Ephemeral Thoughts

Tensile Steel

Ephemeral Thoughts

Some of these steel wire structures rise from the ground; others hang from the ceilings, yet other hug the walls; some are wedged in nooks… so you have to crane your neck, look up, down and crinkle your eyes to experience these sleek installations. The works also demand that you look up-close at them to figure out hidden meanings and artistic subtexts.

Puneet Kaushik’s stainless steel mesh structures explore the gamut of man’s sense of being, his mind frame, and growth. These works are narrative in the sense that they explore the reasons for the transformations or growth that modern man goes through as the years roll by. 

Consider Puneet’s ‘Tied up in knots’. Metallic ropes create a cocoon, while a skeleton (in stainless steel, of course) stands enmeshed inside it. The metallic edges of the ropes are frayed and kiss the ground. “The frayed edges sweeping the floor are symbolic of roots. We see ourselves as flowing, being fluid but actually we are ‘rooted’; rooted in tradition, culturally, in family ties. With the skeleton suspended, we realise the mirror image is the perception of the alter ego,” as he had once explained. Then again, ‘Tied up in knots’ is not about an anxious soul or a tortured person, as one would imagine. It is about being tied up at various levels to the various roots man springs up from, or gets entangled in.

Sometimes, he shocks you, as in ‘Body as the vessel’, which represents the woman’s body as the vessel for mankind’s birth. But most of his works address issues pertaining to modern man’s perplexities, globalisation, transcendence of boundaries, search for rootedness, etc — in effect — the thrust of modern man’s dilemma.

Man’s alter ego is what Puneet wishes to communicate with his work. His earlier series ‘Embryo’ (2001-2003) explored existance, and even the origin of life itself — in philosophical terms, if not in organic terms. “As far as I see it, beauty and ugliness come together. Likewise, man comes with a self and a superficial self. I think this duality is reflected very well by stainless steel,” he says. Stainless steel is solid but sensitive, sensuous and delicate at the same time, he adds.

In ‘Germination’, one of his large installations which dominates your line of vision in terms of sheer volume, 15 smaller works lie interspersed in it, with tiny sprout-like seeds giving of roots. “As he grows older, an individual starts to interact with people outside his family, breaking the proverbial umbilical cord and stepping out into a hitherto unknown world. But, yet his shadow which is inseparable from the self always goes along with him,” he explains.

As far as technique goes, it is a throwback to weaving and crochets work. “Traditional crafts and folk techniques are very inspiring for me,” he says. The stainless steel he uses has a lifetime of about 60 to 100 years. Some artists are comfortable working with a particular volume. Not so with Puneet. Some of his installations take stage in humble corners, while others require entire rooms, and their ceiling too!

Puneet Kaushik had initially been doing a lot of charcoal paintings before discovering stainless steel. A stroll down the famous Chandni Chowk in his hometown Delhi is where he got ensnared by the lure of stainless steel. “I saw the shadow and fragile lines of the mesh that was stacked up in one of those shops and fell in love with stainless steel,” Puneet recalls. Since then, in Puneet’s hands, these utility meshes have evolved into vehicles of thought. But it all begins with drawings. “Drawings are my first study of understanding art,” says this installation artist.

After graduating in fine arts from the Jamia Millia University, he went in for a diploma in computer aided graphic design.  Puneet later studied studio art from the University of California. He then learnt Japanese printmaking, photographic silk screen techniques, the art of colour printmaking, and even dye fusion transfer techniques. For a while, this 38-year-old conducted courses in mixed media painting and studio art for certificate level students in California. Now of course, with his steel structures ensnaring the world art connoisseurs, there is not much time for teaching. He now works form his studio at New Delhi, the city he was born in.

These steel wire assemblies are not static structures, and it takes three solid days for Puneet to assemble his installations in galleries; they often morph on the spot, evolving according to space they are displayed in, and of course, as per Puneet’s moods.
The metallic wires allow for reassembling in different patterns. “That is the charm of installations. There is never a full stop or a point of completion,” Puneet observes. These structures also respond to the play of lights. Daylight brings out their simple structural aesthetics. With night and artificial lighting, these structures cast an aura, with the emerging shadows becoming a calculated or accidental part of the work.

Sometimes, he takes inspiration from nature — as in his installation on ‘the web of life’ which draws from the structure of spider webs or in the concept of trailing stainless steel ‘roots’. Rarely, he includes colour in his works. And it is a single one at that. Sometime back, it was pink. Now it is red — because it symbolises blood. He sees red as the colour that represents a consuming passion for life. “Red is all around us. A greater religious and socio-political symbolism can be understood through this colour — like the sindoor and tilak.

Kaushik is an artist who likes to take time over his shows. The steel wires on the exhibits speak of the mental meanderings and explorations of these years.
The fragile exquisiteness face of the ‘tough’ steel wires are the only adornment or beautification he gives to his installations, much like a face that holds a smiling countenance without its musculature breaking into a smile. With exquisite craftsmanship and imagination, perhaps, the sky is the limit.

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