Sheetal Gattani is among the new grain of contemporary artists in India, and is exhibiting her solo work at the Chemould Prescott Road entitled 46 Pillars. The exhibition espouses Gattani’s marvellous display of perspective, art, and hidden nostalgia in this fast moving world. In an effort to derive an understanding of her work, the exhibition must not be comprehended as a series of objects, instead as a platform of interaction with the existing infrastructure of the Chemould Prescott Road. Having spent over a period of three months within the studio gallery, Gattani has woven stories amongst the pillars installed at the gallery itself. She employs a wide range of materials to engage both with the surrounding space and the viewer. The dioramas on display spark a sweet nostalgia taking the viewer back in time to the city then known as Bombay. As a result, Gattani’s site-specific installation elicits not only a social, but a deep contemplative experience for the on-going gallery visitor.
Bombay has been a prodigious muse to numerous artists for a long period of time. Yet again, Gattani re-imagines the cityscape in 46 pillars as seen from 20 vantage points, with each pillar giving the audience a glimpse of the city. As the viewer travels from one vantage point to another, the artwork responds to the viewer’s position, and a narrative starts to develop. Thus, by looking at other pillars from a particular vantage point, other components of the installation fall into place resulting in composition which can be seen on a wall from 10 feet away. The multiple drawings on the pillars are reconstructed solely by a romanticised nostalgia, through a memory mapping as imagined by the artist herself.
Previously, Gattani had created a series of artworks for Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. She remarks on how 46 Pillars was initially thought of at her studio at home. She further states that at first she had thought of creating numerous bamboo poles instead of wooden pillars. However, upon her engagement with the gallery space, she realised that installing wooden pillars wood be a much feasible idea since it would compliment the existing pillars at the gallery. Furthermore, Gattani mentions the amount of hard work gone in creating the work in terms of positioning the pillars at the exact angle, working day and night with various carpenters and assistants, along with tons of detailed planning.
The artist imbues the mundane with meaning by capturing the quintessential Mumbai drink — the ‘cutting chai’, a pocket clock, and an old telephone through charcoal drawings on the pillar walls. Furthermore, as Gattani’s work perforates the gallery space with fibre optics, the most mesmerising aspects of the exhibition are seen — illuminated sculptures. The artist meticulously creates a tap with flowing water with the use of LED lights. The splashing of water could perhaps indicate a childlike frolicking by splashing water on each other, bringing back memories from childhood, when life was perceived as simple. In another part of the installation the audience can see a lit skyline, which mimic the lights of Mumbai’s high-rises at night. This part provides a point of entry to view Bombay as a growing metropolis transforming into a product of capitalist agenda. As a result, few parts of the installation might be nostalgic for some, and beauty for others.
Equally intriguing is her other body of work titled White Grass (2009), displayed in another section of the gallery. Gattani, trained in print making, explores the dimension of depth through chipping the surface of paper. The works are an abstract body of drawings which are created through a process of repetition by carefully peeling off the surface with a sharp blade. The artist has impressively created a three dimensionality by simply cutting the canvas and raising parts of it, instilling a need for the audience to dive deeper into the artwork to appreciate the 3D aspect of it. Furthermore, the works appear to be influenced by paintings of Rothko, while some resemble an architectural blueprint, and other textures of textiles such as jute and khadi. However, the artist dismisses all such claims by saying that there was no such intent on her behalf to create such affects.
Interestingly, her series of drawings are devoid of figurative images. Since the artist explores the many facets of Bombay that have woven themselves through her installation, Gattani could have incorporated occupations of people who have got dismissed with time — flute sellers, knife sharpeners, lottery-wallas, and corn-removers. Perhaps, the artist has deliberately moved away from the stereotype of Bombay being known for its overpopulation. However, the essence of the city is characterised by its diversity — an ability to absorb people from different segments of society along with providing them with a space to make a living by creating supplies for demands.
Nevertheless, her work beautifully constitutes the nexus between herself and those who receive it. Thus, having spent over three months engaging within the studio gallery, Gattani’s site-specific installation does indeed create a visceral experience for the viewer, which is playful yet solemn. Her work then can be understood as a canvas of urbanism, environment, and cityscapes gently integrated into place.