Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Art in Steel

Steel in the realm of art is as yet a rather under-explored medium. Apart from some well known buildings by architect Frank Gehry (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao/ Chrysler building) and few breathtaking pieces by sculptor Anish Kapoor, it is familiar more for usage in the home. In India especially, stainless steel is commonly used as cutlery, cooking utensils and watches. This image has undergone considerable transformation with two recent shows sponsored by ‘The Stainless’ in New Delhi, curated by Dr. Alka Pande who says that steel today is not just a metal, it is evolving into a global language of art.

In the ‘Saptarishi’ show at India Habitat Centre, seven contemporary Indian sculptors were invited to engage with steel; drawing from their diverse backgrounds and schools of thought, to ‘stretch’ the “language of both the medium and the spirit of creativity”. The extravagant ideas that emerged from NN Rimzon, Shiv Verma, Vivek Vilasini, Karl Antao, Valsan Kolleri and Sumedh Rajendran, awakened the art going public to the potential of steel, as never before.
The scale of most of the exhibits commanded your attention, but as most of the artists were working with steel for the first time, it will be a while before they can make it speak evocatively. Anish Kapoor’s pieces are sophisticated by comparison and work well because the medium is used to explore ideas that he has worked with for decades. His work is also site specific, having a designed public space and interactive dimension. Although many of the pieces in ‘Saptarishi’ were grand in scale, they lacked the conviction of ‘Sky Mirror’ [2006, New York City] and ‘Cloud Gate’ [2004, Chicago].
In direct contrast to Kapoor’s seamless, expansive pieces, Vilasini explores the ornate filigree of silver artefacts, using water-jet lasers to cut unrelenting metal into delicate streams of pattern; devising dream like forms in ‘Too many fables on the ground’ [15’x 15’x 4’] and ‘Theatre of intervals’ [19’7” x 14’8” x 3’]. He seems at ease with the ‘design’ dimension of working with steel, where the concept has to be planned in advance then executed independently by engineers at the Jindal factory; while NN Rimzon expresses awkwardness at this distance from his otherwise preferred, personal involvement with creating. For Vibhor Sogani the shift occurs in the reverse, from the discipline of design towards freedom of expression as art. This orientation is evident in the body of work which is more innovative than expressive. By comparison Sumedh Rajendran, in his inimical visual language rooted in the everyday living of common folk, retains the imagery, texture and tone of his dialect, using the slickness of steel to enhance its meticulous crafting and telling.

Stainless steel with its natural lustre is pleasing, but it can also be put through processes to add various textures such as explored by Sogani in his exhibition ‘God and I’, held at ‘The Stainless’, that one did not find in ‘Saptarishi’. Despite this depth of exploration with the medium, Vibhor was unable to represent the intimacy of a dialogue with ‘God’ with his free standing and wall mounted works of varied scale and texture. His most successful piece was ‘Stroll’ where the artist appears to walk tentatively on roughly hewn bands of steel, suggestive of the beginning of a visceral intimacy that evokes a dialogue with God. However, this honesty is not represented in the other works, where he does not reveal his vulnerability in the relationship cited, allowing the different dimensions of steel to have their say instead. He has explored the physicality of the material in greater depth than the ‘Saptarishis’ but they have left a greater impression, for the sheer scale in size of the works which makes them unforgettable. Steel has undoubtedly left a mark, its stain indelible.

Gopika Nath
28th March 2008


gopika nath said...

Published Art India Mag - Aug 2008
Volume XIII isue 1 quarter 1 2008

gopika nath said...

Published Art India Mag - Aug 2008
Volume XIII issue 1 quarter 1 2008