Flour, yeast, eggs, spices…Anjali Srinivasan challenges the technical and conceptual boundaries of glass art with her alchemical approach. T. Krithika Reddy talks to the artist

When Anjali Srinivasan opens the scorching kiln, there's fire in her eyes. Her full-blown romance with glass is apparent as she braves unbelievable temperatures and carefully takes out a red-hot piece of work, lovingly examines it and puts it back.

Living the choice she's made, Anjali believes in fearless experiments that transcend traditional associations with glass art. Studio glass is passé. Her work reflects a post-glass sensibility that engages the audience in more ways than one.

Many moons ago, when Anjali Srinivasan's “Depths of Field” was showcased at Apparao Galleries, it had onlookers wondering “How is this glass?” With a complex interplay of light and form, the panels used brought a new dimension to artistic expression with glass.

At another exhibition last month, a show-stopping dress in pink-peach tones evoked the same response: “How is this glass?” The brown, mirror-ised glass and silicone dress took the medium far beyond its staid function of sculpting pretty bowls and prettier show pieces. It proved the artist's creative impulses that match the mercurial character of her material.  

A NIFT-ian who wanted to specialise in accessory design, Anjali decided to take a detour when she was disillusioned with the gnawing gap between the artisans and the clientele. She chanced upon the glass craftsmen of Firozabad and was fascinated by glass as a creative medium with infinite possibilities. It was the beginning of a journey that took her to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and later across the globe to various artist residencies. She has also lectured and demonstrated her work/findings at a host of happening institutions, before returning to Chennai. “I've merely followed my interests. Education equipped me with the skills and attitude I needed to find my way in the world. And I'm still searching…”

What? Puffy Glass?

Imagine a concoction of glass and baking ingredients such as flour, yeast and eggs! Puffy Glass, a significant experiment by Anjali, is the result of her research in ‘particle activism' as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. “I've not patented it. I'm far more interested in people using it and expanding its aesthetic and technical vocabulary. It's a greater victory if such a weird substance were to make it to the pantheon of art materials than a patent that does not let others play with it.”

The quintessential Anjali creation defies easy definition. Her Quiver Vessel with its fluid motion sets off an “Object Monologue” while unpacking. Re: Flexion. A Breathing Glass Blob seems spooky — a mirror-ised, cracked glass object inhales and exhales in response to human touch! (Check out YouTube for both.) “It demands a retake of one's gaze, followed by puzzlement on HOW exactly this is possible, which is great because it manages to engage people. The Quiver Vessels are translucent and made from very thin, reflective, (convex) blown glass mosaic on the inside and rubber on the outside. They quiver under the influence of gentle force… even a mild breeze or a finger poke. It's a conundrum for onlookers. The quirks lie in their intimate interactions with it. The most common reaction is “Noooo… I know what glass looks like. How is this glass?”

Andy Warhol grant

This recurring question takes us to Anjali's curatorial project “How is this glass?” “It was started to show what glass CAN be. The Arts Writers Grant Program, presented by Creative Capital and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, aims to support writers whose work addresses contemporary visual art through project-based grants given to individual authors. Yuka, another artist, and I got the grant to conduct research and publish a blog about emerging practices in glass that are changing the face of centuries of glass-making and opening the field to hybrid practitioners. For me, it's simply a search for answers as to where and how my work, a curious amalgamation of hot glass, emerging technologies and spices (yes, she uses spices!), fits into convention and new media channels of dissemination. We started it to find more people like ourselves (post-glass artists) so we feel less lonely in the world!”

Teaching, her calling

Though Anjali returned to India to focus on her work (her studio is located at SIDCO's Women's Industrial Park, off Pallavaram), her heart lies in teaching. “I believe it's my true calling. I will always remain in academics. Even now, I'm a research fellow at the University of Sydney, where I offer my experience to students and the University's resources and faculty support development of my work. It's a neat nexus between pure research and the real world. The conversations I find in academia are different from the ones I find in galleries or product circles.”

Though she returned to India only last year, Anjali has already made an impact on the art scene here. On the basis of her “Of Shifting Natures” show in New Delhi, she was chosen as one of the top 20 artists for The Skoda Prize 2011 for Indian Contemporary Art. Again, the “unusual behaviour” of her works that “challenges the threshold of human perception…” is the talking point.

Ask her about where the post-glass movement is headed, and she says, “It's not pre-determined. Instead it simply opens up the playing field to anyone who has a refreshing approach to the material. Post-glass artists break the mould of studio-based glass objects and extend the conversation and outcome of artistic thought into performance, ephemera, video…”

As for the glass art scene in India, Anjali says, “There are two things. First, a heritage whose remnants lie in Firozabad, Purdilnagar, Papanaidupet, etc. This is essentially a craft-based industry, comprising many families familiar with the skill of glass-making, catering to a production chain of mainstream economics and less of individual freedom of expression. I've worked with some of them over the past decade, have huge respect for their skill. Second, there are the studio artists and hobbyists who are beginning to explore the material. Unfortunately, this is a scattered bunch, unable or unwilling to have frequent conversations and build momentum in the field.”

The path-breaking artist has received The International Project Grant from The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. It intends to provide the recipient the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that will directly benefit their home country. “Now, I'm in the process of identifying disadvantaged women who I can train and help them earn a livelihood.”

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012