Art review

Art review

A work displayed at Max Mueller BhavanVegetation and the city

“G H Krumbiegel: ”Whatever he touched he adorned”, an exhibition curated by Suresh Jayaram Max Mueller Bhavan, (April 16 to 30), pays homage to this German horticulturist who during the first half of the 20th century contributed richly to the botanical diversity of Lalbagh and the greening of Bangalore roads. The tribute, however, undertaken in tune with the curator’s own concerns, comes in terms of confrontation with the current reality observed through history and the frequent damage wrecked on nature by the reckless urban expansion we have been witnessing.

Most of the contributors have been chosen on account of their on-going preoccupation with issues of the environment. The show centres round three large installations whose interactive character helps involve the viewer personally, so emphasising the critical state of affairs. Spectacular and cathartic in its raw, direct impact was the performance by Shamala B J who, wearing a gravely beautiful theatrical make-up of the great goddess of generation and death, cut open sacrificial watermelons with a rustic machete and offered them to visitors to eat. Vestiges of the contemporised rite remain now on the butcher’s tree stump against a blood-red carpet enclosed by road divider blocks of concrete as a metaphor for our partaking in the organic world while we destroy it.

Sunoj D, coolly but very effectively, combined a conceptual approach and aesthetic harmony with the physical presence of a field of largish rice saplings growing in plastic water bottles which can be taken away. While a flier instructs how to implement his “Urban Farmland Project”, three elegant colour photographs show such domesticated paddy transforming into elements of interior design, like regular potted plants composed in relation to furniture and the room architecture. The irony of it is evident but it contains much tenderness.

The also distributable installation of Suresh Kumar has an interrupted web of sprinkle irrigation pipes and a big lump of red soil protected by bandages with a limp wild aubergine in the vicinity of many trays with potted touch me not saplings. The general meaning of endangered natural processes and their commercial counterparts can be understood without, however, the specificity of the plants being evident on its own. The vastness of these works dominates the space somewhat obscuring the other pieces which are often significant, although already familiar, or deal with vital aspects of the topic.

As Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha graphically visualise a mapping and overlaying of geographical, botanical and architectural changes occurring over time in the city landscape, their effort oscillating between documentation, presentation and design; Ayisha Abraham’s video, from the re-worked footage of an old home movie, conjures her intimately interpreted insight into history and into someone’s personal encounter with nature.

Responding to the drastic state today, Madhu D has shrouded a fallen branch in a funeral white and Shanthamani M has pieced photographic collages from densities of exuberantly garish artificial flowers which form a new habitat amid busy streets and objects of popular culture. An optimistic antidote arises from Surekha’s video about a childless woman who planted thousands of trees on her village road, the simple documentation permeated by the lyricism of shifting and blending images. The drawback of the exhibition is the fairly incongruous display, some works being tucked away or hindered by others, while the plain documents regarding Krumbiegel clash with the contemporary complexities of the whole.

Miraculous connectivity

“Beep…beep…beep…bang”, Sunitha Ramachandra’s video evokes the sense of emotional and physical pervasiveness that cell-phones have introduced to her life along with the wondrous relief of being instantly connected but also with some disorientation and strange, surreal moods. In her exhibition at 1Shanthi Road (April 9 to 11), a motif from the video – the latex human ear in a box found its centre-stage surrounded by largish canvases which play around the metaphor of quick, ever serving messenger Hanuman’s tail as an optical cable. In a country famous for its literal incorporation of ancient myths in practical reality, the apparently over-stretched literary device can be appropriate. One appreciated the idea behind the divine tail elongating into a neat coil, descending in manholes or linking with tree silhouettes.

The somewhat too basic and roughly-smoothly stylised outlines, nevertheless, weakened the images which were just marked without an inherent power in the sparing mode, and prevented the possible expressiveness to arise.

Actually, one preferred the single small water colour with a human palm pointing downwards and fingers gradually becoming cables, because its more realistic rendering gently translated the obvious into the poetic.

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