At one end of the 40-feet table, Sudarshan Shetty places a television and a vinyl player, and on the other a microscope and an oil can. Everything else is in between. In the emptiness of the room, Shetty’s table seems to represent a world where stationary objects do not produce sound but share their stories in silence. Based on objects that he encountered in Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar and those in his own collection and that of friends, the domestic discards might be obsolete to several but Shetty feels they hold memories of the past. “It comes from the basic human instinct to preserve. The act of carving them in wood connects with our own idea of mortality. The monuments built in the memory of someone or even benches in the park named after someone are a way of remembering them,” says the Mumbai-based artist.
On display at Gallery Ske in Delhi, the titular installation Pieces Earth Left Behind features 99 such everyday objects, from a telephone to typewriter, shoes, torch, radio and a tiffin carrier — all carefully carved in teak wood by Shetty, accompanied by a book that tells a story alongside these objects. By making these part of the installation, he gives the objects an afterlife. “Looking back is important not just to make sense of the present but also the future,” says Shetty. The wood used is also reclaimed — it is collected from the remains of the demolition drive across Mumbai. “This is a way to include unknown stories and open ideas. We don’t know what homes these belong to,” adds Shetty.
For those in the Capital who attended his 2014 exhibition “every broken moment, piece by piece” with the same gallery, the showcase, in more ways than one, takes forward the thought he presented back then — that history is not static. If he recreates objects now, back then he had emphasised how broken objects don’t have to stay broken. He had meticulously combined wood and porcelain — two intrinsically opposite materials — to create single objects. “As a professional, I am an object maker but making objects is not a simple act because as soon as you make something and put it in an exhibition, it acquires a certain aura. Here I am working with discarded objects, which also reflect the source, and both the value systems are present in that object,” says Shetty. In the 2016 exhibition ‘Who Must Write These Lines’, we saw terracotta objects collected from the streets, and in the 2017 installation A Song, A Story — based on a folk tale from Karnataka — each element of the life-size wooden houses was acquired from Chor Bazaar.
The preoccupation with renewal is evident in Shetty’s works. As a student at the Sir JJ School of Art, Shetty recalls how he would visit flea markets. He would observe film posters being painted for hours and would recreate painted portraits from photographs. If in a student exhibition in college, he placed found objects alongside canvases, in his first major solo ‘Paper Moon’, at Rabindra Bhawan in Delhi in 1995, the installations were made of ropes and fibreglass, among other materials. “It is not just an idea that triggers a work but also the material that makes it possible,” says Shetty. Curator of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016, he is also currently showing his work at Akbank Sanat in Istanbul and displayed ‘Walking Away/ Coming Away’ at the recently concluded Istanbul Contemporary. “Every long road leads to the unknown,” says Shetty.
Meanwhile, visitors to his exhibition in Delhi return with a thought that Shetty very subtly plants — can we find art in what’s abandoned and cherish it?
The exhibition at Gallery Ske, A-4, Church/Mall Road, Vasant Kunj, is on till October 12.