Saturday, January 17, 2009

Musing over tea and flowers

The latest residency of the Khoj@1 Shanthi Road Open Studio had a Sri Lankan and an Indian artist exploring the city and working in close contact. Kusal Gunasekara and Urmila V G, intuitively and along with their mainstream preoccupations as well as in concrete material terms, discovered personal and broader links between the place, themselves and their respective cultures, quite in tune with the institution's premises aiming to stimulate such interactions.

The results of their effort exhibited at the venue (December 28 to January 6) may not have achieved great profundities, which is perhaps natural, and to be expected in the circumstances. Adding to a mutually responsive environment, they were topical, graceful and light, even conjured an atmosphere where the intimate reflections contained in the works reverberated over a feel of the external world.

Kusal Gunasekara was fascinated by the exuberance, stringed intricacy and profusion of flower garlands offered for sale on Bangalore's streets and markets.

In his drawings, he seems to have absorbed and transformed these sights with a quiet intensity that imbues direct proximity with tenderness and rawness, the repetitively ornate with the eerily carnal and the unbridled, the ample, regular patterns acquiring a strange life of their own.

Thus, the mechanically man-made design re-enters its organic roots half-way metamorphosing into a supple, reptilian sinuosity, amoeboid tentacles or seed and organism-like clumps of tangled lines that oscillate between graphic flatness and soft-hard volumes caught in the process of change. His relying on simple, as if naïve, hatching and squiggles in black and white suggests sensations rudimentary but elusive. The garland-screen installation at the doorway, by comparison, threaded of paper tea cups and bright plastic blossoms, on a much less complex level, referred to joyous innocence of the popular ethos, incorporating elements of its touching kitsch aesthetic.

Flower motifs came into the work of Urmila V G but only as delicate, painterly washes on her tea cups, their translucent hues recalling traces of the beverage. Her whole project revolved round the shape of and the moods evoked during calm, comfortable and intimate moments of drinking tea.

In fact, the artist let and coaxed the spectator to experience this condition itself by offering a large, tea cup-like chair to sit, in facing a vast composition on the wall.

The wall installation had paper cups embedded in it, that spread out partly in their close physicality, and partly as though natural scenery. The so generated permeable shifts within the nearby and the faraway, together with the dominant whiteness, generated a feel of private domesticity contemplating the expanses outside.

The sensation continued and enhanced in the prints, which juxtaposed large, textured tea cups with small forms of plants and clouds with an occasional chair and a hint of a human silhouette scattered lose over the white ground.

If connections between the artists could be guessed in their individual works, the openly collaborative contribution made a gesture about it piecing together the curly lines of Kannada and Sinhala letters into a colourful garland to attain a pleasant but just statement-like impact.