Before the backlog reaches crazy proportions, it’s time to quickly jot down the notes for one show so that I’m left with merely three more to write up. Sheesh. Anyway, here we go.
Held over July and August, it was the last of the off-season shows for Chemould Prescott Road. This wasn’t a two-man show as much as two shows in one venue; so much so that Bhuvanesh Gowda and Ritesh Meshram had separate titles for their collections. Meshram’s was simply titled New Works, which is precisely what they were. Gowda titled his Pursuit of the Ridiculous. A mash-up of the two titles could be “New Pursuits”, “Ridiculous Works” or “New Ridiculous”. The second option sums up what I thought of the show quite succinctly.
According to my trusty dictionary, ridiculous means “deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.” Gowda’s works fit the first meaning and the second applies quite nicely for Meshram’s sculptures. A sculptor who works with found objects (read: junk), Meshram’s was definitely the stronger half of this show. His pieces were kooky, but in a good way. The salvaged junk is transformed, reincarnated and even more useless than it was when discarded — since now, there isn’t even a hint of its original functionality — but now it’s art, which is an amusing (if familiar) perspective. Meshram’s changes the function and look of the material but at the same time, he wants the viewer to notice how he’s made the salvaged junk become something else. He wants you to notice the materiality of the sculptures so that you appreciate the artist’s tilt-focus way of looking at objects. Objectifying usually is taken to be a degrading because it flattens that which is being objectified to a stereotype, but when Meshram objectifies, he’s actually adding possibilities and layers. Often, it’s difficult to tell what the original object was. Sometimes, it isn’t, but that only serves to emphasise how absurd and yet well-observed the sculpture is.
A few of Meshram’s sculptures felt rather steampunk-y to me and I don’t think this is only because I was reading Railsea at the time. Meshram’s works are clever and they make you smile. How can you not feel fondly towards the bespectacled, Afro-ed head he’s made? Mostly, Meshram’s sculptures are whimsical, like the once-bag that’s been Meshramified to look like a miniature machine. For me, what they lacked though was complexity in terms of his process. I wish there were more details, like making a kinetic sculpture. The works needed a little bit of magic — something that would whirr, tease the viewer with an unexpected click or change, add a little drama to the stillness. Apparently, Meshram made these works in two weeks. Now, on one hand, it’s worth admiring Meshram’s ability to come up with so many pieces without making them repetitive. That said, much like Girls’s Hannah Horvath doing a public reading of something she wrote on a subway rather than reading something she’s worked on for some time, you have have to wonder about an artist who doesn’t mind exhibiting slapdash works. Because ultimately, despite the cleverness of his ideas, what was on display at Chemould Prescott Road was not the kind of novelty that makes you marvel. It’s just cute.
Gowda, on the other hand, certainly didn’t rush through the making of his sculptures. From the carvings of faces or the wall text he’d written, it’s clear that a lot of hard work has gone into Pursuit of the Ridiculous. Unfortunately, the end result deserves a few mocking jibes. Let’s begin with the wall text:
“In search of possibilities, we encounter impossibilities, which lead to some different possibilities. … To me, if meaningless is meaningless, then meaningful is also meaningless.”
To which I have only response: WTF? This is the kind of ridiculousness that is pleading to be either teased or dismissed. Another example:
“I am looking into some possible impossibilities and impossible possibilities.
Ok then. Best of luck with that and stay away from the magic mushrooms.
It’s clear that a lot of hard work has gone into Gowda’s works, many of which seemed to be concerned with idea of perspective, dimensionality and illusion. Most of the wood carvings were ably-executed. Some, like the rectangular block with the egg, didn’t look particularly exciting to me. The piece was supposed to be a playful look at how the eye can be fooled into imagining dimensions. So, against the two-dimensional surface of the three-dimensional wall was a three-dimensional sculpture that showed you a two-dimensional plinth and egg that were supposed to look like they were three-dimensional. Which they didn’t and yes, the chicken and the egg theory is less confusing. But the worst part is, my tongue- (and brain-) twister explanation makes Gowda’s sculpture sound far better than it was. No one in their right mind would think either the egg nor the plinth were three-dimensional. The sculptures of the bodies in cage-like frames were eye-catching, but mostly, Pursuit of the Ridiculous came across as an adolescent series — full of attitude and generally incomprehensible. Gowda tries entirely too hard to seem meaningful and deep, but the net result is a series that doesn’t make much sense (ostensibly, at any rate). What are the possibilities or impossibilities embodied by them? Why is there a rectangular block of wood in the middle of the display? And how does a metallic wilted condom — knotted at the end — resting on a white slab fit into all this? Answer: It doesn’t. Sometimes meaningless is meaningless. As far as I recall, there wasn’t any wall text giving you the names of the works, which didn’t help a viewer. I only realised the jockeys were titled “Bearer of Odds” when I went to the gallery’s website to nick a photo. I’m still not sure how jockeys and carpentry are connected, but well.
Gowda’s are works that need explanations and footnotes. But even with the running commentary, there’s no real epiphany because there doesn’t seem to be much by way of layered meaning. For example, enjoying pride of place in the display are four faces, carved in wood. They’re well-done in that each is distinct; the expressions are nicely done and all that, but you have to wonder, why there are four disembodied heads staring at you? (In case anyone was wondering, the headless bodies and the body-less heads are not related despite being installed close to each other.) The goggles and the headgear that the four men wear made me think of vintage photos of pilots. It turns out that those are the faces of four jockeys. At the base of each head, there were little, right-angled grooves. There’s something in there about the bits of wood carpenters use to get their right angles correctly, which Gowda somehow connected to jockeys — as you might be able to tell, it made not a whit of sense to me.
On the plus side, there’s no need to pursue the ridiculous. It’s decidedly captured in Gowda’s show.