A case in point
Plotted, dotted and drawn, stitched, foiled and punctured, a point traverses sometimes linearly, sometimes converging into others. Within the frame of a composition lines intercept and overlap, either by suggestion or by impulse. Marked, mapped, layered, bound and recurring forms reverberate a latent potency that remains contained in their own blueprint. Abstracted from their origins, they belong now within the terrain of a sublime score.
Sublime Spaces is a body of work that spans 3 years from 2013- 15 comprising seven separate series that parallel the trajectory of the artist’s own explorations of everyday experiences. Chetnaa Verma’s non-representational style evolved while still a student at the Delhi College of Art, graduating with an MFA in Painting in 2011. Her geometric abstractions are drawn largely from the landscape and architectures of her city, keen observations of the metropolis translated into an eloquent schematic of lines and markers. Initiated as symmetrical arrangements, Verma’s work now reveals the need to deconstruct the order she had once sought, so as to build a new geometrical logic that feeds her minimalist aesthetic.
Beginning with a set of line drawings, the exhibition focuses on Verma’s earliest preoccupation with linearity. Titled true to the axis of each line, the horizontals, verticals, diagonals and crossways are telling of Verma’s time spent on the road through long commutes. Navigated from the reality of the chaos into the simplicity of the thick line or a finer one layered on a traced sectional map, her drawings are dynamic configurations of spaces that breathe rather than stifle. The immediacy of the bold parallel line placements teases our spatial perception and busies our eye with optically illusionary patterns. It is the sensibility of these works that won her the Emerging Artist of the Year Award 2014 hosted by Glenfiddich, Scotland and Best College Art, New Delhi.
While resident at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland for three months in the summer of 2014, Verma produced a suite of 51 small format paper works that permitted the exploration of a range of curiosities and possibilities in texture while keeping within the grayscale. In them, the line reappears both drawn as well as broken in stitched thread, in perforated holes, in paper cuttings and within the form of a square. This was also the first time she experimented with gold foil as well as with the shadows of black, and consequently with their respective qualities of fragility and obscurity. Together in striped compositions, their inspiration from the yellow and black footpaths alongside roads is obviously discernable to the clever eye.
Verma also unearthed the earliest archival map of the site that was her temporary home and overlay on it multiple revised renditions of the region. The changes in the landscape were no longer discernable in the resultant matrix of lines and structures as is the case with most of our surroundings and memories today. The resulting layered photographic prints also reveal an array of cartographic tools by way of road signs and colour coding that lose their meaning and scale in the design and patterning of their renewed application. The map here is an external space claimed within the plane of the artist’s work to subvert its usage, detach it from its original context and activate a cognitive mapping of volume, space and colour as visual language.
Verma’s five white on white works are textural plays, each with a new architectural accent- a window, a step-well, a jali or lattice, a column. Where colour and penned line is absent, Verma deliberately introduces the dimension of depth. The row of five appears as a ballet sequence, each perfectly poised by itself and together aligned in harmonious balance.
Verma’s fascination with the grid and her need to deconstruct it is manifest in the pair of canvases Journeys of a Straight Line, 2015 & Crossways of Diagonals II, 2015, where unshaded colour blocks are punctuated by the sharp edged lines creating intersecting planes emblematic of Modernist thought, especially popular amongst the Constructivists of the 1960s and 70s. The graphic form as a format has been intermittently used by conceptual artists to elucidate urban landscapes in a non-representational manner, and here Verma’s focus lies in breaking down the systematics of the form to do just that. For the artist whose work has been dominated by linearity, the grid offers multiple possibilities in its fracturing- balance and stability lost to the abstraction of their respective ideals. The unbecoming of the grid finds its full fruition in Shunya, 2015. Modeled as an Infinity Box, a single beam of light is precisely calculated to bounce off specific smaller mirrors that line the interior of the box. While a viewer can walk around it as a sculptural entity, one is also invited to stand in its interior and be consumed by innumerable lines of light. A more dramatic attempt at a subliminal experience, Shunya is an interactive piece that prompts the physicality of the planar bodies that appear in Verma’s drawings. It is a rather poignant experiment in seeking the cosmic rhythm through spatial readings.
Verma’s desire to explore textile as a medium resulted in a wonderful collaboration with fashion designer Pratima Pandey whose employment of layered and straight lined cotton chanderi into garments resonated Verma’s sensibilities. ABC is a seven-layered sculptural installation that is suspended from the ceiling in the manner of a scroll, fabricated in gradations of grey that progressively grow darker as well as shrink in size as one approaches the last length of fabric. Accentuating our perception of depth, the smallest piece is a stark black, embroidered with Pandey’s trademark floriated patterns, at unease with the structuring and discipline of Verma’s lines. Yet there is a subtle power in their plotting that makes for an exquisite texture and aligns with Verma’s desire to disjuncture symmetrical arrangements creating room for the unexpected. In doing so, she manages to accommodate the assumption of the cyclic progression of life and form- from material to abstraction and back again.
Verma’s work inhabits the space of the gallery as notes within a score. Each work is strategically placed to build a composite architecture in itself, where the trajectory of a point is mapped from the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional, and then from a moving point into a multi-layered installation. Chetnaa Verma’s compositions resonate an aesthetic intuition that dwell in a space sublime.