Feature/Review: Sheetal Gattani Solo / An Eye For Peripheral Visions / Sushma Sabnis
The recent solo of artist Sheetal Gattani, at Chemould art gallery, Mumbai titled, ’46 Pillars’ is about more ways of seeing than just an interesting architectural intervention within a gallery space, observes Sushma Sabnis.
It is often seen that children of a certain age have an affinity to draw, doodle or scribble on walls and pillars; there is something inviting about those bare surfaces, which beckons their impulsive artistic instinct. Call it a recessive caveman gene going unchecked, but we all have it in us. If one needed evidence of grownups regurgitating this genetic trait, one could visit any and every tourist destination and find the pillars and walls carved and scribbled upon with undying, immortal promises. But most of all it is about an innate need to document a particular moment in time in one’s environment at that very urgent instant.
Changes in surroundings bring about changes in the culture of a place. We see landscapes change on a regular basis around us. It is interesting to see the way these changes dictate the metamorphosis of our own mental landscapes over time. The tremors of change on the environment, culture, and people are etched on far deeper levels of consciousness than comprehensible. So when an artist chooses to employ these two activities, of drawing on pillars and depicting her environment at one time, the aesthetic is hard to ignore. Artist Sheetal Gattani brings about her fragmented yet interesting perspective of the city of Mumbai in 46 elongated views – 46 wooden pillars as seen from 20 vantage points. What makes her perspective even more engaging is her way of presenting such an eclectic mix of the city that never sleeps.
From the humble ‘cutting chai’ to the addressal of the city’s water and electricity distribution problem, to the waning face of greenery to the glittery skyline which looks like a satin lined box of a queen’s finest jewels, Sheetal manages to glide over multiple, obvious and hidden, narratives of the city’s character in her singularly large installation work at the Chemould Art gallery, Mumbai.
The installation titled, ‘46 pillars’ is an assembly of 46 constructed wooden pillars within the gallery space. It is very unique as a concept and rather unorthodox as far as how a gallery space is utilized and that probably is the reason why this installation marks the change in the engagement of the clichéd artist/ artwork – gallery synergy. The gallery space was given to the artist for three whole months and these pillars which complement the existing pillars of the gallery, act as memory markers and specific snap shots presented by the artist for the viewer.
As one goes about these pillars, one is forced into a ‘view finder’ mode, if life is all about putting things into perspective, this installation would be an exercise in ‘Ways of Seeing’. There are hands reaching out to each other in a helping stance, they move from one pillar to the other completing the entire picture. There are two hands, which at one point form the frame of the viewfinder, again drawn on pillars, which are aligned one after the other.
There is a walk among old trees who have stood like sentinels witnessing the city change over time as they add rings around their girths, drawn on pillars which are placed one after the other mimicking them. The other side of these pillars is the enchanting imagery of Mumbai’s coastline as seen at any given time of the day or night – the island’s profile view if one may say so.
The most mesmerizing part of the installation is the bent fiber optic parts of the installation portraying the night skyline of the city. Like diamonds on a bracelet of a fair lady, mimicking the lights of high-rises at night. This illumination comes more from the hopes of the millions who work endlessly, believing in this city’s ability to change their fortunes, than the mere flickering of light bulbs. Another innovative way in which Sheetal has used fibre optics is on the pillar depicting a tap with flowing water. The water falls like life enriching nectar and splashes off in droplets emphasizing the scarcity of the elixir in the city. The artist addresses each aspect of the city in her own view as she puts together one unique puzzle piece at a time of this multifaceted city.
Also on display are Sheetal’s paper and charcoal works. Being a print maker at heart, her works often exude a kind of need for depth and some element of distressing of the surface. In Sheetal’s case, this depth is achieved by carefully peeling off the membrane layers of the paper used. This is done in crisscrossing cuts and lines with a sharp razor. As the layers peel off delicately like veils lifted off of a truth hidden so deep that it is almost impossible to fathom the depth of it, so does the work exude a labyrinthine mystique. Added to this mystery are fine grooves, which are set in fine charcoal mists and sometimes in a whiff of watercolor. The paper works sometimes work as complete blocks emerging from a plain surface with all their complex reticulations while as the viewer gets closer, a feeling of diving deeper into it occurs.
There is a phenomenon in landscape painting and photography where the viewer’s eye is at once arrested by something set in the fore ground and then gently guided to the middle ground and then towards the background, constantly making the eye to wander about the whole pictorial surface, until the picture slowly reveals itself in its totality. This traversing of each ‘ground’ level is what moves the focus from one object, and brings in the peripheral vision contextualizing the whole picture. As Sheetal brings about different scenarios on the installation work, the everyday imageries, which actually form the true essence of the city, are brought to life.
There have been many other artists for whom Mumbai’s obvious and rare facets have been inspirational in their works. However, Sheetal’s formalisms are unique in their rendition, approach and involvement. What one would experience in Sheetal’s works, be they installations with drawings in charcoal, paint and fiber optics, or in her delicate and intense paper and charcoal works is that the eye of the viewer is guided through every angle and depth to reveal the complete picture. Though the image emerges in its entirety the mystery however, remains hidden and absolute.
The show ’46 pillars’ is on till 30th August 2016.
(Images courtesy: Chemould Gallery website and the internet)