Bengaluru-based artist A. Balasubramaniam’s sculptures and installations are best known for the ways in which the use of different materials, compositions and lighting can undermine the sculptures’ defined form, illuminating their physical presence and confounding the audience with visual tricks. A signature early example is Untitled (2004), two life-sized busts of the artist in acrylic cases. One head is cast in an outwardly fragile mix of sand and fiberglass, the other in a thick, gel-like substance described as an “evaporating compound.” Though unclear to the naked eye, the second head is slowly deteriorating into the atmosphere until, at some future date, nothing of the original form will remain.
For “IN,” which is made up of new works made since the artist’s last solo exhibition at the New Delhi and New York branches of Talwar Gallery in 2007, Bala (as he is widely known) employs shadows and magnetic fields to produce visual puns. A hook-tipped wire stretches taut between two walls meeting at a corner in Link (2009). While one end of the wire is embedded in the wall, magnets make the hooked end terminate, surprisingly, in mid-air, floating a few inches away from the facing wall. Lodestones are similarly employed, and cleverly disguised, in Energy Field (2009) and Untitled (2009), with rust shavings clumping together like mold or fungus in the former and reaching to connect two square panels in the latter.
Bala also embeds sculptures in walls to create an apparently seamless protrusion or cavity in the flat planes of the white cube. Shell as Body (2007) resembles the creased crescent-shaped opening of a conch shell in an otherwise unmarked wall. Silent Sound (2009) is a perfectly rendered 18-inch-tall human ear sprouting from the wall’s surface. In Hidden Sight (2007) a fist appears to squeeze and turn a section of the gallery wall from behind the drywall.
Multipart installations Shadow of a Shadow of a Shadow (2007) and Kaayam (2008) further develop this interaction between sculpture and surface. In Shadow, three white boxes—seemingly made of cardboard but actually crafted in fiberglass, wood and acrylic—are shown in deconstructed compositions, presented in a progressing, animation-like manner to suggest that the container is breaking itself down as it flies across the wall. In Kaayam, which can be translated as “maintain” or “to hold the field,” four deflated and crumpled white human figures are presented in an arc across a wall. They echo the shape and movement of a balled-up piece of white paper thrown through the air. The figures are fiberglass body casts of the artist, a method he employs repeatedly in his work.
Perhaps the newest expression of the artist’s desire to gain knowledge of the surface of objects and places through interaction, penetration or protrusion is explored in In Between, In and Out (2009). The work is conceived in three parts—an egg-shaped wooden sculpture on a pedestal, a welded metal frame of the sculpture resembling an armature, mounted on the wall behind the pedestal, and a hanging glass vitrine containing the white fiberglass cast of the wooden sculpture. The cast is broken in six parts and framed, fractured and flat, evoking an eggshell and implicitly suggesting that something was born of the original wooden sculpture.
With its monochrome palette and clever use of materials producing amusing visual trickery, “IN” meets the expectations of Bala’s now-established audience. Yet the experience transcends banal familiarity thanks to the artist’s clear desire to keep his audience connected to the core spirit of his practice: to formally and visually “know sculpture” through plain, ruminative consideration of the space it occupies. His exhibitions are quiet spaces, bleached of loud attractions and popular narratives, and each presentation leads a viewer gently through his thought process, introducing new developments each time, so that they might anticipate and follow the evolution of his practice. The recent Oomph (2009), a large iron and brass-wire floor sculpture with an appearance halfway between a cactus and a caterpillar, casts sharp shadows around its perimeter. The work’s expansive, organic aura suggest that we may expect Bala to move away from undermining the definition of sculpture in order to enhance it, with a bolder, more pronounced use of lines and light, and perhaps a committed shift in medium from fiberglass to the robust materiality of metal.