Arunkumar’s art is aesthetic and meaningful

The two drop-shaped installations on the wall of the Lalit Kala Akademi are mostly blue, but there are also occasional bursts of red and yellow, a few greens and some whites. Move closer and you will realise why — they are composed of bottle-caps: the blues are obviously from discarded water-bottles, the others from soft-drink bottles of varying shades and sizes.

“It helps your story when the material speaks for itself,” points out its creator, artist Arunkumar HG, who is part of the Goethe Institut’s ongoing DAMnedART project.

The form is important, of course — the sight of two drops of water, christened Hollow Drops, certainly gets one thinking — but recognising the material that it is made of is even more thought-provoking.

“These guys (the manufacturers of the bottles and the caps)are responsible for much of our water problems. And it’s a nice way of putting it, without naming anyone,” he says.

A large picture, spread across the wall, depicts a bright polychromatic installation beside the Cooum River, a mock-up of what the project was supposed to be. Titled Droppings and the Dam(n), the large-scale installation created out of the same material (bottle caps), was first part of a 2014 group show in Delhi. It also went on to be exhibited in 2016 at the Sculpture by the Sea event in Denmark. “I made the work thinking of a location like that,” says Arunkumar, admitting that the Cooum would have been an ideal location.

Putting it together
  • Take an object / Do something to it / Do something else to it. [Repeat.]
  • (Jasper Johns, sketchbook note, 1964)
  • Assemblage involves the putting together of often-disparate everyday objects to create something, often anti-aesthetic, always unsettling. It possibly goes back to Picasso’s cubist constructions, starting with his Still Life 1914, but was also a part of art movements like Dadaism and Surrealism.

The huge, undulating installation, composed out of nearly a 1,00,000 bottle caps wired together, isn’t just aesthetically appealing; it raises multiple questions on sustainability and consumerism. “I collected all these in 4-5 months from the society I live in,” says the Delhi-based artist.

He carries his own steel bottles and avoids buying bottled water; but he constantly carries a bottle cap (he pulls one out from his pocket) to highlight how ubiquitous they are. “The situation is such that even if you want to avoid it, you end up using plastic,” he says.

Roots and longing

He was born in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district, which lies mostly in the Malnad region of the Western Ghats: a once-pristine biodiversity hotspot known for both its natural heritage and its cultural history. “It used to be a very vibrant ecosystem, but we have built the dam and submerged hectares of green forest for electricity.”

He went on to complete both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Fine Arts from Baroda, specialising in sculpture and then working for the Rubbabu brand, a company that makes toys out of rubber foam. “Latex foam is non-toxic and 100 % biodegradable,” says Arunkumar, who was designing toys for the company till around 2014. Not only did it help him finance his other art projects, but it also offered him the experience of working in an industry.

He has participated in a number of solo as well as curated exhibitions, using a plethora of ecelectic objects ranging from ceramics, polythene bags, discarded toys, fibreglass, biscuit wrappers, burnt matchsticks and more. “These are testimonials of our consumerist society and you wonder what to do with these. Then you start questioning and exploring ways to find answers,” he says

The SARA project

An additional video, playing on loop in the gallery, takes you into his hometown, Shivamogga, the centre of his latest project, the SARA (Sustainable Alternatives for Rural Accord) Centre. His family owned land there, farms that were once surrounded by forests that were, “the feeder of nutrition,” as he says. Now, unfortunately, the ecosystem has changed completely and the nutrition is coming from fertilizers. “Five years back, I realised that it was my responsibility to respect and restore it. It is almost an artwork for me.”

The website of the project describes SARA Centre’s primary objective, “to engage people through the arts, to reclaim the power of images and other creative expressions and, to amend the unsustainable practices of today.”

The centre hosts a number of programmes that drive the message of sustainability and conservation, including residency programmes, participatory learning, discourses with experts, media and communication productions, and showcasing visual and performance art.

Describing one of their interesting initiatives, a five-day-long eco-walk that covered a 157 km stretch over 40 odd villages and engaged about 25,000 schoolchildren, he says, “They kept joining as we went from town to town,” as video footage of long lines of children walking with bright posters flashes on the screen before us.

Engaging with and involving children in conservation efforts is key to creating a better world, believes Arunkumar. Take, for instance, the way we look at the cost of electricity.

“The Government cost is ₹ 4-5/unit, but the environmental cost is huge. If a child knows how much it is, he will go and switch off the light: he will not risk his future.”

DAMnedART is being held at the Lalit Kala Akademi till March 4 between 11 am and 9 pm daily.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 6:26:58 PM |

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