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'The Untold Resides Somewhere': exploring ideas of preserving the discarded

With his solo show The Untold Resides Somewhere: Assembling Fragments, ceramic artist Rahul Kumar pushes the boundaries of using the medium of clay to express abstract ideas.

by Sasha AltafPublished on : May 05, 2023

Contemplating how to write this review I find myself answering the questions Indian artist Rahul Kumar asks in his artist statement… The Untold Resides Somewhere, Assembling Fragments.

"What does it mean to preserve the discarded? the torn, the shattered, the broken…do shards tell a story?” In each assembled or built stoneware clay fragment, small components, compressed boxes, pieces, or objects… bear a remanence of a graphic trace, gesture, or marking. Kumar investigates the graphic trace, marking it as if it were a thought, and giving this thought a form by reflecting upon the interior of his own being—where every mark then becomes a sign and signs have meanings. These tactile fragments question how we construct reality, whereas the real illusion is that we aren't aware of how we give reality to things in small parts which make up the larger whole.

Peter Nagy in conversation with Rahul Kumar: the untold resides somewhere, 2023 Video: Courtesy of Exhibit 320 and STIR
Untitled, 2023, discarded industrial ceramic shards, Rahul Kumar | the untold resides somewhere | STIRworld
Untitled, 2023, discarded industrial ceramic shards Image: Rahul Rishi More, Courtesy of Exhibit 320

As a ceramic artist, Kumar delves deep into his practice and medium to exhume through the lens of his own archive—ideas of habited spaces simultaneously staging a dialogue between consciousness as well as the importance of experimentation and form. The material is a source of inspiration; here Kumar pushes the medium of clay to new extremes, questioning the traditional definition of the medium and the distinctions we conventionally attempt to discern. The results are involved, intoxicating, labyrinthine, intense, seductive, and vertiginous.

Contain, 2023, stoneware clay, Rahul Kumar | the untold resides somewhere | STIRworld
Contain, 2023, stoneware clay Image: Rahul Rishi More, Courtesy of Exhibit 320

…."is a part representative of the whole… like a drop from the ocean carrying same values as of the ocean?”… Developing aphoristic meditations in his practice, Kumar unfolds points of departure that reflect a process leading him to master the space that reason dominates or tries to. Contain ceramic art cardboard boxes; the Boxed series are these containers of one’s personal history/ies, do they represent a transition? Assemblage, broken-ruptured but assembled into a form, draws upon architectural elements—a window, a wall? Stacked, bricks one on top of the other, lending towards a minimalist aesthetic by constructing abstracted geometries and trajectories in space; a suspended Untitled three-dimensional work, strung together on twisted wire with broken pieces of pottery, made incrementally and covered with overlaying patterns—emphasising fragility and instability? As Kumar says, “…they once had a complete body and when they broke into shards—the form changed to broken pieces. With the razor-sharp edges, they have the potential to wound one. But I wanted to show what it means to hold something so dangerous and violent deeply in our memory and not let it go.” These works are interconnected within their meaning, a conversation in 'preserving the discarded.' The strength or purpose of their meaning is enhanced by being doubled, tripled, quadrupled or even pounded by hand. Remains communicates and emphasises the fluidity of life in opposition to any attempt at a fixed reading and offers a reflection on the many simultaneities in our contemporary world, its interrelations, and superimpositions. The artist's markings and traces on the surfaces reflect the existential aspect of life, seen as tangible orientations within a space that is at once closed and open, ordered, and chaotic. With great sensitivity and painstaking precision, but also deliberately leaving scope for error, he scores his art—inscribing it as it were. 

Boxed, 2022, stoneware clay, Rahul Kumar | the untold resides somewhere | STIRworld
Boxed, 2022, stoneware clay Image: Rahul Rishi More, Courtesy of Exhibit 320

Is there then an attempt to represent the relationship between them? Infuse in them life's energy and simple matter, merging both perceptual and conceptual knowledge in ever-changing forms. Does Kumar, through these tactile forms, of lived, used, and unused spaces—of waiting, living, walking, and crossing, with different glazes and colour that both complement and contrast with each other, capture the anonymous signs of the time? Yet allowing them to occupy a relatively silent space that attests to his own journey from traces of his own environment through to abstraction. 

Installation view of Pages from my diary, 2023, clay and ceramic pigments on paper, Rahul Kumar | the untold resides somewhere | STIRworld
Installation view of Pages from my diary, 2023, clay and ceramic pigments on paper Image: Rahul Rishi More, Courtesy of Exhibit 320

Can gibberish communicate?... does illegible text have meaning? I Have a Secret to Tell and Pages from My Diary, give speech to that which has no language, yet demonstrates the artist's instinctive feel for the material—pieces of clay that he has worked with in the studio—minerals, oxides, chemicals—ceramic pigments forming an illegible text. Diaries are records with discrete entries, notations, inner explorations, and ideas that provide an intimate insight into artists' journeys, those completed as well as unrealised. Extracted from this self-reflective documentation and by extension, the process of artmaking itself is a deliberate selection of entries employing a variety of media that translates their individual concerns regarding the self, history, knowledge, and the environment. Kumar defies the diary in its written form but explores the search to extract purpose and significance based on his own history, culture, and consciousness to that which draws and retains a conscious step towards an unknown destination.

I have a secret to tell, 2023, stoneware and terracotta clay, Rahul Kumar | the untold resides somewhere | STIRworld
I have a secret to tell, 2023, stoneware and terracotta clay Image: Rahul Rishi More, Courtesy of Exhibit 320

Does imagination fill a space with spirit and meaning? And reciprocally, does that space then evoke feeling, memory, and thought—giving it form? I believe it does. Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space (1958), is a phenomenological interrogation into the meaning of spaces that manifest elements of poetry – with emphasis on locations and places of intimacy and memory. Attempting to trace the reception of the poetic image in the subjective consciousness of Kumar’s work, demands openness and a focus on the poetic image within forms that are a direct product of consciousness, as experienced in the first-person and in one’s imagination. For Bachelard, imagination is a means to experience a space. Our experiences, our memories, our speculations, and our imaginations are always layered atop a space because we bring these spaces with us: we inhabit the space. In the same way that Kumar inhabits his space, Bachelard’s spaces are not static arrangements of surfaces or given physical dimensions—they are a site for contingent relations, a dynamic document of human life, within and upon which multiple layers of activity, affect, and information, operate all at once. Arousing different sensations and yet bringing up a unitary, intimate experience of living. It is within these experiential qualities that one can find the poetry in Kumar’s work. A ‘container’ opened is a world revealed; ‘remains’ are places of secrets, and with every habitual action he opens endless dimensions of his existence. The associative power of the various forms establishes a tie, a shared life, between the works.

Installation view of Contain, 2023, stoneware clay, Rahul Kumar | the untold resides somewhere | STIRworld
Installation view of Contain, 2023, stoneware clay Image: Rahul Rishi More, Courtesy of Exhibit 320

Does the unsaid converse? As Proust has written the positions in which we fall asleep both dislocate us from an everyday context and yet re-establish a sense of belonging to a place, frequently transporting us, through bodily sensations and to essential scenes from our past. Kumar’s graphic traces provide a prototype for such simulation of remembered personal myths…his works stand at the limit of countless abstractions without jeopardising the subjective elements of emotion, communication, and imagination.

Note: Rahul Kumar is the Editor (Arts) at STIR

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