Artist Krishnaraj Chonat’s first solo show in the city is a take on the travel and tourism industry

Art is like a vast playground in which Krishnaraj Chonat rolls in fun playing with an array of material. Faux fur, Mysore sandal soap, binoculars, wood and chicken wire mesh, leather, a biological model of a skull are some of the toys the young artist is playing with in his exhibition “All sunsets are sunsets” at Nature Morte. Working in the quiet pace of Bangalore which is home to some of the finest contemporary art practitioners, Krishnaraj brings his first solo exhibition to the Capital. Though he has been around for quite some time — he debuted in the ’90s — he is having his solo in Delhi only now. Big time-consuming projects abroad, group shows and research, says the young artist, take up most of his time.

“My involvement with the work I produce is huge. Until it reaches the stage of what I had conceptualised, I keep redoing it. These processes take time. This work took me six months,” says Krishnaraj pointing to ‘Turquoise’, a sculpture in steel, fibre glass and fake fur. On a bed of stalactites — hanging downwards — is constructed a dilapidated house on which lies a pair of huge flippers, long flat rubber or plastic extensions of the feet that scuba divers wear.

Krishnaraj’s art is a discourse on changing landscapes and in this exhibition, he responds to the issue of new development through travel and tourism. Is a tourist really experiencing his surroundings or is it just a gaze because he has already come with so much information collected on the Internet? Are we looking or are we seeing? Do certain groups of people, like those travelling for leisure, behave differently? Does travelling entail wisdom as widely believed? Krishnaraj ponders over these questions through his paintings and sculptures making references to his own travels and tourist studies that showed up during his research.

“My concern is visual construct, the way we record visual memories…how I see things and how others see it. One way is to collect the data as to how you imagine that this is how a tourist wants to travel. Imagery, I realised, is the most powerful aspect in tourism. Here I generated imagery, which informs the aesthetics of my art,” says Krishnaraj, who studied printmaking at M.S. University of Baroda, but switched to sculpture as his “need and vision was much bigger than what printmaking offered.”

In another sculpture in the show, Krishnaraj has fashioned a hammock out of fur with painted clay in it and two mating turtles. At a distance is placed a burnt pair of binoculars, which stands as a metaphor for our pre-conceived notions. “When we go somewhere we already have so much of information. So are we really experiencing what we are seeing? How real is real today? They come with great packages offering a chance to ski in Dubai. Skiing in a desert? It’s as unreal as it can get. Experiences can be fabricated; so is our response to it. Then in some places they take you to show miners’ work. In your holidays you are going to see somebody else work. At some place we spend so much time seeing turtles mating, as if it is something so aesthetic and exotic. But isn’t it voyeuristic?”

There are layers in the use of fur as well, which has been there since his first sculpture. With fur he is dropping subtle hints about the environment and questioning the notions of ‘pristine white’ and ‘sinister black’. He, in fact, did a whole show challenging the notion of purity associated with white called “Sinister White”.

In ‘Anopheles Victorius’ he employs craft and industrial processes to create the military outfit of Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan. He died of malaria and that’s why the name ‘Anopheles Victorius’.

Another favourite material of his is Mysore sandal soap. The untitled work in the exhibition is a broken ship that has been made of wood, chicken wire mesh and a special kind of sandal soap. The soap with sandal oil and sandal dust has been made by a homeopathic doctor.

There are a few paintings on display as well, which too make reference to the altered landscapes. Over an illuminated Mysore palace hovers a tree. “A massive afforestation programme was taken up during the reign of Krishnaraja Wadiyar and Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, but nothing of that scale took place after that.” Krishnaraj employs an interesting technique to do his paintings. He wets the special printmaking paper and paints on it while it is wet. It results in a watercolour effect. “Strokes have to be spontaneous and there is no second chance available in this case.”

(The exhibition “All Sunsets are Sunsets” is on at Nature Morte Gallery, Neeti Bagh, till March 16)