Next Generation Post Minimalism—Ranjani Shettar at SFMOMA

By LIZ
HAGER

ranjani-shettar

Ranjani Shettar, Sing
Along
, 2008-9, steel, muslin, kasimi, tamarind kernel
powder paste, shellac, and lacquer, dimensions variable. (Photo ©
author.)

Though consisting of only six works, Ranjani
Shettar’s current exhibition of recent works at SFMoMA shows off
the depth and range of her capabilities. The sculptural
installations and prints on display demonstrate her considerable
technical agility. But it’s her wondrous imagination with its
complex references to art and the world around her that really
impresses. These references are often subtle to the point of
abstruseness. Luckily, though, initial enjoyment of the
pieces doesn’t require a knowledge or understanding of all the
references. The lacy Sing Along consists of
half a dozen or so wrapped wire pieces, all of which protrude from
the gallery walls or hang from the ceiling. Hanging is a Shettar
conceit. In Just a bit more (2005), the
artist used bee’s wax and thread dipped in tea to express the
beauty in humble materials; in Sun-sneezers blow light
bubbles
(2007-8) she first used the materials in Sing
Along to contrast the fragility of bubble forms with the strength
of the underlying armature. Shettar has remarked previously that
the purpose of hanging a work is to engage gravity in its ultimate
shape (downward tension dictates). Still, in regard to
inspiration for hanging sculpture, one can’t help thinking of Calder‘s
wire figures. The Sing Along grouping beckons
viewers into its space; it creates an active environment with the
gallery room, which promotes viewer exploration (rather than
passive gazing) of the work. In this and other regards, Shettar
carries on in the tradition of many post-minimalist artists, which
though not linked together tightly enough to form a movement, have
concerned themselves with incorporating the handmade with the
repetitive, mechanicalness of traditional Minimalist work. Among
those post-minimalist practices which Shettar adheres to are the
use of every day objects (Tom
Friedman
), a focus on the sheer tactile beauty of an
object (Anish
Kapoor
), as well construction of abstract forms through
the hand-made “touch” (Eva
Hesse
, Martin
Puryear
). Shettar typically mixes industrial materials
with traditional craft techniques, although she downplays too much
meaning of the latter in her work. In an interview last year
with John
Eastman
, she remarked: ” I am constantly observing
materials around me and looking at possibilities. For me my
materials do not have to always come from an art supply store, they
could be from anywhere. I often look at craft material and also use
craft techniques as they are generations old and refined. I use
materials that can convey and add to my idea. . . Every
material has uses and associations that are particular to each one
of them and so they bring in their own meaning into works.” In the
case of Sing Along, a wire armature is wrapped
with muslin coated in tamarind paste, a glue used both in textile
printing in India and in painting wood by the toymakers of Kinnala.
Shettar made a special pilgrimage to this village to learn the
technique. The textile element is subtle; without a close look at
the piece, the pieces might be mistaken for iron or patina bronze.
Sing Along takes its inspiration from the
koel, the long-tailed cuckoo common in SE Asia and Australia,
which, no doubt because of its distinctive call, was at one time a
popular Indian cagebird. The koel is referred to as a “brood
parasite,” because the female usually lays her single egg in the
nests of other birds, sometimes removing existing host eggs
beforehand. The host bird raises the fledging along with her
chicks, apparently no one ever the wiser. Other than the
black finish of the sculpture, which mimics the male bird’s coat,
there is nothing that overtly references this particular bird.
Armed with deeper knowledge, one wonders what about the bird
specifically inspired Shettar—was it the female’s speckled coat,
its parasitic nature, the call? No matter, birds generally
are in evidence throughout the piece. Once the source of the title
is clear, feather shapes and spread wings abound.

ranjani-shettar-1

Ranjani Shettar, Sing
Along
(detail). (Photo © author.)

Truth be
told, however, this viewer walked away from Sing
Along
obliviously satisfied in the belief that the
installation referenced salmon swimming arduously through glinting
rushing streams toward their spawning grounds. Therein lies the
clever beauty of Shettar’s pieces; no matter what your frame of
reference, they still speak to you. Note: Don’t miss Shettar’s
Me, no, not me, buy me, wear me, have me, me, no, not
me
piece on SFMoMA’s new rooftop garden.
Wider Connections More Ranjani
Shettar
Holland Carter—Art
in Review: Ranjani Shettar
Shettar at the Museum
of Modern Art, Dallas

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: