Bare essentials

23 Nov
Vivan Sundaram’s latest homage to the feminine form may not be as flattering as his previous ramp show, says Time Out
This is not an exhibition for the faint-hearted. Renowned artist Vivan Sundaram is stripping his mannequins to the bare minimum, exposing bone, ligament and “innards”. It’s unique because in his last exhibition,GAGAWAKA: Making Strange in 2011, he dressed them up in sculptural garments that were made from found objects and trash. In POSTMORTEM, his latest exhibition that opens at Vadehra Art Gallery in the first week of November, he explores the seam-ier side of beauty and fashion.

The work has a slightly sinister layer to it, given that the mannequins are a human proxy. But perhaps the act of dressing and stripping mannequins to their bare bones is intentionally meant to stab the viewer. It is disconcerting, which may be the precise reaction that Sundaram intends to induce. Notably, Sundaram has been quite preoccupied with the “feminine mystique” for the latter half of his career, and most of his photo-graphy montage, most famously, Retake on Amrita, revolves around his late aunt, the famed painter Amrita Sher-Gil, who indulged in a lot of self portraits and was constantly photographed in front of mirrors.

For this work, he has referenced Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson” as he splices open inanimate figures; the operation table is a basic ply-board bench that gets converted into a coffin, closet, frame, and supports the work. “The work alludes to a process of examination where the body is cut up,” Sundaram said. “It is in direct opposition to my previous work where sculptural garments were fitted for models, actors and dancers and executed in a ramp show. What I am interested in now is to get back to the support and structure of the body. The inanimate object references mannequins in shop windows that possess their own brand of sexuality. By representing them as sculptures, the objects acquire a cross-over into new life. I have not just used mannequins but three-dimensional medical models usually employed as teaching aids. The intention is to dig deeper.”

Does this work hold continuity with his Retake on Amrita series? “There is an aura, history and representation of Amrita that she constructed herself. I just carried it over into a new avatar. In this instance, I have opened a Pandora’s box of interpretations: there is a range of emotion, deathly tenderness and violence that is foreground in this work.”

Sundaram had been contem-plating POSTMORTEM for a while but was involved in another project. “I have only been working on it since June,” he said. “I had two wonderful assistants, M Pravat and Balagopalan, who helped me. Without their involvement and technical know-how, I would not have been able to do it.” With their help, Sundaram reconfigured six-foot and 12-foot pedestals he used for his ramp shows into cupboards and coffins. Video clips of the ramp show GAGAWAKA are played alongside the sculpture as a reference to his earlier work.

Sundaram termed the work post-surrealist and when we investigate further we realise that this is not just fancy terminology. “Post surrealism uses a lot of juxtaposition and collage works that foregrounds desire, fantasy and eroticisms present in the collage,” he said. “One dislocates reality; there is a leg where a hand should have been or a head bereft of its body. It’s a violent surrealist reference. By cutting up the body I am intentionally bringing in disjuncture.” Shaking us out of our reverie where beauty and desire converge, Sundaram resorts to shock treatment for his viewers in his new work.
By Georgina Maddox on November 08 2013 6.54am

 

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