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Architectural Digest

Sensual and Surreal

Is it a lotus? Or a centipede? Or an amoebic shape-shifting being? As one moves through the gallery space at The Met Fifth Avenue, New York, each element on display prods and tests your imagination. Crafted from stainless steel, and then covered in tamarind-stained muslin, artist Ranjani Shettar's series of sensual, curved, transmogrifying works transport you into another world — a more surreal one, where stories unfurl at a dreamlike pace. Suspended from the ceiling, these elements create a charming play of light and shadow, adding layers of meaning to the show.

Natural and Industrial Materials

The exhibition, Seven Ponds and a few Raindrops, carries forth Karnataka-based artist, Ranjani Shettar's tryst with non-representative forms. Using natural and industrial materials, such as beeswax, wood, organic dyes, vegetal pastes, lacquer, steel, and cloth, she creates large-scale installations based on her observations of the threatened natural environs of rural India. “All of the components of Shettar's installations are carefully created and have a deliberately imperfect quality,” writes Shanay Jhaveri in his exhibition note. “The hued, rough patinas of materials emphasize the artisanal nature of her practice, while also acknowledging the lives of the materials themselves.”

Ranjani combines a Western modernist and minimalist approach with age-old craft traditions, thus creating a distinctive visual vocabulary. For instance, she has derived her technique of staining cloth with a natural tamarind paste from the craft tradition of a tiny village called Kinnala.

Meanwhile, in another part of New York, on East Street, one can view a different facet to Shettar's practice, through her exhibition, ‘On and on it goes on', at the Talwar Gallery. She pushes the possibilities of wood as a material, by fashioning reclaimed teak and walnut in smooth, lyrical lines. There is a sense of rhythm and movement, as wooden lines meander, rise and fall in the gallery space. For instance, in ‘Meandering lines, searching rivers', wood bends and converges to create a sculptural drawing on the wall.

Another impressive piece is the ‘Tendu', in which hundreds of strips of bent walnut wood join in. There is a sense of urgency to the movement here — it seems as a colony of wooden beings are clambering up the wall, claiming the space as its own.

Whimsical, Not Romantic

The language of minimalism and abstraction runs like a thread through the two exhibitions, tying the two together. According to gallerist Deepak Talwar, in his exhibition note, Shettar's vocabulary refuses to be placed in any pre-existing category or a singular viewpoint. Rather, her works seem to emanate a latent force, transforming any place they occupy.

“Ranjani's approach establishes the kind of revaluation of the relationship between humanity and “nature”, the consideration of the earth as more than an extractable resource or a surface for construction,” writes Talwar. “…Her work may be whimsical, entrancing, beautiful — but they are not romantic in their conceptions of nature. Hers is an ethical as much as an aesthetic commitment to the natural world, a philosophical framework as well as a way of life.”

‘Seven ponds and a few Raindrops' can be viewed at The Met Fifth Avenue till August 12, 2018. On and on it goes on will be on display at the Talwar Gallery, New York till June 30, 2018.

-Avantika Bhuyan