There’s something vaguely embarrassing about catching a cold in Mumbai. The temperature has “dipped” and its 24C, but here I am, with a muffler wrapped around my neck because I’ve got a cough that makes you believe in tuberculosis. Not that I have tuberculosis, as far as I can tell. It’s a common cold and because of how much I’ve coughed during the day, every time I twitch towards a cough, I can feel the top of my skull clench painfully. In these circumstances, one could do a number of things and I think I’ve done most of said things. I watched Breaking Dawn – Part Two (ghastly; once everything stops hurting so much, I might try writing about it. Then again, I might not. It’ll probably make everything hurt all over again just to remember it), read a little, worked a little, pottered through a couple of Mills & Boons, and still, I’m nowhere near sleep. I could catch up on email, but that would actually mean I need to think straight. Not an option. So it seems a good time to revisit, for purposes of record, one of the most beautiful shows in Mumbai this year.
High Tide For a Blue Moon – December 2, 2012 to February 17, 2013, at Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
Works in the order seen:
“High Tide for a Blue Moon”, 2012
(Wood from coffee plant and automobile paint.)
It reminded me of a model of a molecular structure. You’d never guess that under this coating of metallic glint, there’s wood and that too wood from a coffee plant. The organic turns into something that looks completely unnatural. The crooked lines also look particularly dramatic against the geometric and baroque elements of Bhau Daji Lad’s architecture.
(Laquered wooden beads, glass beads, fishing line and pigment)
It’s as though the ceiling tumbled and became molten, like Vishnu’s foot dissolving to create Ganga, and then being frozen mid-fall. Also reminiscent of flower garlands and those strings of flower and leaves that traditional Hindus hang over the doorway when there’s a pooja or it’s an ausipicious day. It looks beauqtiful and completely unwatery to me, personally, despite the colours. The fun of it, for me, was in imagining the water in these beads that were shaped like droplets and whose painting actually reminded me of the Turkish evil eye, which is somewhat relevant considering what an important part water plays in all our rituals. Ganga, for instance, the one who washes away our sins (and is being choked by all sorts of toxic garbage, but that’s a separate matter.)
“Remanence from Last Night’s Dream”, 2012
Green bulbs — laquered beads like the ones in “Lagoon”, but smaller and much fewer — mushroom out of a plank of wood. The green makes them look so natural, even though there’s something odd about these protrusions coming out of the wood, particularly the brightness of the colour. Yet, it all seems to fit and be an organic part of the block of wood. Dreams are a bit like that. You know they’re surreal or weird or mismatched to reality, and yet, they belong in our everyday reality because that is what is their room. There were two works like this.
“Flame of the Forest”, 2012
(Carved teak wood, laquered wood and pigments.)
The bulbs, or beads, turn orange and protrude out of a wooden gourd. They look like seeds, but for the virulent orange they’ve been painted. I’m certain the resemblance to the orange of Hanuman is not coincidental. The protrusions also reminded me of teeth.
(Vulcanised latex, stainless steel and cotton thread)
Tentacles come out of the wall, each of them has a “head” that looks either like an unopened bud or a snake head. Take your pick (and then look up Dr. Freud). The vulcanised latex was a crazy, fleshy structure. Shettar apparently started making this space right after a surgery, which certainly adds to the understanding of shapes and their seemingly uncontrollable dynamism. I bet everyone who looks away imagines it’ll move the moment they look away.
“Tunes for a Winter Morning”, 2012
(Stainless steel, muslin cloth, tamarind-kernel powdered paste)
It’s beautiful but strangely leached of colour and dry, almost brittle. All these things I associate with a Delhi winter. Like “Heliotropes”, these also come out of the walls. It’s less wild than the last/first one and also more delicate. The process is to make the shapes out of steel wire, wrap it with muslin and then put the tamarind seed paste on the cloth to harden it. This is, apparently, how many villages still make toys and knick knacks.
“Scent of a Sound”, 2012
(Stainless steel, muslin cloth, tamarind-kernel powdered paste, and laquer)
If there really was such a person as Titania, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Dream, I imagine she would fall in love with this work. It’s simply magical. Suspended from the ceiling using transparent wire, these sculptures should seem skeletal (given colour and shapes) but they don’t. They’re delicate and … magical. It’s like these are translucent flowers that are enchanted and delicate, you see their veins and they hover, gently. Rather than shapes made out of nearly-unbreakable stainless steel wire, they seem fragile and just about to wisp away. This was probably my favourite bit of the show. Totally heart-stopping.
Right. Now to attempt some sleep.