Vivan Sundaram presents photographic works of found potshards from the ruins of Muziris, the ancient Indian port town near the site of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Internationally renowned multimedia artist Vivan Sundaram’s “Terraoptics” continues along his existing artistic trajectory of using found objects, which are also archival objects, to investigate and explore the possibilities of the archive.
Vivan Sundaram (b. 1943) is one of India’s most prolific multimedia artists, whose work explores history, memory, social issues and their intersection with popular culture. He is particularly adept at taking found objects, which seem to have expired, and giving them new life by manipulating them using contemporary technologies. Sundaram does not mind clash; in fact, he invites it every time he digs into the past and offers up what might have been intentionally hidden for contemporary review.
To say this kind of exploration is a trend for Sundaram would be imprecise and too simple a classification. As a multidisciplinary artist, Sundaram is adept at discerning how best to excavate different sites of knowledge, be it a very personal, family photographic collection as in [Re-Take of Amrita], or urban industrial waste in New Delhi, which he fashioned into a city for his series “Trash”.
With “Terraoptics”, now on show at SepiaEYE until 24 June 2017, Sundaram has moved from the photographic archive to the city as a living archive containing the waste of its residents, to the earth itself, specifically the ruins of the ancient port city of Muziris. In its initial iteration presented in the 2012 Kochi-Muziris biennale, Terraoptics was presented as a large-scale installation consisting of a hundred thousand potshards from Pattanam in Kerala state contained within a space measuring 50 feet by 15 feet, which was flooded with black peppercorns.
Additionally, there was a video that accompanied the installation entitled Black Gold, which Sundaram described in this way, in his artist statement published by the Singapore Art Museum on the occasion of the 2014 Signature Art Prize:
When the camera traverses the site, the dense formation takes on yet another visage: ‘dead’ matter unravels fresh terrain that is in its very fragility combustive. Animation created by a range of perceptual positions — camera movements from high above swoop onto details creating arabesques; top-angle views the plan, the map bring forth islands surrounded by water; the flattened image becomes a stained glass sky. Low angle shots, drag the viewer through the remains of human habitation.
The video image oscillates between showing a bed of detritus and an emerging gestalt that may be deciphered as history. A scene of devastation, a cityscape submerged in a cataclysmic spill– millions of floating peppercorns. Or is this meteoric patina covering another planet?
“Terraoptics”, the latest iteration of this work, has been reimagined as individual photographs, or miniature sets as described by the Gallery. The potshards have been removed from the spacious 50 by 15 inches layout and inserted in miniature into trays forming individual universes. This scale brings the viewer into a much closer proximity with the existence of ruin in the contemporary age. In these images, we see a landscape carved by a river, burning fire, and rich textures of red, brown and orange.
Sundaram invites us to contemplate the possibility for ongoing life so many thousands of years after what was a destruction. In the contemporary world, destruction is not associated with beauty. In Sundaram’s view, beauty both precedes and results from destruction. Light, an element on which life is dependent, persists over time, be it an energy within the land from which the potshards originate, or whether it is a force projected by the artist upon the found objects of the land to rejuvenate and resume physicality.
With “Terraoptics”, the focal point is land as found object. Land is something we take for granted. There is no conceivable way that it will cease to exist as always ‘being’. We know it is underfoot, we feel it. Terra firma is a fact we take for granted until like Muziris, it is suddenly no more. In “Terraoptics”, Sundaram has literally and figurative illuminated the land such that we are simultaneously remembering what and how it was while seeing it in its luminescent glory for the first time.
Negarra A. Kudumu
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