Cultural perception or the language in which we think and articulate our thoughts has a direct bearing on our worldview and the manner in which we understand materials. From the early twentieth century, anthropologists and psychologists have linked our perceptive and cognitive faculties in order to better understand the influence of cultural conditioning on the way we observe and represent our surroundings. It is this ‘sense of sight’ that shapes the art of Kumaresan Selvaraj; drawn from perceived information and recalled memories. Materialized into objects and abstractions of nature, Selvaraj’s layered works are as much explorative of the limits of materiality, as they are rooted in the culture of India, more specifically in the Tamil culture of South India, to which the artist was born and where he continues to reside.
How does culture shape cognition? To what extent is perception controlled by the mind in relation to the senses ? How do we extract an individual thought from collective consciousness, or separate the contexts of high and low cultures, the rubric of East and West customs and the languages in which different societies communicate and share knowledge, in order to assess the impact of social structures on perception? Spatial dimensions for instance, are understood in absolute terms- North, South, East and West in Western cultures, while they are taught and communicated in relative terms- left, right, forward, backward in Eastern cultures. Such differences that affect our perception and the manner of representation of objects and ideas fuel Selvaraj’s diverse art practice.
The show gathers three series of recent works that reflect the artist’s continuing interest in understanding our relationship with the natural world. While questioning the physicality of our own bodies and that of the objects around us, Selvaraj also throws up questions of embodiment and containment. In probing the agency of the mind and the body to contain our thoughts and direct our actions, Selvaraj’s desire for freeing ourselves of predisposed emotions and judgements and the monotony of repeated mechanical actions becomes even more pronounced. This want for freedom is discernible in the interplay between stacks of straight and jagged horizontals in the three Untitled (2019) works of fibreglass and acrylic. The asymmetrical calibration of the horizontal rows, executed in relief, releases the lines from both linearity and two-dimensionality, while lending to the incidental creation of vertical columns on the same surface. Horizontality, has for the most part, defined our sense of time and space by way of the horizon line and so, a breakage here reveals a need to realign our own faculties of understanding, towards discovering a new norm. A similar want for freedom is expressed in the series of four paintings Untitled (2018) works of paper and acrylic on board- textured and bridled by the mind’s eye, with layers chipping away, revealing as it seems, the underbelly of our existence. Coloured in earthy hues of yellows, oranges and rusts, the fiery circle in the center of each frame echoes the unending circling of life, and the rhythm of how things go.
Of the third body of work, are a trio of pillars titled One Above the Other that belong to an ongoing series of the same name. Focusing on the pillar as a source of strength and support, the artist’s memories are stacked tall until they coil at the top, free of their narrow structural abode, yet stubbornly recoiling back to their original nature. Using the medium of paper, Selvaraj dissects the nature of memories that are singularly fragile but that which collectively reinforce our personalities and govern our associations with the world. By repurposing a multitude of magazine papers, each containing a certain piece of information, Selvaraj magnifies the scrambled manner in which we react to stimuli and consume news. Does our own individuality get lost amidst what we have been fed and assume to be culturally and socially acceptable? Does the verticality and stratification of the pillars reveal the degrees of cultural hierarchies and the weight of our memories, as social beings?
A similar sentiment is echoed in the two other sculptures that also belong to the series One Above the Other. Like the grand old tree that has seen it all, many times over, the first is a towering sculpture that branches out into five sides, rooted in history and memory, but also growing upward and sideways in search of a path less traveled- a new way of seeing and thinking. The tree nevertheless, remains bound by the bulk of its trunk without which it cannot stand, let alone grow. The source of its stability is also the root of its burden.
The final sculpture and the last of the five works of the series in the show takes the form of two intersecting circles. Here, the artist’s preoccupation with cyclic change and repetition of action resurfaces again. Laid on the ground, the circles appear as cogs of a machine- wound and unwound, independent and yet connected. Each layer of memory keeps the engine working, albeit in the same way it has been programmed to function for generations.
Lines of Sight is an exhibition that voices the need for independent thinking and a desire to free our minds from the socio-cultural fabric that binds us. But it also firmly establishes the foundations from which we can grow and progress, and cultivate change.
New Delhi, 2019
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