannakumar N.
While the show was too inclusive with a number of facile or mannered images, the sculptures being decent but merely aesthetising, perhaps the curator should have thought of other truly interesting artists in the city, like Parvathi Nayar and Nandini Muthaiah.

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