Gyan Panchal, the seed, 2018, cotton undershirts, mosquito net, resin, wood, 72 1/8 × 42".

Gyan Panchal, the seed, 2018, cotton undershirts, mosquito net, resin, wood, 72 1/8 × 42".

Gyan Panchal

Gyan Panchal, the seed, 2018, cotton undershirts, mosquito net, resin, wood, 72 1/8 × 42".

In Arun Kolatkar’s poem “Meera,” from his collection Kala Ghoda Poems (2004), a street sweeper puts modest piles of trash on display along the curb in front of the Jehangir Art Gallery in Bombay (now Mumbai). These “installations,” Kolatkar writes, “might as well have been / titled ‘Homage to Bombay, one,’ / ‘Homage to Bombay, two,’ and so on, / since a good bit of the city stands / on sweepings such as these.” The latter bit is a reference to the land reclaimed from the sea for the purpose of filling in marshes and inlets with rubble and refuse, linking what were once seven islands into a single landmass and thus developing the city. In her book Arun Kolatkar and Literary Modernism in India: Moving Lines (2014), scholarLaetitia Zecchini writes about the modern poet’s celebration of the regenerative capacity of objects, stating that things are never “definitely devitalized or restricted to one purpose” and “can be recreated and ‘begin again’ after they have been ‘used,’ cast off, or destroyed.”

Something like Kolatkar’s attentiveness to the life (or lives) of objects and their poetry informed Gyan Panchal’s latest exhibition, “against the threshold.” Like Kolatkar, Panchal is a flaneur whose wanderings lead to fateful encounters with objects. But it’s the confrontation, not so much with the object but with the material of which it is made, that triggers Panchal’s artistic impulse. He labors over the thing—washing, peeling, sanding, effacing, slicing, and treating it—seeking to make it lose its identity, status, and functionality, trying to return it to an earlier state or to transform and recontextualize it.

In “against the threshold,” Panchal’s concern seemed to be with envelopes and skins. In the beating (all works cited, 2018), one side of an aluminum thali (plate) has been flattened using a sledgehammer; now fixed perpendicular to the wall, it almost resembles an agape oyster shell or the petal of a flower nearing dehiscence. In the leaving, a small wooden theatrical mask has been sanded to remove most of its color and luster and has been positioned against a cross-section of an East Indian walnut tree—thereby retreating into its material source.

Flung against the window is a “thing that the wind brings to you, with its agitated outlines, this form constrained by the force of the city and thrown up towards you,” the artist writes in the exhibition text. “It clings to the surface and does not intend to let go. It tries to stay on the edge, failing to pass to the other side. It is trapped. You observe this uncertain and trembling thing behind the glass, and you feign to understand that it addresses you.” Both the dawn and the seed feature mosquito nets stretched on window-like wooden frames; Panchal describes these works as canvases facing away from the viewer—the net filtering or leaving behind elements that didn’t make it to the painting. In the dawn, Styrofoam plates that the artist has finger-painted white compose an auroral vista, with the plates playing the part of the moon against the pale-yellow sky of the mosquito net.

To create the seed, Panchal soaked men’s white undershirts in water-based resin and then affixed them to the mosquito net, where they look like floating embryos or pupae. In the spark, coveralls are suspended in the air from a wire shaped like a hook so that they appear to be frozen in a headlong dive. These garments allude to the many lives they have been parts of, and appear to have lives of their own.

Roshan Kumar Mogali