A man juggles three ceramic jars in slow motion--the action is insignificant, a piece of entertainment. With this video--all works Untitled (from the show "the pieces earth took away"), 2012--Sudarshan Shetty invited us into his exhibition, which was indeed titled "the pieces earth took away." Only with time did this reveal itself to be the concentrated image of a big theme; death. While the five works in this exhibition were not conceived specifically for Vienna, they together formed an effective rejoinder to the city's famous "Wienerlieder," its folk songs in local dialect, which so often deal with death, with the desire to allay the terror of the ultimate end. Shetty's recurrent image of the jar is at once that of the common household vessel for water or rice, and of the central element in Hindu funeral rites: The corpse is circled three times, and then a jar carried on the shoulder is hurled to the ground. The jar represents the shell, the human body within which the soul lives. When the soul is released, the shell is no longer necessary.
Wienerlieder are an entertainment, but with serious themes. Shetty's sculptures, likewise, are often what the Indian theorist Ranjit Hoskote once called "giant toys," because the works engage the viewer in a playful manner before going on to examine such large themes as love or mortality. "My father was a performer in a traditional south Indian folk art form of Yakshagana," Shetty told me. From him, Shetty learned that one must first capture an audience's attention before speaking of "the other layers of meaning in play."
A sequence of three photographs shows a man standing by the sea and letting a ceramic pot fall to the ground. The broken pot itself, now carefully glued together, is displayed in a vitrine nearby: the empty shell as elevated everyday object. Another work consists of thirteen old doors leaning on a wall of the gallery, each the border to another, invisible space. (The soul leaves its temporary home, the body, thirteen days after death. Mourning lasts thirteen days, according to Hindu ritual.) A long sentence that describes a short moment--a pot breaking on a stove--is written across the length of the row of doors. It draws a contrast between the eternal cycle of reincarnation and the linear ephemerality of a domestic experience. This contrast was further emphasized in two massive teak wood sculptures. In one, twenty columns support an imposing, templelike structure. It is a cenotaph, a false grave, in which there are no mortal remains. Cenotaphs serve only memory; perhaps the jar in the display case is just such a vessel for memory. The cenotaph is crowned with a dome, from which a small stream of water runs to the floor.
In the next room stood a second cenotaph with four columns and a roof, which is filled with rice. Like an hourglass, grains of rice pour slowly, over the course of thirteen days, through a small hole and onto the floor, gradually spreading throughout the gallery. Even if we aren't familiar with the Indian rituals in which water and rice are connected with death, we understand that the hourglass shows a linear process and thereby evokes our Western conception of death as a full stop. In the other cenotaph, the water circulates in a continuous cycle, since death is only one moment in an endless process. Shetty reminds us that there is another way to deal with the unfathomable than the one sung about in taverns in Wienerlieder.
Translated from German by Anne Posten.
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|Title Annotation:||VIENNA; the pieces earth took away|
|Author:||Vogel, Sabine B.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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