Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The prophet among men is a notion that has come to us from history

Know more about organic chemistry 13 Oct, 2007, 0500 hrs IST, Uma Nair, TNN Write to Editor
Think of an artist who captures the crux of inharmonious discontent within the struggle of everyday existence, who, in the gist of today’s angst-ridden reality, refracts those images back to us using unpredictable and metaphorical materials. The central message of this array of about 13 sculptural installations by Sumedh Rajendran, which opened at Vadehra Grosvenor in London this week is more about an artist’s ability to think out of the box, throw crass commercialism to the winds and incorporate images or objects cobbled together from popular socio-political culture. The very title of the show, Chemical Smuggle, speaks of life’s cacophony and tells us in cynic retrospect that we must look deep inside and around even if it is somewhat the hardest to reach within. It seems as if Sumedh has devoted a lifetime of his artistic intentions to a certain creative surge that seeks to establish this surface reality, attempting to collect, count and order the ways in which conspicuous consumerism and sycophancy has hit humanity. The titles of his works grab you between your eyes: Civilian Clothes (wood, tin sheet and rexin) with Merito on Blue men is an exemplification of “a virtuoso real,” something beyond real that is patently pathos filled. It is as if the brand Merito stuck all over the tin sheet is art that is inherently interrogatory; it eats through the scheme of things because it is the material with which people in the chawls of Mumbai and the huts of Chennai live. The discarded misprint becomes the object of shelter. The irony is mock heavy. The figure of man with the juxtaposed pig is a carefully constructed hybrid that is also some kind of sarcasm, a satirical slant, which is indeed charged by conflicting notions of high and low lifestyles. “I look at the images or imagery in life always in terms of the human body,” says Sumedh who often uses the animal and man to reflect both exploitation and torture.
“Whether I use the body of an animal or of a human being, I try to interpret and articulate my ideas within its structure. I find a strange interaction between the ‘body’ and architectural elements. I see how a work evolves when one sculpts like an architect, how he or she deals with a body as an architect. In my work Long Subsidies I refer to a jharokha, to the body of a donkey, and even an Islamic element of architecture, and I feel that there are inter-linking elements that run through architecture and the organic body — whether it be of man or animal. So you will find that my sculptures are born out of history and its nuances, the melancholy that comes in is the humanist projection,” says the artist deconstructing his works. Well, this show is also about narrative nests and endless allegory, in which the artist’s comment is an echo of classic Calvino’s quest for truth that resides within. Sin Donor with the steel sheet and leather, is a cerebro-artistic dilemma that with its taut steel sheet disturbs, diffuses and then splinters the mind. It somehow allows you to think but even detracts because it recalls an unsettling of sorts specifically about assumptions, originality and value, class and the exploitation of the differences in creativity. In some ways it makes you think of Maya Angelou’s poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: But a bird that stalks/down his narrow cage/can seldom see through/his bars of rage/his wings are clipped and his feet are tied/so he opens his throat to sing.” The human for Sumedh is like the caged bird, trapped in circumstances. So he uses the boxes — the trunk is a metaphor for the traveling multitudes.
“When I create a work, I place it within the context of my existence and my observation of the common people,” says he. “More than mere representational bodies, my works are specific and the intention is to express ideas. So I cut and mutilate them formally, to extract them from their literal context and place it in the time of my art. The idea of using the galvanized metal sheet is because it is used in coolers; it is a comment on the humid conditions that the people have to face and suffer through be it at home or in a train. That angst and suffering is once again shown in the box which is closed with a clasp, it is the human spirit that is trapped.” Stirred by the notion of paradoxes, Sumedh says that his stimulus is the truth within. An ardent reader of poetry and philosophical verbosity his titles reflect the silent philosophical intellect.
“I like the writings of Foucault and Italo Calvino. These writings pose several questions — about reality and illusion, about sanity and insanity, about conformity and conflict. I thought about the hollowness of generic ideas. Hence, in works like Regime or a Ruler and Civilian Clothes the two images are Messiah like. The prophet among men is a notion that has come to us from history, but in today’s world there is a subversion of sorts,” he says. Regime or a Ruler has this image, which holds a cache of leather. While the hand is that of comfort and reflects the Good Shepherd, it is the synthetic leather held in a manner of curious contradiction that arouses intrigue.
“On its own, leather is an innocent material,” says Sumedh, “but when it is used in this fashion it is ingrained with complexities — it holds social conflicts and contradiction, and is also an expression of it. Leather is an organic substance. When processed, it becomes an inorganic material. The manifestation occurs in its transformation from organic to the inorganic. This transformation is all about orientation and manifestation of power. When a product is imagined through a material, it comes to contain power relationships. Attach it to an animal, it stands low in hierarchy. But when it becomes a product, its status is elevated. The imagination of power is mediated through a very simple material like leather and its seasoning.” Satire becomes the signature staple that runs rampant in the show, appearing on modernist products like synthetic leather, the sheets branded with Merito or Kraft, pointing towards social functioning and arbitrary punch lines. In a sense Sumedh’s artistic career has been a process of self-liberation by expanding upon a satiric mode that he invents for himself. The show coaxes subliminal codes and stereotypes. For all its unpredictable elegance, there is also a spindly open-slotted, endgame air that seems to contradict as well as coalesce. Londoners should react after standing and staring because this is sculpture that is a subtle exegesis of the human character of contemplation. economictimes.indiatimes.com

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