Monday, 16 August 2010

Staple Fare - Pooja Iranna [review]

In an exhibition, titled, Of Human Endeavor: The Super Exposed City and the New Possibilities of Space, held at The Guild, Mumbai, from the 6th to the 22nd of August, 2009, Pooja Iranna presented drawings, digital photographs and sculptures that dealt with the theme of construction in the city. Over the past two decades, her work has evolved from fussy cardboard folds with thread to the meticulously ordered sculptures presented here, such as the series Converging/Segregating and Confluence, made with staple pins of the kind used in office stationery.

Iranna says that the haphazard construction projects around the city echo her “inner chaos”. However, this was not reflected in the show – what one saw here was a representation of symmetry and order. Digital photographs of scaffoldings and buildings under construction such as Untitled – II and III (2009) were virtually devoid of human beings. Despite the fact that such sites are invariably messy and disordered, Iranna’s carefully configured, clean, near-perfect photos ignored the chaotic nature of the urbanscape. Other photographs, like Reflective Energies – II (2008), showed glass and steel edifices elegantly converging in the sky. There was no acknowledgment of the debris and poverty-ridden streets that would have been below them. The acrylic-wax-pastel drawings Apex/Base I and II (2008) seemed to depict extreme close-ups of giant towers; the tiny bits of russet and deep grey in their crevices could have been rust. These black, white and grey works suggested the presence of corruption, but the point was too subtle to make an impact.

In her exploration of the city’s development, Iranna only focussed on externals. The fact that her ‘staple structures’ were devoid of people made them look particularly unreal. Gluing together stacks of staples – they fit together compactly to form rectangular pipes with which she created miniature steel edifices. Converging/Segregating – I (2008) was a 25 inches tall pyramid that would have been too perfect without the controlled striations and gentle unevenness of its surfaces. In Converging/Segregating – IV (2009), staple pins were organized to form box-like cells, evocative of both large multi-storey complexes and beehives.
Iranna’s choice of material for her sculptures was interesting because it suggested fragility, a quality we don’t associate with the building of gigantic edifices. The staple-works appeared delicate; adding to the appeal of what might otherwise have been representations of ghostly, abandoned structures. What was so unusual was that Iranna’s sculptures were made without altering her medium of choice – the staple pins looked like staple pins, yet they also looked like buildings.

For Iranna, using stacks of staples as building blocks was a meditative experience. Although she found their steely presence soothing, to viewers they appeared excessively sanitized. While her sculptures allude subtly to chaos – for instance, in the uneven surfaces of Converging/Segregating I and IV and the odd angles used to depict building blocks in Converging/Segregating – V – they did not capture the murderous world we live in. If art is meant to represent life, then Iranna’s show neither held up a mirror to it, nor offered a solution to its problems – it was too far removed from the realities of urban existence. Her artworks made for attractive conversation pieces but did not make a convincing artistic statement.

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