Black and White Program

Artists of the 55th Carnegie International: Ranjani Shettar

June 6th, 2008 by John Eastman

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Ranjani Shettar is a young Indian artist currently working in Bangalore, India. Her artwork has been exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA; Ninth Lyon Biennale in Lyon, France; and the XV Sydney Biennale in Sydney, Australia. Currently her work can be seen at “Life on Mars: 55th Carnegie International” in Pittsburgh, PA.

You were born in Bangalore, India, and you continue to work there?
SHETTAR: Yes, I do.

You were trained as a sculptor in Bangalore?

And you’re represented by Talwar Gallery in New York?
SHETTAR: That’s right.

detail of Just a Bit MoreDo you primarily live and work in Bangalore now?
SHETTAR: For the moment, yes. But, I’m in the process of shifting to the countryside, so I also work from there.

What is it like being an artist in Bangalore? I know there are quite rural areas in India and Bangalore is more of a high-tech area. Is the environment positive for you as an artist? Does the rural landscape lend itself to you with regards to your materials and other choices you make?
SHETTAR: Bangalore used to be a fairly pretty small city. But in the past couple of years, it has grown exponentially. There is a lot of technological development here, and a lot of young people moving into the city. The city is becoming bigger and the infrastructure doesn’t support that many people, and whenever you have that kind of expansion of city, it’s too much traffic. To make space for the cars, you widen the road and cut down the trees… and I’m not very impressed with that. And yes, I used to love my city. So that’s why I want to move out and work some in the countryside. There are art schools here— I moved to Bangalore for my art education. I’ve lived here for the past 12 years now. It’s a small artist community, and everybody knows everybody. And it’s a close-knit artist society.

Do you have a group of artists that you collaborate with, or discuss work with on a regular basis?
SHETTAR: Not formally, but yes, of course. We do interact. Earlier, there used to be more shows in town, but now artists are getting busy, and are doing more shows abroad. Today artists are traveling more, but we keep our conversations going. We keep our discussions going. We share what we see outside and we’re in our own studios and there’s construction.

The development of technology, the high-tech activity is predominate in Bangalore at this point?
SHETTAR: Yes, very much, because most young people go into technology. There are, in this one city, over 125 engineering colleges. It’s the center point. Every software company has its office in India, and in Bangalore. So technology is the most prominent picture. But I’m not really connected to that world.

I’ve read that your work draws from some beliefs in Indian culture and traditions. Can you elaborate on that?
SHETTAR: I mean that is something others read into my work. It’s not essential that I look at it like that because I am an Indian. I’m born here, so that’s why my work might be Indian, but otherwise, I feel that important things are working with ideas that are more of your self, which have nothing to do with the region as such. To me it’s not the culture. It’s the life that keeps my work going. It has nothing to do with religion or culture.

Tell me about your piece “Just a Bit More” in the Carnegie International. It’s made of thread, hand-molded beeswax, yes?
SHETTAR: That’s right. ‘Just a Bit More’ is a piece made of beeswax and cotton threads dyed in tea decoction. It is in seven segments. This happens to be the fourth in a series of four beeswax pieces. After every piece there was more to explore with the language and express more, so they all happened. I started out with a simple piece ‘Thillana’ which was about music, rhythmic music and was trying to capture the movement of melody. I had not quite explored color with beeswax and so ‘Vasanta’ happened which also had music as part of it and formally, color was an addition. It was a free falling piece like ‘Thillana’ or ‘Just a Bit More.’ I decided to do a piece that would have more colors in beeswax as well as threads connecting them, along with some sculptural qualities, which I achieved by fixing it on the ceiling as well as floor, thus I was able to twist and bend forms. So ‘Hoomalae’ happened, the title means shower of flowers when literally translated, it actually means shower of blessings. After these three pieces I still had more to do with this material and language. At that point ‘Just a Bit More’ happened. Here I am dealing with organization, connections, formal aspects of space, color, form, line.

What would you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work in the International? What impression would you want them to learn or understand, or maybe think about later as they recalled your work?
SHETTAR: I don’t think in that manner. I do something and then, now it’s up to the viewer– these works, they’re up over a long period of time. So I’ve gone through periods of sorting ideas in my mind, and it all solidifies in one work. Somebody might sense how somebody might be able to see an arrangement of another thing. Somebody might want to know the theory behind these. So it’s all good for me.

Your work combines natural materials, fibers, cotton, wax, but you also produce works that have high-tech themes. Can you tell me about that? These are dissimilar properties that meet in your work, I believe, and can you talk about that at all?
SHETTAR: I am constantly observing materials around me and looking at possibilities. For me my materials do not have to always come from an art supply store, they could be from anywhere. I often look at craft material and also use craft techniques as they are generations old and refined. I use materials that can convey and add to my idea. I am open to using any sort of materials. I like to use my hands to make my sculptures, so they are very tactile. Sometimes I do use high-tech materials like silicone rubber, stainless steel etc. Every material has uses and associations that are particular to each one of them and so they bring in their own meaning into works.

From an idea to a tangible sculpture is a long journey, sometimes very labor intensive.

Can you put me inside your thought process from when you begin to conceptualize a piece of work to your material sourcing, to the creation of your work? For instance, do you create a study or a work-up beforehand, and then work to realize it? Or do you create as you go?
SHETTAR: Each work is different. I come up with an idea and find a suitable process and material to work with or sometimes it is the other way round where a material triggers an imagination. I go through long research. Sometimes it takes a very long time to develop a work. Sometimes it is very spontaneous and happens without much experimentation, preparation or any sketches. My imagination is triggered and sparked by life around me and nature. From an idea to a tangible sculpture is a long journey, sometimes very labor intensive. I like that process, because I can drown myself in my work completely.

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