The artist reflects on identity and human mortality in a series of mixed media installations and prints.
The exhibition opened at Chemould Prescott Road on 22 October and is on view until 22 November 2018. Art Radar talks to the artist to find out more about her practice.
Creating confrontations between life and death.
“So It Goes” features a new body of work by artist Yardena Kurulkar and is her first solo exhibition with Chemould Prescott Road. Her work had been shown at the gallery, as part of Chemould’s 50th anniversary exhibition, in one of five exhibitions curated by Geeta Kapur (titled “Aesthetic Bind”, 2014). Kurulkar’s personal life deeply influences her artistic practice, and her confrontation with tragedy at the age of eight, with her father’s passing away, has resulted in the event of death playing a continuous role through her professional life. The ideas of erosion and resurrection, and the elusiveness of human existence are evident in her work. Kurulkar explores the cycle of life by using very personal subject matter, including her own body, in her contemplations.
Born in 1971, Yardena Elhanan Kurulkar is an alumnus of Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai and went on to pursue her Masters in Ceramics at University of Wales Institute, Cardiff. Her first solo show, “Transience”, was long listed for the prestigious Skoda Prize in India, and shortlisted for the Art India Breakthrough Artist Award.
The first Indian to win The Blake Prize in 2016, Kurulkar is also the winner of the Power Show, organised by the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan. A recipient of the Charles Wallace Scholarship, she was also an Artist in Residence at the Living Arts Centre, Toronto. Her work has been exhibited at the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016; HOTA, Australia; Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Australia; The Queen Gallery, Toronto; Kinross Arts Centre, Australia; and NGMA, New Delhi, amongst many others.
In her new exhibition “So It Goes”, Kurulkar continues to explore the collision of mortality with daily existence and the precarious liaison between life and death. The eventuality of death is not seen by the artist as a cataclysmic event, as it is already in motion, in a continuous almost circadian rhythm. Offering classified perspectives from numerous vantage points, Kurulkar encapsulates the continued waltz between existence and obliteration. Being Bene Israeli – a rare and disappearing Jewish sect in India – a central work in the exhibition harks back to her Jewish ethnicity to a moving tune from a Jewish funeral that was performed specially for the work entitled Earworm (2018). To term her current work, Kurulkar appropriates an important phrase from Kurt Vonnegut’s seminal 1969 work Slaughterhouse-Five – “So It Goes” – which both as a phrase and as a body of work, captures death as nomadic, pitching its tents along the way, along the path, along this journey that we call life.
Art Radar speaks with Yardena Kurulkar about the genesis of “So it Goes” and about her practice.
You work is intensely personal in nature – both in terms of the objects that you use as well as your subject matter. Is it difficult for you to delve into childhood memories of tragedy or is it a form of release and catharsis?
This has been my journey as an artist; and all journeys have their own gradients, crossroads and even setbacks. So yes, it has been difficult, occasionally very difficult, but the process of creating art, ipso facto, requires you to continuously step into and out of your concerns, to be at the emotional centre of your work and to be able to step out of it. While that is not the intent, my work is certainly a form of catharsis too.
How have you been able to translate your own interpretation of the relationship between mortality and death, specifically in the works on display in “So it Goes”?
There are many ‘connects’ at work in my show and many of them are quite non-linear, as all art should be. One such ‘connect’ is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which I read nearly ten years ago and loved his dark satirical humour and the manner in which he ‘casually’ addresses death. Vonnegut repeatedly uses the phrase ‘so it goes’ in this book, which follows each time a death is recorded and I found his use of the phrase fascinating, it just draws us to the fact that ‘Death is inevitable and happens to all of us’. And that inspired the title of my show.
“So it Goes” is partially evolutionary from my previous shows but is otherwise a very large break in terms of content and form. It arches almost dizzyingly from the extreme minutiae of our existence directly to the cosmic and the ephemeral.
The passage of time and our circardian rhythms are again central. In my show, the performance video Synonym connotes the dizzying passage of time and the elemental nature of our existence. I seek a reversal by turning the body into a metaphorical piece of clay. The incessant barrage of primitive forces one after the other ignites a relatable claustrophobia resulting from our realisation that ultimately we have little choice but to succumb to the mercy of something larger than us.
Fall of the Buckler is a series of prints that were screen printed, but the pulp that used to make the paper is charged with my blood. That blood is ‘unseen’, much like blood that is present under our skin. The slices are that of the heart, the organ that pumps blood to the entire body. The dent present on each sheet is made with a sharp object piercing through the bunch of paper together.
In one section of my show, in Earworm, I have created a 3D replica of my skull, inverted it and filled it with water, and activated this liquid vessel with a re-created traditional Bene-Israeli funeral song on a cello and documented the movement of water. On the other hand, in That Quiet Corner I juxtapose the black skeleton of a bed, light and an image of the sky with tombstones glancing in from the corners – a view of the universe as I lay down in a cemetery. Over this image I placed a tessellated mesh of the three-dimensional form of my skull, unravelled and unwrapped to be laid flat on a two-dimensional surface, juxtaposing the two with an invisible curtain of air between them.
In A premature Burial, I string together pieces of terracotta clay with surgical thread, creating an allusion to a dismembered body. The pieces that were once a part of a single lump of clay equal in weight to my own body, were repeatedly amputated, wrapped and sutured shut with surgical thread and later reconnected through a dark web dismembered but still together.
In the installation that forms the title of the show, So It Goes, comprises of 382 porcelain replicas of my uterus are placed in individual glass, each one uniquely folded, like the ritual of shrouding a deceased body.
My work then is in an attempt to reach a stage of surrender where I acknowledge my fear to the world through my work, by making my body a transient medium.
How does your exploration of the cycle of life in “So It Goes” differ from your earlier projects such as Kenosis and The Dance of Death?
I think “So iI Goes” does not really differ drastically from my earlier projects, I continue to explore my own mortality through these works. “Transience”, my earlier body of work, was a staging of the ephemeral (becoming) permanent, reflecting the tussle of mortality and the coil. The scrutiny was on the portrayal of the inner struggles of someone coming face to face with the idea of death. Based on the concept of duality, life led to death as much as the acceptance of death was the only way to live life to the fullest. In 5 seconds later, I created a replica of my own body, immersed it in water and recorded its slow disintegration in a series of images.
A need for the microscopic view of the temporariness of life has made me experiment with various media, of which I have used clay the most extensively because of the realistic way it reflects the human form. However, in exploring further for the transient, I found 3D printing technology too an interesting method that can dissect and analyse the components that make us mortal. With the help of this technology, I excavated my own heart from my body and subjected the terracotta replica to a similar process of purging as I did with my body. I staged a confrontation wherein I immersed my own heart and recorded its disintegration in a series of 15 images entitled Kenosis. In an attempt to reach a stage of surrender I acknowledge my fear to the world through my work, by making my body a transient medium. Unlike my earlier works where I shed the human form, here everything that identified me as human to others is erased.
Dance of Death (2016) is inspired from the Flicker Fusion Phenomenon. Here, the body is not present, but my presence is evident through numerous bulbs suspended from the ceiling, which mark the date that my body came into being. Dance Macabre by Camille Saints Saens plays in the background in tune to something that is going to end unforeseen – much like birth, time and death. Veerangana Kumari Solanki writes:
“The flicker of uncertainty and the deception of eternity promised to human life are depicted through the silently dancing light bulbs. The lit up numbers flicker unseen, to celebrate this date and their passing time. The flickering light, which appears steady, is not visible to the human eye, due to its high ‘Flicker Fusion Rate’. The ‘Flicker Fusion Rate’, a function of the brain, differs for each individual and being, depending on their persistence to capture moving images; thereby making intermittent light appear constant. As time passes, the bulbs die, and the dance begins to fade away. Darkness begins to punctuate the light and what we see is split with time. The bulbs over time will fuse and the work will cease to exist – the heartbeats stop, the body becomes lifeless; the flicker dies and we are left in darkness.”
In “So it goes” what differs from “Transience”, however, is the exclusion of the continuous loop to signify rebirth and appear infinite.
With messages as deep as the ones that you communicate through your practice, do you find it challenging to engage audiences and help them to see the installations or artworks from your own perspective? If not, then how have you been able to do so?
[The relationship between] Life and death is the eternal conundrum for each one of us; often our first questions even as children as we reach the age of reason and questioning. Those who visit the show have an instant empathy with my concerns of course, but their engagement with my work is a significantly longer and more challenging process. That to me is very satisfying, that people spend more time over each artwork, often step back to re-look and occasionally do a complete new repeat walk-around of the show in the same evening. I am sure they leave with more questions than when they entered and in that sense they completely share my journey.
How does your practice as a ceramic artist connect you to your ideologies – given the earthiness of the medium and its relationship with life and nature? Or was your selection of medium a deliberate choice from the start?
My early education as an artist in Cardiff was dedicated to clay, to ceramic art, and I remain deeply committed to the form. It was certainly a deliberate choice then, but I have at this stage of my career chosen to blur the boundaries in my own pursuit as an artist.
You have travelled widely, have exhibited and been recognised both in India and internationally. How challenging is it for an artist to communicate in a consistent manner, to such a diverse audience, with wide-ranging religious beliefs and value systems?
I think we live both in one world and in a very diverse world almost simultaneously. My concerns are universal and the forms my work takes also speak a universal language, even though they may be occasionally rooted in my specific background. So really I don’t see the diversity of audience as a challenge; and it certainly does not dictate my artistic choices.
While ceramics and clay are integral to the history of Indian art, they have always been considered artisanal crafts. With several developments in the world of ceramic art including the recent Triennale in Jaipur, do you see this changing?
These fine dividing lines between the artistic and the artisanal need to be challenged in the first place. Look at the stature of ceramics and clay in a country like Japan, where ceramics in every form are revered. The Triennale in Jaipur and large events like these reiterate this and ensure a positive effect on all ceramic work, whether ‘artistic’ or supposedly ‘artisanal’.
As we approach the end of the year, what can Art Radar readers look forward to from your studio in 2019?
2019 is much too close. Each of my works has taken more that three years, there is a long gestation period, and a huge amount of logistics involved so realistically speaking it is more like 2020-21 that we are looking at. And I look forward to sharing it with your readers then.
“So it Goes” by Yardena Kurulkar is on view from 22 October to 22 November 2018 at Chemould Prescott Road, 3rd Floor, Queens Mansion, G. Talwatkar Marg, Fort, Mumbai 400 001.
- “Under the Canopy of Love” with Indian artist Jayashree Chakravarty – in conversation – November 2018 – the critically acclaimed solo exhibition “Earth as Haven” explores the materiality of nature with an immersive installation of handmade forms
- “Breaking Ground”: India’s first Ceramics Triennale opens in Jaipur – curator interview – November 2018 – this artist-led initiative aims at increasing the visibility of ceramics as an art form with 35 Indian and 12 international artist projects
- “Traversing Terrains”: a retrospective of eminent Indian artist S.H. Raza at Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai – October 2018 – Art Radar also talks to the exhibition’s curators Vaishnavi Ramanathan and Ashvin E. Rajagopalan
- “What’s essential”: inaugurating Jhaveri Contemporary’s new space in Mumbai – in conversation – September 2018 – Jhaveri Contemporary moves into the city’s illustrious art district in the sylvan surroundings of Colaba
- Voices from materials: Japanese artist Miya Hannan on death – in conversation – November 2017 – Japanese artist Miya Hannan explores ideas of death in “Stories of Urns”