VOGUE AUSTRALIA, DECEMBER 2011
Ranjani Shettar makes the sort of work that demands a second look.
Take the huge, gossamer-like Just a Bit More (2006), perhaps one of Shettar’s best-known pieces. It would be easy to mistake the hanging net for a simple structure of fishing line and beads. However, an inspection will reveal its true construction to be infinitely more complex – involving hand-molded beeswax and thread dyed in tea.
Similarly, to approach those black shapes resembling wasp wings (Sing Along, 2008-9) is to realize that they are not painted flat on the gallery wall. They are steel, muslin, shellac and tamarind powder paste, among other things, and are very much three-dimensional.
For an installation artist to use materials to play with perception is not uncommon. But it is the way Shettar incorporates disparate substances – harnessing, contrasting and transforming their intrinsic properties – that makes each piece as powerful as it is delicate.
Shettar breathes so much life into her ingredients such that each work almost appears to have a pulse. She credits her childhood in India as the origin of her connection to matter and its creative uses.
“I tend to use materials that I am most familiar with, things I have grown up seeing,” she says. “They are usually low-tech, tactile and organic. Whether it is fabric, beeswax or lacquered wood, I have grown up using them in several different ways and it is most natural for me to use them in my sculpture today.”
In both work and life, Shettar spends a lot of time attending to what is natural. Since earning a Masters of Sculpture at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore in 2000, her practice has centered on works concerning environment and atmosphere, and our changing understanding of these ideas.
Shettar has had solo exhibitions at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, the Talwar Galleries in New York and New Delhi, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Further works have been shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as part of 2010’s On Line show, and as part of the 15th Biennale of Sydney.
This month, Australians will have another chance to see Shettar’s work up close when the artist presents a site-specific installation at the National Gallery of Victoria. The exhibition is to mark the official launch of the institution’s new Contemporary Projects wing.
“I have made this work that I am calling Interplay,” Shettar says. “It has two netted components in thread with coloured beeswax. One of the components is in shades of blue and the other in yellows and oranges.”
“They complement and contract with one another, they interact with each other and space around like in a choreography. They stretch between walls and floors creating a sense of elasticity and tension.”
“My artworks work on multiple levels and references. They are visual and tactile. Sometimes they have specific cultural context, while it is universal most often. There are multiple entry points and levels to connect with. To connect instinctively or intuitively are the best.”