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The journey of a visual artist often dapples between the dualities of scale and scope, meaning and medium, concept and construction, and ideology and impact. In the journey of balancing these simple but rather pressing terminologies, the end goal is what leaves the beholders in an absolute state of introspection. This engulfing experience, the contemporary art exhibition, thus plays a crucial role in adding visual punctuations to the everyday mundane. Hemali Bhuta’s recent showcase at the Singapore Biennale titled ‘Natasha’ is truly an encapsulating experience as she spans the journey of ‘everyday objects’ – from its creation to its decay. She integrates the final disintegration over time!
As you enter Bhuta’s curated white cube, you may find some familiar objects mysteriously lying on the floor. In retrospect, she gives a contemporary twist to the very common idea of a ‘flooring’ titled Fold. To me, it almost feels like a mummification of an object. Bhuta repurposed an early 2012 artwork into parquet flooring. Hemali comments, “Fold speaks of acts of folding, storing, stacking, preserving, and ultimately, caring. I am indeed a witness to the ever-evolving nature of the work, the material over time and in places and spaces it has been. I learnt in the process to not resist but rather embrace this transformation, this transmutation, this transition.”
While the Fold left deeper meanings on the impermanence of an object, this very idea also seeded to the showstopper of Bhuta’s collection titled My pulse is beating and my veins throbbing and in wonder, my song bursts forth. The title is a line borrowed from a song Akash bhora surjo tara by Rabindranath Tagore in Ritwik Ghatak’s film Komal Gandhar. The artwork explores the notions of time and decay. The work plays with scale and scope in dimensionality as it is placed at a right angle, partly vertical and partly horizontal, lying on the floor. Here the gesture of wax throwing using patli patra or metal plates used by construction workers, witnessed in Jharkhand, India at the lac extraction facility, has been repeated. Consequently, there is a carpet studded with soft and solid blobs of wax with hues ranging from white and beige to purple, adding to the geology of the work. “I wanted a default dropping of stuff on the floor that has come to seem like a pile of debris. This was meant to be without much intervention by us and a more natural process of the fall of the heavy material”, Hemali adds. The work conveys a sense of fragility layered beneath the political and the mystic.
Hemali introduces so much hidden meaning through simple gestures, such as sloughing debris or just a common household object, like a bar of soap. A set of grey soap bars are stacked on the floor, perhaps waiting to be used and lathered into nothingness. However, this creation takes Hemali down memory lane. The Indian Artist narrates, “It began with my teaching and a class that I took at Rachana Sansad in Bombay. I was doing greyscale with the students and it was as easy as the struggle of getting this grey scale incorrectly correct or correctly incorrect. I made the piece but what excites me most is what happened to the piece afterwards, and how the ghost of the piece came back in parts, got deconstructed, scrapped, sliced and then made into tiles; made into small bars just before we left Mumbai to shift to Goa. These bars were distributed in the neighbourhood and amongst collaborators to use. So more than the creation of the work, what excites me here is the travel of the work. Not the work but the many works, aftermaths, iterations that came out of it.”
The last element of Hemali’s intriguing showcase in Singapore includes a sculptural installation on the idea of maquettes. Hemali starts off by saying, “The concept of a ‘maquette’ itself doesn’t fit into my vocabulary; I prefer to work on scales that are manageable, rather than a large commission which would require the use of a maquette. I prefer the intimacy and deliberate precision of smaller works, to be mindful of the materials and how much is being used.” But her art introduces a rather new take on this idea.
Typically, maquettes are made before the production of the actual work, often made with less durable material. Bhuta’s maquettes are made after the creation of her larger works and utilise more precious materials, such as gold, demonstrating how she engages with and challenges the traditional relationship between sculptures and their maquettes. It has been presented as an afterthought or an afterlife documenting the former glory of the original artwork. Hemali adds, “At the Singapore Biennial, I have brought these maquettes in close proximity with their former selves. As Nida Ghouse, one of the curators of the Biennial puts it - The processes of transmutation are inevitably invisible to viewers, but nonetheless seem to suggest that the works of art, and the matter they contain belong to a continuum”.
The installation artist signs off leaving a very interesting message, “No message at the same time everything is a message - a sign, a pathway, a verse, an ode. Embrace it and see the magic!” Her magic truly lies in her exploration of introducing an intangible quality like time into a recalcitrant present sculptural entity.
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