Selina Oakes reviews Ikon gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indian artist Sheela Gowda.
Resembling abstract cut-outs from a constructivist painting, Sheela Gowda’s newest work draws an unwavering line between geometric form and everyday materials. The circular bowls that litter Ikon’s concrete floor – lain down in a choreographed and communal manner – bare the markings, scathes and scratches of their previous life as metal drums used to transport resin and oil across vast distances. Flattened into uniform sheets and reformed into traditional ‘Bandlis’ – objects used to carry building materials in India – these pieces create a synergy between mass transportation and individual craftsmanship. Whilst the sourcing of these materials remains undisclosed to the viewer, there is a sense of a conscientious recycling of materials and skill-sets.
Much of Gowda’s work looks at handmade processes – typically those from her hometown of Bangalore – and how, in a fast-paced and technology-driven society, these local skills can be revered, transferred and shared with new audiences. At Ikon, the bowls within Gowda’s walk-through installation have been shaped by hand-operated machines; their perforated counterparts lay propped on the walls to provide a ‘workshop’ aesthetic. Whilst tarnished with abrasion and rust, the drums’ original colours are used to their optimum potential; they become layered, sculptural gradients reminiscent of a symmetrical Rodchenko graphic revamped into three-dimensions by a John Chamberlain workmanship aesthetic. The material’s uneven surface is made uniform through Gowda’s composed pulling together of objects. This also reflects on themes of community; the bowls in particular resonating with the mechanics of a communal meal.
An interconnecting room filled with plaster-covered objects creates a displaced purgatory; one that is colourless and almost formless as the white props fade into their stark background. The familiar shapes of bowls can be distinguished amongst items that resemble piping – all of which lay propped unceremoniously on the outskirts of the space. The viewer’s desire to rejoin a sense of colour is met by vivid, jauntily-cut bunting which half-heartedly clings to a collapsing black frame. Oddly enough, this make-shift assemblage – titled It Stands Fallen – simultaneously hints at a dystopian abandonment of place as well as a celebratory and ritualistic space. The intentional convergence of abstract line and colour creates an installation where interior and exterior aesthetics collide: the red pigmented fabric provides a reminder of the domestic and handmade, whilst its unsteady support enables the bunting to pour outwards, into a violently-strewn pile on the floor.
Opposite, a riot scene of lawyers throwing stones at the media, and in conflict with the local police, suggests a breakdown of society; their censored eyes adding an element of obscurity and anonymity – a visual that displaces culpability and is perhaps suggestive of the media’s irresponsible free reign across digital platforms. This vast print, which spans the width of the room co-occupied by It Stands Fallen, contrasts harshly with the highly sculptural and handmade aesthetic of Gowda’s other pieces. It does, however, establish a political and social backdrop with which these handmade traditions and rituals must now compete; perhaps Gowda’s intention is to illustrate the potential of age-old craftsmanship to reference humankind’s ever-changing yet cyclical way of life.
The exhibition runs until 3 September 2017.