Critics’ Picks

  • Alwar Balasubramaniam, Study for a liquid mountain, 2017–18, fiberglass and iron, 9 x 4 5/8'.

    Alwar Balasubramaniam

    Talwar Gallery | New Delhi
    C-84 Neeti Bagh
    February 8 - May 12

    Though described in the show’s catalogue essay as a “departure” from his practice, the works on display in Alwar Balasubramaniam’s exhibition are fairly representative of his long-standing interest in exploring surfaces and negative space. He uses an eclectic range of media––fiberglass, cotton, terra-cotta, enamel, soil, wood, cement, acrylic, iron, oil, resin, graphite, aluminum, marble, and sandstone––to interpret the effects of the environment on human artistry.

    The tension between the intentional and the organic is apparent in an untitled work from 2017, a large multicolored blot made using pigment and binder––the phrase “traces of evaporation” is part of its caption in the checklist. The brown pigment, the first of a series of concentric layers applied to a marble surface, peeps out from a peeling hole in the center, a blemish made by the natural process of evaporation (and the artist’s own intervention) that imparts the complexity and texture of a living thing. Repeating a simple combination of materials, this time on canvas, the striking Up in the air, 2017, is a dark ovoid work featuring a series of cracks, suggesting an ominous hatching.

    The highlights of the exhibition are the monumental sculptures: the volcanic red Study for a liquid mountain, 2017–18, made from fiberglass and iron, and Nothing to fall, 2016–17, made of fiberglass and cement. Inspired by stalactites, the latter is installed on the gallery’s ceiling and hangs down to the ground floor, staid and unmoving like a mythical chain of justice. Instead of the usual decrying of the human domination of nature, Balasubramanian flips the civilizational narrative about art being a result of human intervention. Drawing on a legacy of Land art, his sculptures echo what Rosalind Krauss recognized as an expansion of the field.

  • Dileep Prakash, Untitled, 2008, pigment print, 12 x 15”.

    Dileep Prakash

    A-4 Green Avenue Street Off Green Avenue, Church/Mall Road, Vasant Kunj
    February 3 - March 17

    The otherworldliness of Dileep Prakash’s black-and-white photographs of moonlit forests and bungalows is intensified by the way the works are generously spaced throughout this wide-walled gallery. In “Sleeping in the Forest,” his third exhibition in this venue, Prakash presents a series featuring British-era rest houses and the Himalayan jungles in which they were built. The prints (all Untitled, 2007–2016) loom large, their size befitting the architectural and arboreal solidity on display.

    These bungalows made an impression on Prakash when he stayed in them as a child, and he has been photographing them for years, imbuing his images with a melancholic texture. Medium-long shots of atmospheric landscapes frame a high-contrast theater, the use of long exposure causing firefly-like light streaks of various shapes. The chiaroscuro of white facades and dark foliage is leavened by a subtler choreography of light: the bulb left on, the door ajar, the lichen on tree bark, a slice of sky.

    Shooting under the moonlight imparts an obvious intrigue to pictures; they are rescued from banality by the way in which the exposure suggests a reflective period of anticipation. It is in this longueur that Prakash’s history with the terrain comes into play, phantomlike. A country path vanishes into a bend; deciduous trees slant sharply on slopes; and certain angles at which the houses are photographed suggest a haunting. Michael Kenna’s experiments with nocturnal photography and remote landscapes come to mind. So does O. Winston Link’s level of detail, with which Prakash might be familiar, having previously created a series on the extinction of India’s steam locomotives.

    Forests are a trope in the South Asian aesthetic canon—in epics such as the Ramayana and in Mughal miniature paintings, for example. In Prakash’s work, they become a site of tension between self-knowledge and the unknowable nature of the world.