2022 art recap: reimagining the future of arts
by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Rahul KumarPublished on : Mar 18, 2022
Written word has meaning. Found object has associations. When these are used as components to create an imagery in the context of visual arts, there are layers to be discovered and readings to be made. Artist Kunel Gaur creates works using mixed media for a commentary on serious issues like consumerism and the climate crisis. He often relies on retail packaging labels that come with inherent connotations and nostalgia. There is irony and satirical references. “The thoughts expressed in my work come and go constantly as I continue to observe the human condition, our history, spirituality, geopolitics, concepts about the future, religion, collective memory, philosophy, and popular culture,” says Gaur. He is a trained designer and draws inspiration from architecture. Contrastingly, Gaur uses the idea of function to bring various elements into the construct of his art only as a means to tell a comprehensive story. Material and objects evoke memories that are integral in Gaur’s practice.
I speak to the artist on the sidelines of his ongoing solo exhibit, Information Architecture at Method art space in Mumbai, India.
Rahul Kumar: You use everyday materials like labels and packaging in your art. How do these add a layer to the meaning in your works?
Kunel Gaur: The street ecosystem, on which I base most of my work, is a menagerie of retail spaces, homes, schools, hospitals, libraries, flower shops, art museums, cafes, and general stores that thrive and co-exist as a whole. Coming from a background in design, I am naturally fascinated by the various elements I come across on my travels or otherwise, like products, stationery, signage, street art, even electricals, and hardware - and I do end up collecting a lot of them. There’s just so much to find in the simplest of everyday places. I then try to use items like packaging and other printed material coming out of these places to create a scaled-down version of this commune making each bricolage a unique representation of a street, or a situation that is embedded in memory - completing the circle in a way. When a functional item like a piece of packaging or a label becomes part of an artwork, they lose their function and it changes how they are perceived by you as a viewer. That to me is endearing.
Rahul: While undertones of irony and often satire form part of your narrative, you speak of sensitive and serious topics of climate change and capitalistic contemporary life. Please tell us how you go about conceiving your work and bringing these together?
Kunel: A lot of times you can imagine something but you can never achieve it. Kind of like a pipe-dream about a future aligned with the common good. And so, the only way to achieve it is to write about it. And that's what I am doing. The thoughts expressed in my work come and go constantly as I continue to observe the human condition, our history, spirituality, geopolitics, concepts about the future, religion, collective memory, philosophy, and popular culture. I have started writing only recently and what I put together here is a distillation of all the pent-up frustration and ideas that have suddenly found a way to build and shape themselves into a sort of a commentary. And even though it stems from my observation about the contemporary situation we are in as a people, I want to write more and more about the positive outcome of it all. Maybe focus on a time and place where we exist as a more self-aware species, rife with equal parts knowledge and wisdom, and understanding, and respect, and love for not just ourselves but every part of the observable, imaginable vastness of existence. Knowing fully that we do not have the answers to everything in the current moment, I write about an aware attitude.
Rahul: Further, titles like ‘folk lores from future’ are intriguing. Tell us about the curatorial framework of Information Architecture, your latest exhibition at Method art space.
Kunel: Information Architecture™ is an evolutionary body of work done during the last three years. I spent this time at home working with found objects and printed material that I have been collecting on my travels before the pandemic, to manifest an aesthetic that best aligns with my sensibility and obsession with brutalist architecture and design. The show includes abstract sculptural art and bricolage that have been constructed using found and collected items after they have run their course of communicating for a brand or product, in the way that now they purely exist without function. The work has been divided into abstract bricolages, wood panels with the written word, or prose, and minimalistic characters inspired by my travel in Japan, where I last visited just before the pandemic. The art sculptures are made in wood and fitted with electricals that make them look like giant abstract devices or machines with no function at all. My attempt, and hope is for people to extract their own meaning from the work on display.
Rahul: Being a designer and inspired by architecture, the function has an important role in what you do. You employ architectural materials like wood, concrete, resin, metal, acrylic paint, screen printing techniques, glass, and electricals. How does your art straddle history and future, function and expression, text and icons?
Kunel: I work with function against its premise. An architect will not have full control over what other elements get added to his work overtime. Signage is one example, there are others like furniture, stand-alone lighting, objects, and so on. And just by means of fate, some of those combinations just click. And they look great together so we take pictures of them. And now it’s a whole different story. I am trying to capture that story. Bringing the sensibility of that visual in our mind, back into architecture. To do that I must borrow the material from it to construct a form that would remind me of a moment in time, whether in the past or a distant future, and let it exist on its own.
Rahul: Finally, while most of what you do heavily revolves around material and objects, you have recently entered the virtual world of NFT. Why the need to make this shift?
Kunel: The virtual world is all about material and objects. With NFTs, we are at the dawn of something that will change the creative landscape in the not-so-far future. And since my experience comes from working closely with brands in the forever evolving design and advertising space, I am naturally drawn to everything that promises innovation in the long run. For my personal practice, I want to test the aesthetic that I am building as a whole experience, using virtual reality or augmented reality. AR can bring to life a universe of possibilities, and I am currently working on building a platform that has the capability to do just that.
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