A few months ago I explored the idea of effigies - that ‘sculptural something’ put together rudimentarily as a representation of someone. At the same time I was interested in the pictorial surface as a contextual backdrop. The method and reasons of juxtaposition was by no means clear then. I started with the canvas, which had been for long absent in my studio, as that undisputed pictorial medium.

E: In effigies, as used in art, it is the ‘thingness’ that is accepted. The other more ephemeral approach of how artists can claim an image out of life contexts as inner image ‘imago’ lies in the precariousness and fragility in arriving at the decision, if it can be art at all, for the beholder as well. It gets its energy from this stretch of making up one’s mind. But then effigy and non-effigy approach to images is fictional. It is about classification.
In ‘Battarahalli Corner’, there is an effigy-like use of the tableau as image carrier and of the sculpture.

S: The walking tree trunk foregrounds the 2 panels that hang on the wall in which the cement sheet and plywood together make a simple space division that becomes representational when the eye joins the trajectories within each panel outside of their borders.

E: There is a togetherness of the classical notion of tableau and sculpture here, of hanging and standing. The loudness of the grid in ‘Manhole’ emphasizes the interplay of the effigy-like aspect of the canvas thing and what it depicts. The grid in a way is still between. It is still a part of the image carrier. The softness of the image is almost imprisoned in it.

S: That is echoed in the strict geometry of a stunted, split figure before it, broken by a broom squeezed between its parts. “The standing and hanging” together make an image for the beholder unlike in the ‘Pot Woman’ - the water seeker, who becomes the beholder of the canvas and its painted image.

E: The illusionary path into an image that you can walk into…

S: The interchangeable of head and the pot could be the singularity of mind and purpose towards that path.

E: In front of this tableau the beholder is like an opponent, some other.
In an installation like ‘It Stands Fallen’ it is not a one to one encounter.

S: The work does not allow that in its expanse- framing and unframing within itself and for each beholder, whose position and situation is not determined ever as being the same. The framing within that I refer to is the linear rectangle consisting of triangular shapes that is strung on 4 iron poles. This is the leftover of a large expanse of cloth, a pandal, whose center has been cut out in a jagged pattern, which then lies fallen to the ground.

E: The colour red is charged with many associations: Communism, workers movement… It is not just aesthetic.

S: Yes, in the beginning the redness was too emphatic for me. But ultimately it was a question of accepting all its implications. However the abstraction of colour is important.

E: The way the historical and the aesthetic come together, how far can one take away a colour from its loadedness?

S: I have hinted at this ambiguity through the presence of other bits of coloured fabric.

E: Visually, the installation is not just a construction that has been up and then fallen. The poles could never be upright in a low ceilinged space as this.

S: The intention was never to hitch a perfect pandal. It is of a moment - of attempting to be upright or of falling.
The triangular flags evoke a celebratory mood. This happens by the very act and moment of separation of the frame from its center, a center that I imagine as its content. This moment has pathos too.

E: It reminds me of what I saw in a museum, a battle description with relics, where it was not so much about losing or winning but that it was a battle where history was being made.
The similarity of ‘It Stands Fallen’ and of ‘A Shrine to the Black Square and other Abstractions’ is that the formal cannon of modernity is not the only significant.
The Black Square of Malevich, which he hung in the corner of a room, in the place of an orthodox religious icon in 1916, turned into the ultimate symbol of modernity.
You have taken it up again in the roofless shrine like house, evoking the connection of religion and abstract modernism.

S: When I looked at the black square I was aware of the canvas on which it was painted. I chose to read its material significance or insignificance. This led me to question its neutrality. While making an installation in the Sao Paulo Biennial using rubber sheets from the Amazon, with its violent history in Brazil and its link to other histories, I was inspired to paint the Malevich on such a sheet of rubber.
When the rubber is stretched, as one does canvas on a frame, the black square gets distorted.
The idea of laying images of modernity alongside those that seem to be modern around the base of the shrine, picks up on a practice in Bangalore where charged objects of former reverence are abandoned around temples or under trees. Shrines in south India are painted with red vertical bands. Painting stripes or using geometric forms is a modernist ruse, which in Islamic and tantric geometries have other cultural connotations.
E: As a critique of modernity a broader discussion is suggested to relook at animism, to read it in contemporary ways. ‘Modes and Manuals’ could be an attempt to experiment with this, an experiment that has to fail in the first place, but can trigger something through its questionability. It relinks to the gaze of a child.

S: Some of the pieces laid out on the low pedestal look like animist things having life beyond being objects. The modernist wooden painted pieces that hang alienated, like a necklace of charms over them, could contain the same belief.

Conversation between Sheela Gowda and Estee Oarsed

January 2016
New Delhi