Amotley assortment of objects greets the eye as you enter Delhi’s GallerySKE. An old rotary telephone shares space on a table with a mortar and pestle and a vinyl record player. Another corner of the table has a bulky Cathode ray tube television and a typewriter. Crafted painstakingly in reclaimed teak wood, the objects seem imprints of the past. Imbued with a certain graininess, the golden-brown sheen of the wood gives them a sepia-tinted glow.
Every viewer reacts differently to the objects. Some linger near the record player, discussing songs that their parents would hum while listening to a vinyl. Others are fascinated by the mini bulb horn that used to be a common fixture on cars and buses in the 1960s-70s.
Each object evokes a memory, leaving the work open to interpretation. And this is exactly what artist Sudarshan Shetty set out to do in his ongoing exhibition, pieces earth left behind. “Usually, a lot of effort goes into meaning, making and taking the conversation into a convergence of about a certain idea. I am trying to do the reverse by opening up the work for different kinds of stories to emerge out of it," says Shetty. This is why he has used reclaimed teak wood to carve these replicas. Sourced from dismantled structures in and around Mumbai, the wood carries within it stories of homes and families. “Using the wood is a way of bringing in those stories to trigger one’s imagination. It can also represent our collective idea of a past," says Shetty.
The artist has been working with objects collected over the years from flea markets in Mumbai. In fact, he has been going to the Chor Bazaar since his student days in the early 1980s. This long-term engagement with discarded objects has resulted in several exhibitions in the past. For a 2004 one, Shift, held in Mumbai, Shetty collaborated with architects Shantanu Poredi and Manisha Agarwal. The team designed a collapsible building in which the empty shell fell to reveal a giant footprint covered with representations of everyday objects, evoking memories of a flea market. Another series from the show Leaving Home, featuring models of human organs and objects, carved in marble and wood and cast in bronze, was shown at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2008.
“This is an exercise in recalling things that are lost or are on the way to being lost," he says. Shetty also brings an element of theatre to his work. For instance, he bought vases, broke them, mapped the cracks and completed them with wood. “I create these situations in the studio and then present it as something that refers to the real. It’s actually the playing out of a story or theatre in that sense," he says.
These works are also a quip or a joke on the idea of the art object and its function. In this show, the objects have been removed from their functional context and symbolic meaning and reused as props for a performance of our everyday lives. “These opposite notions exist within the same space. Also, these have been carved with a lot of effort. But the way these have been displayed plays against their ‘preciousness’," he says.
When one comes across representations of a worn-out pair of sneakers or an old set of skates, one wonders who might have owned them. But by leaving out the answers, Shetty leaves the stories to one’s imagination. “Thus, these become everybody’s stories. The object, or the memory associated with it, is not any one person’s alone. The work allows you to get out of that proprietorial space—the story is as much mine as it’s yours," he says.
Pieces earth left behind is on view at GallerySKE till 5 October.