In June, city-based artist Parvathi Nayar sent messages to Chennaiites requesting blue and white trash for an art project she was planning called ‘Wave’. As two bins filled up countless times at Alliance Française, its delighted director Pierre-Emmanuel Jacob said, “The place has become a collection point to talk about art.”
Curated by Goa-based art historian Lina Vincent, Nayar’s Atlas of Re-imaginings opened in August with the ‘Wave’ its pièce de résistance . In her inaugural speech to a packed Gallery Veda, actor Suhasini Maniratnam said: “In the digital world, we have forgotten the meaning of ‘persistence of vision’. Art is something we have to hold on to.”
Paying homage to Japanese artist Hokusai’s iconic The Great Wave , Nayar evokes its threatening persona to sound the alarm — the ocean throws back what we dump into it. Another artist may have suspended plastic bubbles to imitate The Great Wave ; Nayar insists on being faithful to its line. Madras Terrace Architectural Works helped devise the installation structure with plywood backing, support pegs, and CNC-cut forms.
Beauty out of the ugly
On the gallery’s second floor, an excited crowd surrounds the ‘trash-wave’ that stretches 16 feet wide and 9.5 feet high — made of Harpic and Lysol bottles, takeaway boxes, Aavin milk packets, pizza holders and all things white and blue literally stitched together. Nayar emphasises, “This belongs to all of us.” It does, in more than one way. Now more than ever, her show themed around water strikes a chord as neighbouring Kerala emerges from a deluge.
Interestingly, by asking the community to contribute, Nayar created public dialogue. As Nayar says, “I wanted to use what people gave me.” At the show, one little girl is fascinated: “How did you take such ugly things and make it so beautiful?” she asks, while her mother worries, “This is scary, we are using all this and it’s piling up.”
The impetus for Nayar to highlight environmental concerns came from her earlier experiments. First, her 2017 Haunted by Waters at DakshinaChitra about the Ennore Creek and Kosasthalaiyar river; and then she turned to the Adyar river, seeking out dumped waste — glass bottles, broken toys, light bulbs, toothbrushes, slippers — and created a giant kolam for DAMned Art, an Indo-German collaboration in Chennai earlier this year. “It was an angry work,” she says.
Playing with scale
Nayar’s practice is a strong indicator of the trend to merge design, art and craft. She rides the emerging spirit of collaboration,
involving animators, projection-mapping specialists and architects, so her art speaks in multi-dimensional forms. A collective engagement instead of the solitary artist making her own expression shifts the ownership to a larger populace, making others a part of what used to be an exclusive practice. Found material makes up 90% of her work, holding a mirror to society. For this show, she has also recreated A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘The River’, salvaging words from the city landscape into a performative video.
Nayar once said to me she is like an old-fashioned cave artist. But that has never stopped her from pushing the line. Her intense graphite on canvas comes from a passion to draw and a rebellion against technology’s instant gratification. She pioneered “drawn sculpture” with her 20-feet-tall A Story of Flight for Rajeev Sethi’s project Jai He at T2 Terminal in Mumbai.
The languorous line of Ajanta-Ellora sculptures, Jamini Roy’s strong folk line, the sinuous curves of Kerala murals, intricate miniature paintings, the Madras School and especially K.C.S. Paniker — all these influences culminate into her preoccupation with line, structure and scale. “I think mine is an Indian way of reading minimalism,” she says.
Playing with scale began at her 2006 Singapore show, Drawing is a Verb , where she placed a tiny work at the end of a corridor and on the opposite end, a large version — a NASA image of the surface of the moon. She forced viewers to go up close and then move further away, changing their perceptions.
Philosophy of space
For this show, the 22 drawings, videos and installations were done over four years. Water is everywhere — lotus pods, ripples, vertical spurts of fluid, diatoms (microalgae) and droplets of rain, NASA images of the triad of deltas (Brahmaputra, Ganges
and Indus). A perplexing stillness permeates it all, as if everything is in deep freeze. Nayar’s need to render controlled canvases is disturbing. You want to see something slip or quiver. Yet she counters, underneath the ostensible perfection, it is chaos. “I would say my art is the philosophy of space. I’m fascinated by science because I’m still asking these questions: Who are we? What are we made up of? Why are we here?”
Jacob Bronowski said: “The most remarkable discovery made by scientists is science itself. Like these earlier human creations (cave paintings and writing), science is an attempt to control our surroundings by entering into them and understanding them from inside.”
This serendipitous connect between writing, drawing and science best explains Nayar’s internalisation. In her own words, she is “looking beneath the surface of things, finding other worlds that co-exist with us.” Using science as a prism and technology as a tool, Nayar implores her drawings to come to life — animated poppy buds and QR codes let you view their movement. Discovering other worlds, she enters them with a subconscious intent to preserve, mimic and recreate, as if to find a new extension by drawing life. In this uncomfortable spot, she discovers awe, “It’s the thought that the world is so magical, not because it’s magic in that sense, but because of what it is.”
ON SHOW: Atlas of Re-imaginings , Gallery Veda, Chennai, till September 19
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