According to Vadodara-based artist Chinmoy Pramanick, his work is positioned at “the interstices of illusion and reality”. Visitors to the grounds of MS University’s faculty of fine arts in 2004 must have got a sense of it when they came across his sculpture titled Inherent Disease. What they saw was a gigantic human ear, sculpted in the earth, stretched across some 25ft of ground. With sinuous lobes and a whorled interior deep enough for a man to stand in, the piece effected a fantastic transformation between earth and flesh, bringing this work of a young sculptor—then a student set to graduate with a master’s degree in fine arts—into conversation with a millenia-old tradition of sculpture that has long transformed the earth and its bones into human shapes.
For an artist just setting out to establish himself, the piece was remarkable, instantly appealing with its outsized and out-of-place juxtaposition, and, at the same time, evocative of something darker and more complex, raising questions about the human body, about the tools we use to perceive and represent the world, about the “unfaithful objects” all around us. Even back then his work was attracting attention, drawing the eyes of India’s most influential private collectors, launching Pramanick early into the high-stakes game of the contemporary art scene in India.
Sculptor’s eye: Pramanick’s works are part of the Devi Art Foundation. Photograph: Looking Around
Delhi’s gallery goers will get a chance to see for themselves when the doors open at Urgent: 10ml of Contemporary needed!, a group show co-sponsored by the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art and New Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery. The show, from 14-27 August at the Travancore Art Gallery, will also provide an opportunity to place Pramanick’s latest work in context, seen alongside pieces by some of his most edgy young contemporaries, all chosen by a panel of judges that includes Subodh Gupta, Atul Dodiya and Shilpa Gupta.
Pramanick’s Looking Around is a large panel of wood set back in a frame, its surface enamelled in clouds of black and grey smoke over a toxic pink sky. An etched plate of zinc, riddled with holes in the shape of coffins, spews out a column of smog like a dystopian volcano. The wood around it is studded with fake onyx and stylized stick-on eyes that are used for religious icons, bearing mute witness to the unfolding scene of post-industrial environmental collapse.
Looking Around by Chinmoy Pramanick
The piece is at once a diorama and a shadow-box, a sculpture and a painting—a mixed-media work designed to tell a story that requires new, hybrid forms of artistic language.
Dedicated sculptors are something of a rarity among successful contemporary Indian artists. Far more common is the phenomenon of an artist who has already made a name in another medium, usually painting, branching out into object-based pieces, sculptural ensembles for solo shows that sit beside their paintings like side dishes next to a main course.
Thirty-one-year-old Pramanick, by contrast, approaches his shows with a sculptor’s sensibility, as much tactile and material as visual and conceptual. The resulting body of work stands out: Pramanick is comfortable using multiple media and blending large-scale abstraction with realistically rendered details, taking on themes that resonate in the swiftly changing environment of modern India, as well as with deeper historical currents in the arts of South Asia and beyond.
And the freshness of his vision hasn’t gone unnoticed: With his works already in important private collections such as Anupam Poddar’s Devi Art Foundation, and with two national awards under his belt—the prestigious Kashi Award for Visual Art in 2006 and ART India’s Promising Artist Award in 2007—Pramanick has become an artist to watch out for in what is fast becoming a crowded field.
Anoop Skaria and Dorrie Younger, the owners and curators of Kashi Art in Kochi, remain deeply impressed by the work of an artist whose early accomplishments earned him the juried national award for young artists that their organization administers: “We appreciate the fact that he works without limitation of space and/or material; many of his artworks can not be shared within the confines of a gallery space.”
The strengths in Pramanick’s art derive from its roots in a sculptor’s fascination with material objects and the complex relations we form with them. It may come as a surprise then to learn that for this artist, the journey from concept to form begins with words: “When I start thinking about a work most of the time the title comes first.” For Pramanick, the title is a crucial part of his artistic practice because, on the one hand, it acts as a catalyst for the development of the work, and on the other, it is a “clue” to shape but not limit the experience of the viewer. In the case of Pramanick’s first solo show, held last year at GallerySKE in Bangalore, that word was “Germs”. The show grappled with the problem of human desire, the way it feeds on dissatisfaction and consumption, proliferating like a contagion.
One of the highlights of the show was an untitled piece: a large stainless steel replica of a vitamin capsule embedded with consumer items, all of them promising empowerment, self-improvement, and comfort, a spray can of deodorant marketed to young men, a tiny superhero doll, a teddy bear. On a thematic level, the artist is making a point about how difficult it is to keep the several meanings of the word “consume” separate—we take in these objects, internalize them, make them our own, hoping for self-transformation just as surely as we pop a vitamin pill and hope for health. On a material level, the production of the piece required Pramanick to engage with the same economic forces that form its theme: He took store-bought ready-made objects and placed them in a shiny stainless steel casing that was custom-built in a factory.
In a final twist, the work re-enters the market, carrying within it both telltale references to the world of commerce and a compelling critique of it. The work itself is, literally and figuratively, a “capsule” entering the body public, an artistic “object of desire”, but one that never lets us forget that it can be tough to distinguish between medicine and a poison pill.
For an artist standing at the threshold of an Indian art market that entices newcomers with its own powerful dreams and promises, the lesson is salutary, and timely.
Urgent: 10ml of contemporary needed! at Travancore Art Gallery, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi, from 14-27 August.