Discover reality with Indian sculptor Alwar Balasubramaniam on TED


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Alwar Balasubramaniam (1971) is an Indian artist who works and lives in Bangalore. In a TED Talks video, Alwar Balasubramaniam: Art of Substance and Absence, he explores his inspirations and the “inherent” qualities of objects that he challenges through his work. Here we profile a number of the works he discusses in the video and reveal the theories behind them.

Click here to watch the TED Talks video Alwar Balasubramaniam: Art of Substance and Absence (video length 16:51)

Indian artist Alwar Balasubramaniam talks on TED. Image taken from sculpture.org.

Indian artist Alwar Balasubramaniam talks on TED. Image taken from sculpture.org.

It was when Alwar Balasubramaniam was in school that he realised that he was good at art. As he explains in the video, it felt like the whole world was helping him: his brother gave him drawing tips, his school sent his work into art competitions and a stranger on a train helped him get into an art college. During this time he began to develop his unique aesthetic and theory of practice.

He was fascinated by the idea of the past and the ways we try to understand it. For Balasubramaniam, the past is realised through the traces of that time that can still be seen and he started trying to capture those traces in his art. His installation piece Self in Progress represents to the artists a trace of being in one’s body, it is a trace of Balasubramaniam, a kind of a 3D photograph. “There is an element of performance, an element of sculpture and an element of feeling oneself,” he says.

Alwar Balasubramaniam's 'Self in Progress', 2002, is a cast of his own body seated on a chair with his head lodged inside a wall. Image taken from hinduonnet.com.

Alwar Balasubramaniam's 'Self in Progress', 2002, is a cast of his own body seated on a chair with his head lodged inside a wall. Image taken from hinduonnet.com.

In the TED video, Alwar Balasubramaniam argues that even though people have traces with which to remember the past, one’s perception and context play a key role in understanding them. He says,

“What we conceive as a meaning is always not there; it’s on the other side. All meaning, it doesn’t exist in reality. It is just being a human. The way we train to perceive the reality creates this meaning”.

For example, his installation Limit Out explores the limitations of our senses. Mounted into the wall, it appears to be in relief but in fact it is a negative, set about six inches deep in the wall.

Alwar Balasubramaniam, 'Emerging Angels', 2004, evaporating compund, acrylic, and fiberglass, 12 x 15 x 18 in. each. Image taken from livemint.com.

Alwar Balasubramaniam, 'Emerging Angels', 2004, evaporating compund, acrylic, and fiberglass, 12 x 15 x 18 in. each. Image taken from livemint.com.

Another idea that Balasubramaniam wants to explore in his artwork is how to capture a thought using visual art. He used the air freshener Odonil, a solid substance that turns into vapour, to make a sculpture of a head which disappears slowly as the Odonil evaporates. One such sculpture, called Emerging Angels, “gives [the] appearance that one [head] is becoming the other. Through a small little slit between the glass base and the wood, the air goes underneath the sculpture and creates the other one.”

After making a number of evaporating sculptures Balasubramaniam started to explore different ways of capturing the invisible. For instance, Shadow Foreshadow, experiments with the casting of a shadow. The artist explains,

“The moment you bring any[thing] invisible into the visible world it will have the character of visible existence. So [Shadow Foreshadow] produced a shadow. Then I though, ok, let me sculpt that. Then again, that becomes an object. Again, throwing light. Then the third one. So what you see is nothing but a shadow of a shadow.”

Through his work Alwar Balasubramaniam tries to show how limited our senses are: we cannot see or hear everything and we construct our reality through these constrained senses. Through his work, Balasubramaniam attempts to show us other ways of perceiving and viewing reality.

EN/KN/HH

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