New Delhi

Sudarshan Shetty, untitled, 2013, ceramic, wood, 72 x 24 x 22".

Sudarshan Shetty, untitled, 2013, ceramic, wood, 72 x 24 x 22".

Sudarshan Shetty

Sudarshan Shetty, untitled, 2013, ceramic, wood, 72 x 24 x 22".

Without providing an explicit cause, Sudarshan Shetty created a dramatic landscape of mourning in his exhibition “every broken moment, piece by piece.” Objects such as a container full of smashed teacups, an urn dangling off a barren branch, or even a crumpled coat left hanging on the wall helped evoke the scene of a tragic aftermath. Even as Shetty advanced his preoccupation with mortality, he also considered transience and regeneration, staging acts and rituals of remembrance. Approaching his familiar subjects through small, quiet gestures instead of the monumental scale on which he has often previously worked, Shetty also seemed to seek a chance for rejuvenation in his own practice.

As if to suggest that the past can never be recovered whole and is bound to be inflected by the present, Shetty first broke a number of porcelain vases and ornamental plates and then created replicas of some of their fragments in wood, fusing the pieces to one another. The restored vessels, displayed on shelves, were part blue-on-white floral patterns and part smooth brown wood, half readymade and half studio-made. A spread of teacups and kettles and a row of ochre-and-white Indian pickle jars were repaired in a similar fashion. No clues about this domestic destruction were supplied (all are untitled, 2013), but oblique stories and discursive fragments were offered in another series, through text carved into the surfaces of three wooden panels. In one, Shetty adopted a nostalgic tone: WE DRIVE THROUGH A BARREN LANDSCAPE THAT ONCE BOASTED OF THE BEST MANGOES IN THE REGION NOW SPARSELY LITTERED WITH SMALL AND BRIGHTLY PAINTED CONCRETE HOMES WHICH REPLACED THE VAST SKYFUL OF STORIES TO BE READ IN HIS EYES THROUGH A DISTINCT HAZE OF CATARACT.

Elsewhere, the ten-and-a-half-minute video waiting for others to arrive, 2013, filled the gallery with the plaintive notes of the sarangi, an Indian stringed instrument. The piece is set in Mumbai, where Shetty lives, in a dilapidated building with imposing Neoclassical columns and a leafy courtyard. Locals will easily identify the implied threat: Structures such as this one are being demolished to make way for generic, glitzy residential complexes. If the melancholic music isn’t enough, there appears a teacup wobbling on a table. It teeters and falls, crashing to pieces. Played over and over, this act of destruction enhances the feeling of loss that pervades the scene.

The culmination of Shetty’s video could be imagined in a hut-like shrine, constructed from salvaged wood covered in old paint. The material it was made from would have had a different life before—possibly as doors or windows in houses like the one featured in the video. The structure seemed like a commemorative monument to its own past. But the closer one looked, the more one began to question Shetty’s artifacts and monuments. The shrine was empty, and on its inner wall the words GOD ENVIES MY MORTALITY had been inlaid. The patterned vases were probably not objects of great value, as their installation on pedestals seemed to imply, but more likely cheap imitations aimed at satisfying middle-class appetites for faux vintage—not quite like the urn that Ai Weiwei smashed to bits in 1995. Could we even take the credibility of the well-worn wood for granted? The narrative of loss and longing began to undo itself deliberately, skirting any possible sentimentality.

Amid the ruins, one work exercised a pull on the emotions more than any other. It was a wooden container filled with pieces of broken china and a precariously tilted teacup rotating ceaselessly at its center. The exquisite white vessel seemed to be on the verge of tipping over, but it kept returning hypnotically to the point where its journey began, intact despite its evident fragility. Once again, we’d been had. No matter how long we watched, the teacup was never going to shatter to pieces. Like all the other works in “every broken moment, piece by piece,” this was yet another felicitous trick played on the viewer.

Zeenat Nagree