Art News & Views

Metaphors of the Absurd


by Shubhalakshmi Shukla

“I could imagine an inverted mountain and I could see it just as an inverted mountain,” says Shreyas Karle. Hailed for his minimal language with abundance of visual puns, Karle’s works operate within the discourse of cutting edge thought process and art. Shubhalakshmi Shukla analyses his works to establish their connections with absurdity and logic."

‘...I would draw the mountains upside down, for no rhyme or reason.
Now what would I do if I was a crazy but thoughtful kid?
I would draw the mountains upside down
And the rising sun would have been fallen on the ground.
I.M.(Inverted Mountains) have no intellectual take to it.
It is just an upside down view of the world.’

- Shreyas Karle

Humour is an inevitable aspect of Shreyas Karle’s visual language. A child viewing upside down mountains may spontaneously laugh and enjoy without questioning. However, the same child when grows up would find meaning in this absurdity. Karle plays with the irony of upside down reflection the world. He often unfolds the ‘weird’ and/or accidental in a given situation to unveil aspects of ironical truth/s.

This upside down view of the mountains, made in local material -rusted iron sheets, a cost effective medium for large scale works was shown at Karle’s solo show at Project 88 in 2010 titled Karle ki Koshish- Jeevan ka Samnyagyaan.  There was another remarkable work in metal sheet The Kicking Leg wherein a fine relief of human leg was gently kicking a superstructure! The action was made possible by connecting a motor which created this mechanical movement. The irony of the work lasted in its subtle movement which may cause a dimensional transformation. While the upside-down view of the mountains holds a child like innocence, the kicking leg too could be viewed as impersonating a thoughtless action or a gesture meant to irritate someone. However, both the works acquire a satirical volume when viewed in a context. 

Shy Frames were placed turning away form the display! These works effectively infill the silent works with human emotion, infusing a soul in them. Shy Frames is not just an address to admiration, to silence, but the artist’s hesitation to reveal everything of his/her practice. Probably Karle has tried to acknowledge the fact that a lot of work happens in silence. These works also embody the artist’s confession on the shyness to reveal his secret thoughts. Karle fleshes out the deep seated unconscious in every individual through the subtle humour here.

The Conical Human raised several thoughts in my mind about ‘form’ and its purity. In this portrait Karle simplifies several details of the human head into a line drawing suggesting human face in profile. The face could be viewed as an x-ray, marking openings on the face and revealing their (inner) connecting points, that is- the eyes, the nostrils, the mouth and the ears connecting with the brain and the throat. The profile is a combined view of what is visible on the surface and that which the skin hides beneath. The brain is also depicted as an open receptacle with the help of a large cone. The totality of the work could be viewed as the clinical examination of thoughts that human gaze, fragrance and taste produce. The work has a provocative stance of ‘common-place graffiti’ scripted in Hindi with feeble handwritten text that reads ‘The holes of human face’ wherein the word ‘body’ which is to replace ‘face’ is gently smudged. Although layered with conscious provocation, the works offer a significant insight on ‘viewing and experiencing’. The works designates a criticality towards voracious ‘consumptions’ possible by humans. Consequently Karle refers to a transparent being ‘unpolluted’ (also see his drawing Shauch Kriya Banana). He questions the systemic need to ‘consume and survive’. The above portrait evolves upon signifying the purity of the form–cone indicating the eyes, the nostrils and the mouth as collectors of information/ energy. In itself–the cone, with its one end tapering and the other wider end, indicates a function of cleansing (like a funnel). In my view, there is little humour in these drawings. The content of the works is subtle yet directly confrontational. It unlayers the beastly reflection within humans which could be glimpsed in different situations.

For Karle, cone has appeared several times in his work with different meanings or merely as a form. The works he mentions have happened in different time periods and may not be related. Karle has earlier made a series of three cones in steel where each was symbolic of human nose; analysing the habit of digging one’s nose with ‘thinking’ or gesture of mocking at someone! His first encounter with the conical form takes us back in his studio in Baroda in 2007 where he arranged cones of varying scales made in white sheet and photographed them. He mentions encountering voices on loudspeakers on the roads which one may not be willing to listen but ends up taking in. Conflictingly, it is also the collective-hidden-voice of the individual often surfacing the social group s/he may belong to. The cone also symbolises the society’s voice, which is something one has to keep hearing time and again. The form suggests a growing anxiety! 

The Wall, a large scale sculptural installation was a part of the solo at Project 88. Karle inscribes in his note that this wall being hollow from inside is dysfunctional like a partition or a wall having socio-historical, geographical or political functions. It neither embodies and messages nor hides one. It is simply a wall which is different. One could choose to view this structural element as about to announce a beginning, or a stage for an event or a performance. It could be symbolic of a social hierarchy or the one which breaks open the same. Karle develops an unavoidable bond with the mundane and the life that surrounds. His works take a dig into the ‘unspoken’ yet commonly experienced thoughts and feelings. Its recognition causes humour. When viewed in a particular context, the works evoke criticality. It would be inspiring to see more drawings by Karle in charcoal extending the subjects he has already chosen to travel with. This would be a brooding engagement with the language which forms the deep seated unconscious. It would also be reflexive of the superfluous understandings of the visual consumptions. It would be self-reflexive as well as self revealing to engage further with irony.
‘My work uses absurdity as a metaphor to reflect social situations. It creates an ambience of humour but simultaneously mocks the ironies of reality. The visuals try to evoke disturbing emotions in a pleasant situation. They attempt to make one experience the camouflaged reality, often by subtle humour. Apart from the visual pun, there is an anchoring thought that mirrors the mundane life.’

- Shreyas Karle

The visual puns in Karle’s visual language open up a space for viewing the details of the mundane. It holds humility of performance and yet a confrontation. Karle’s works range from charcoal drawings, sculptural installations, photographs and performance-videos. Karle is the recipient of PRO-HELVITIA artist residency in Switzerland for the year 2012.

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