Review: The Beauty Trap/ Parag Tandel / Sushma Sabnis:
Artist Parag Tandel in his solo show ‘Chronicle’ on at Tarq art gallery, presents a beautiful picture of the ugliness behind industrialisation and environmental pollution at the altar of progress, observes Sushma Sabnis.
When news alarms us that acres of live coral reefs are dying, unable to withstand the rising temperatures of the oceans around a continent far away from ours, we tend to ignore it as news from ‘the other side’. But realisation dawns when horrifying fumes of truth, are swept up by the same ocean waves each day much closer to home, at our own shelves, in every creek, backwater and ground water too.
Artist Parag Tandel moulds pieces of this horrifying truth, culled from his memory of a faceless monster birthed out of years of neglect and abuse, giving it sculptural identities in his solo titled ‘Chronicle’ at Tarq gallery, Mumbai.
A minimalistic presentation greets the viewer at the gallery space where a dozen turtles form a circle as a sculptural installation on the floor. Though intriguing, these are not here for decorative purposes. There is a hint at resilience and the apparent decoding of survival instincts in this work. Also hinting at the ability of turtles to migrate over long distances to better climes when the environment becomes hostile. The artist also suggests turtles as emblems of hope of ‘winning a race’ which is the mantra of today’s competitive times.
Parag has heard and seen his share of marine immigrants in his surroundings over the years, in Chendani Koliwada, Thane, where mudskippers, dolphins and other marine beings coexisted with the vegetation and humankind. That was until industrialisation and globalisation gnawed away at the shores of the ecosystem grabbing what it could use and destroying what was of no utility. From mudskippers to turtles, from dolphins to mangroves, from air, sand, water to the very livelihood of the fishing communities, everything paid a hefty price for this ‘progress’.
The works of Parag sit precariously at the precipice of a twilight zone that a community and humankind as a whole face when all but a few choose to keep the faith in its resurrection. It often is a losing battle. But through these numerous losses arises a wisdom which the artist embeds within his solid, evocative sculptures.
Parag uses man-made resin mixed with kilograms of irony to create his sculptures. When an artist uses a man-made non-biodegradable (200 years to biodegrade) medium to deliver his sharp take on the degradation of his surrounding, one is left asking questions as to what prods this irony and choice of medium. The answers are perhaps evident in the large translucent duodenal forms, some clear and others with bubbles and drops of alizarin, like blood, bulbous and elegant at once, which mimic recognisable forms. We know they are reminiscent of marine animals. We know how those would appear swimming in pristine waters with the sun glittering on their skins, their suspended pelagic existences, transfixing us the instant we gaze upon them in their beauty of lithe forms, colours and absolute vulnerability.
But then, the dreamy box jellyfish, the most beautiful marine animal, with its translucent body, bioluminescence and graceful movements, also has the most lethal venom in its delicate petalled tentacles. In the animal and plant kingdom, beauty often acts as a trapping device for a prey rather than the poet Keats’ version of ‘a thing of beauty’. This is probably the reason why Parag’s works, however beautiful and striking, are absolutely unsettling. They invoke within the viewer a certain amount of caution, while they exude a luminosity which can barely be ignored.
The artist uses memory as a resource to portray beauty and deceit and beauty ‘as’ deceit, as he recreates the striking colours of effluent discharges and chemical wastes from factories and industries discarded and lying pooled up along the creeks. The colours he recalls are ethereal, but lethal for the environment causing the slow but definite degradation of the delicate symbiotic relationships between flora, fauna and humankind.
The viewer is pulled into a dystopian universe where such ‘beauty’ dominates in resplendence of colours and forms, seemingly harmless, but which could be utterly fatal for life on earth. It is a painful revelation that these works are chronicled by an astute observer with an imagination, attempting to address the traumatised sensitivities of not just one community, but of fast vanishing symbiotic ecosystems all over the world. The rapid fire globalisation is the main cause, yet the balance has tipped faster and firmly over the past few decades as avarice and ignorance triumph over detached recklessness. Parag has chosen to document these happenings in his multi layered works, not just in the process of using resin as a medium but as a thought process behind the series he has worked upon in the past few years.
Parag responds on multiple levels, to the issues of bygone sensibilities and native knowledge, gleaned from the stories of his parents and relatives in the Koli community of the creek. Also as he witnesses the move from an organic eco-friendly life style towards one with absolute disregard for the environment. In some of his works, he brings out the memory of primitive methods of fishing adopted with simple techniques, like beating the surface of the water with bamboo sticks so as to agitate the shoals of fish into the single layer net placed across the banks. This method could hardly be compared to trawlers which dredge the backwaters to find all kinds of catch in turn disrupting the multi-layered ecologies of life forms inhabiting these areas.
In his earlier works with found objects, Parag has made more direct correlations between the economic and environmental imbalances with respect to his community and the surrounding areas. However, in these new works, he has unraveled another side of the human race which could be seen as the cause of all the imbalances and disruptions. For example, while all are fully aware of the harm caused by plastics – a man-made product, everyone continues to use it in any and every form, right up to water storages. The artist sees this as a necessary addiction, as multi-billion dollars industries and perhaps a nation’s commerce flourishes in the perpetration of it. It is no more about nature versus progress, but nature versus human greed. He believes that these issues have to be addressed less by activism, and more by understanding, education and awareness.
Artist Parag Tandel finds the root cause of the destruction of life and living forms through his multiple engagement with the environment which has nurtured him so far. Through constant community and individual projects, and his art works, he tries to question the disparities and existential problems which plague urban sensibilities today. While his works take root from the predicament of his community, his expression could be applied to any and every community which once relied on the environment for their livelihood hence relaying it as a global issue. His works anchor themselves in the wisdom that nature, though changeable, is a constant, and that humankind is a mere variable.
The show ,’Chronicle’ is on till 10th September 2016.
( Images courtesy: artist Parag Tandel, Tarq art gallery and the Internet)