In Sudarshan Shetty’s show, a new life for vintage objects
The last time artist Sudarshan Shetty’s wooden works were exhibited in New Delhi, they covered an entire floor of the National Gallery of Modern Art. This time around, they lie artfully scattered over a 42-ft long table in a Vasant Kunj gallery.
‘Shoonya Ghar (Empty is this House)’ (2015), was inspired by 15th century saint Kabir’s nirgun poetry, and comprised wooden installations resembling large grand ruins. A film that was part of the exhibition, even showed carpenters making these wooden structures in the backdrop. The current exhibition, ‘Pieces Earth Left Behind’ is decidedly smaller in scale.
Ninety-nine pieces of wooden sculptures have been placed on a large rectangular table in the gallery. Each piece is modeled on an object that Shetty found in Mumbai’s Chor Bazar, a place where old, disused items find a new lease of life. And so we find a dial phone, a Steenbeck (a flatbed film editor), a pair of roller skates (with wheels), a grinder, a meat crusher, and even a pair of worn out canvas shoes. Not only are these objects discards, many are also types of models that are no longer sold. By rendering them into wooden sculptures, Shetty makes them of even lesser use than they’ve already been deemed by their once-owners.
Throughout his career, Shetty has made use of various materials, including metal, wood, hydraulic pumps, water, ink and even an old blazer, to create sculptural installations. His first exhibition, ‘Paper Moon’ (1995) was made when he was moonlighting as an assistant director on a television show and working with a designer friend making logos for companies, in Mumbai.
As Thomas McEvilley wrote in an essay titled ‘Being Elsewhere’, “For Shetty, an installation is not just a bunch of sculptures that are exhibited together, but in addition a floating relationship among them which offers a little cohesive force to hold them together, but not much. (...) Nothing like a conclusive assertion about reality is made, except for certain traits which it exhibits, such as futility and repetitiveness.”
In his latest show too, Shetty’s installation opens up the space for a vital question: What, indeed, is art, especially when viewed inside a white cube? The fact that Shetty does this knowingly is as much an inside joke about art, as it is about the artist.
“We are taught to make art in a way that mostly converges into singular meanings,” says the artist. “But what I want to ask is: Can the intention of making something include multiple meanings? And can those meanings shift and move into each other’s spaces? For me, this is a larger question about us, as a people. ‘Being outside yourself’ allows one to open up to the multiplicity of meanings within you.”
All art needn’t take itself so seriously, which is not to say that art is not serious matter, but simply that art could lend itself every now and then to a laugh or a confused look on a viewer’s face. This too can open up a dialogue that questions what they’re seeing, and what it means. In other words, it’s good to be confused by art, and Shetty’s new exhibition – on till the end of this week – is an attempt to tell you just that.
The show, Pieces Earth Left Behind is on view till October 5, 2019, at Gallery Ske, A-4 Green Avenue Street, Vasant Kunj.