Shilpa Joglekar

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Shilpa Joglekar is a Bombay based artist who during her childhood would leave the sprawling metropolis to visit her native village, which lies on the Maharashtra coastline. Even to this day she feels that when she leaves the urban setting in to the realm of the rural she seems to subconsciously send out messages, out to the ecosystem that surrounds her. The messages that return seem to encase her; they beg expression and this is how she finds inspiration for her art, commenting on the pitfalls of urbanization by taking one-step back in to the realm of nature, metaphysical literature and aesthetics. Leaving the trappings of city life behind her the young Joglekar would fi nd herself instantly intoxicated by the saccharine yet airy scent of jackfruit, emanating from succulent formations of syrupy yet firm flesh, caressed within vestibules of solace and nurture, small package like structures which form this body of sanctuary within the dark, moist confi nes of the inner contour of the membrane of a fruit and it’s outer shell. This nobly spine ridden carcass, a bright green yet weathered outer rind through which this fragrance uninhibitedly seeps outward, melding almost instantly with the mellow gold aroma of the ripening Alphonso wafting through the humid summer breeze, sobered only by the aroma of gobar and burning wood. A home that remains under lock and key for the majority of the year which is occasionally opened to house the fantasies of a child who would fabricate her own dolls and toys, make up games to occupy herself, climbing the trees of both her place of origin and the city in which she lived and was educated.

Joglekar, in her later childhood would keep frequenting her village and spent copious amounts of time with the potter communities of the area, selling her wares at the local market before returning to Mumbai to resume her schooling and every day life. She would, coming from an upper caste family, find her motives questioned by these craftsmen who initially found it odd how a small Brahmin girl would be more than ready to eat their heavily spiced non-vegetarian food and learn from the peoples that are used to being told that they need to be taught, for the way that she wanted to be incorporated in to their societal framework if not only for the span of her holiday. These humble potters, a bracket of the society that expected to be regarded as an anathema or just to simply be ignored by the rest of society made a profound impact on Joglekar. Her later sensibilities regarding sculpture in the earthy medium of ceramic bearing a testament to this period in her life; the intimacy of this home setting then giving Joglekar a foundation through which her aesthetic sensibilities would develop. The house and village was at this point then moving from the realm of physical reality to that of the imagination and ruminations of a young artist.

In the work ‘The Poetics of Space’ by the French phenomenologist and metaphysician Gaston Bachelard, a piece of literature that has deeply infl uenced the conceptual framework through which Joglekar works as an artist, we observe a comprehensive study of the phenomena of inhabiting and the symbolic qualities that lie hidden in the nooks and crannies of the home. The daydream is given an exalted status in this work since Bachelard interprets the phenomena of the daydream as an innate form of human cognition that gives the dreamer an opportunity to retreat in to a shell of sorts, an all encompassing outer garment which contains the psycho-physiological dynamic of inhabiting and is the mode through which all the abstract qualities of space perception may manifest. The home being the catalyst of the daydream since the state of protected intimacy is an integral factor to the safety of the otherwise vulnerable and unassuming daydreamer who is at that point immersed in the mental and consciousness based activities of this epicenter of her nervous system, the most complex cerebral faculty known to man, the human brain. The human being is born naked because through our understanding of the world around us we are on a genetic and behavioral level, assured of the fact that a member of our kin will instantly bind us in white muslin and through out life, from that point forward we are assured of various forms and manifestations of shelter which are fashioned around our voluminous and manifold set of habitual activities.

The home in this work transcends the most basic functions of a shelter from the elements, which offers different rooms, which in turn enshrine implements and machines that will enable us to carry out every day acts that propitiate survival. In Bachelard’s analysis the inner contours of the home enable the human being to let her imagination fi nd a resting place and the daydream brings the home through a process of reverse reifi cation where the physical properties of the space are brought in through the perceptive framework of the dreamer which is otherwise rooted in the worldly perceptive familiarity of sources of stimuli to the level of transcendental projections of ephemeral form, the very essence of abstraction. The day dream itself differing from that of slumber in that the sleeping state brings forms of the subconscious to the realm of psychic projections of reality, with the intention of communicating themes and messages that are more deep rooted in our psyche than the imprint of physical forms, which our mind sanctions and utilizes to communicate that which boils underneath the surface of reifi ed form. The daydream however, is a contemplative abstraction of the form of shelter, the physical shelter that is thus augmented to metaphorically shelter the more diversifi ed and fl eeting mental processes that are attributed to the darker corners of the human mind. While the awareness of the dreaming subject is in the process, altered to imbibe of that very space, which is housing both the corporeal and subliminal aspects of her being. Through this process of inhabiting, poetry and certain forms of literature from Bachelard’s analysis would thus emanate from the tangential space of the daydream, which lies between the subconscious plane of transitional form and the concrete plane of physical form, constituting a catchment area comprising of a myriad array of amalgams of the two from which the conceptual basis for this phenomena of the spatial poetic may be said to lie. Bachelard utilizes literature and poetry through out this work to document the phenomenological incidence of metaphysical trans-mergence through altered planes of cognition and consciousness.

This conceptual stronghold thus articulated as the daydream can also be construed as the fundamental basis of all aesthetic phenomena. Abstract art for example inhabiting the space that lies closer to the realm of the subconscious and figurative art bearing the name of the daydream dedicated to that of the conscious realm of compositional elements and non-linear (one dimensional) narrative structures. In the same way the raga music of the various classical traditions of the subcontinent vary from that of the popular and folk idioms that we know and love.

In the practice of our artist one can observe a foundational framework of conceptual abstraction that forms a basis for her work in sculpture, water colour on paper, gauche on paper, acrylic on canvas and sight-specifi c installation - all of which will be included in this series. Joglekar’s attachment to her childhood home and the realm of intimacy that was established there bears a direct reference to the phenomenology of The Poetics of Space. The tangential space of the daydream giving rise to a mode of conceptual abstraction that manifests through these various forms and through an intersection of their salient features. The primary aspect being Joglekar’s concern with addressing through her work the points of connectivity between different forms of life at different junctions in their developmental journey. These phases of growth are often given an associative quality through the mode of containment that is inherent to their form and that of others that share sympathetic resonance with that of the original.

Joglekar comments on the experiential realm of causality as being synthesized through the memory since if she were to walk some distance from her village to a pond where she were to bathe to then walk back to her abode the many points of sensory stimuli merge in the protocol of events that eventually also merge in to the all encompassing feeling-tone of the memory of the event. The shards of freshly cut grass on one side of the dirt road, the pods of the Gulmohar on the other, the sunlight gleaming through the bushes, the song of the Koyal bird, the cold sensation of the water on her skin and the sensation of walking back with the wind blowing through her damp hair. All of these aspects of the journey that were once distinct now merge in to the engulfi ng and composite sensual quality that she is left with when she returns to the space of homely intimacy, losing their linearity and sequential structure. What is left after this process unfolds is then what inspires her to create and since the space of daydreams has been defi ned as being the realm between articulated and amorphous form, the texture of bark, dried leaves, petals and fruit rinds may be communicated through the layered washes of her paintings whereas the form of a pod or seed may be the central subject, the colours and textures of each compositional element inform each other to the level of abstraction that even the distinction between fruit, seed and pod of the central subject becomes obfuscated - the container thus simultaneously embodying the form of that which is contained.

Bachelard regards the childhood home as the original progenitor of every other space that would be associated with the realm of intimacy since the memory of this original parent home gives rise to ruminations of sanctuary in other settings that connect it to the original shell, the fi rst rapturous quietude felt in what Bachelard calls ‘the land of Motionless Childhood, motionless the way all Immemorial things are. We live fi xations, fi xations of happiness. Something closed must retain our memories, while leaving them their original value as images (The Poetics of Space, Bachelard, pg 6.)’ He also speaks of the house as a large cradle that we return to in our memories as a source of nurture and comfort.

This phenomenological basis through which the fi rst nest of succor, the childhood home is articulated bears precedence over the way in which Joglekar’s ancestral property touches her practice through the articulation of the day dream as that which forms a platform upon which this mode of conceptual abstraction may manifest. The internal architectural qualities of the home then encasing the daydreams of the soul are then touched by the memories of playing outside during the day. These actualized natural forms then would suddenly take on an amorphous quality in the in-between space of the daydream, which through the specifi c dream space of our artist transitions from amorphous to the realm of the bio-morphic. The values of the objects of inside come to merge with those of the exterior realm of interiorality within the context of the daydream in this instance and the symbolic quality of each disparate element seem to merge together seamlessly through the sculptural practice of Joglekar. The grey-schist of spiraled sheets that encase the bio-morphic pods in some instances seem almost industrial and reminiscent of skyscrapers. The ceramic seeds will often resemble a small rubber ball that would be enjoyed in the leisure time of the child.

In the Poetics of Space Bachelard also analyses the objects of the household, the wardrobe being one common point of reference between these sculptural entities and the writings of Bachelard. There is a metaphor of the linen in the wardrobe as being likened to folded moonbeams. The seeds of the wardrobe of Joglekar also containing metaphorical seeds of potential growth, which can be seen as infi nitesimally tiny sprouts, folded neatly in their shells. The mystery of the locked wardrobe without key in the poetry of Rimbaud bears reference to the dark yet intriguing silence that seems satisfi ed in it’s peace a tranquility of unmoved unwantedness and blissful neglect (Bachelard, pg 80). Conversely in Joglekar’s cupboard we witness the key - that which contains the potentiality of opening a door replaced by the cocoon – that which contains the potentiality of transmogrifi cation and new life. In the cupboard however we see strings arranged in the pattern of a spider’s web – a structure containing the potentiality of death for all small insect life, the very life that is vulnerable and precariously placed in the transition phase between one form of life and another is also undergoing a process of transformation by usurping the power the arachnid predator has over it’s prey, creating a strong hold of utopia in this sculptural form.

Joglekar’s sight specifi c installations however are usually set in the wooded glade or on the beach near a grove of coconut trees and seashells, bearing not even the vaguest reference to that which is man made. The environmental forces at work directing the artist through her exploration of the impression left on her by the multifaceted milieu of sensory stimuli, objective forces in this instance, working through the subjective mediums of her aesthetic faculty. The principles of Beuysian social sculpture being applied in this context through the way that the installation would be in a state of constant transition through the blowing of the wind and possibly even the passer by treading on what he would never recognize as a discernibly sculptural form (since installation art from this perspective, constitutes a form of sculpture.) Those who take notice not being able to hold back a comment regarding the strange and cryptic shapes forming hieroglyphs on the sand with strings dangling from coconut trees, made of and connected to the husk of the tree. The sculpture entitled ‘churning’ also marks a reference to Beuysian principles of sculpture. In the practice of Joseph Beuys, one of the fathers of conceptual art practice as we know it there was a certain emphasis on the juxtaposition of materials that would change in form, colour and often, odor as well during the course of the installation piece with others that did not, representing the circumstantial and the fi xed elements moving in tandem with one another through the socio-environmental frame of reference. One example of this is the combination of fat and felt. In this instance however Joglekar has a seemingly archaic churning vessel with the ceramic seed as that which churns the liquid inside the vessel, which then bubbles up to the brim and eventually, settles again. This piece representing the phenomena of a seed containing both the potentiality of growth and expansion and the eventual death of the plant which results in another seed of identical form, the activity and archetypal presence of the old ushering in the life process of the new.

According to Bachelard the act of dwelling transcends species-specifi c discourses and dwelling itself then takes on a metaphor of hidden dialectics. He writes that ‘wellbeing takes us back to the primitiveness of the refuge. Physically, the creature endowed with a sense of refuge huddles up to itself … lies snug, concealed. If we look among the wealth of our vocabulary for verbs that express the dynamics of retreat we should fi nd images based on animal movements of withdrawal, movements that are engrained on our muscles (Bachelard, pg 91).’ He then goes on to describe how the general characteristics of different creatures are corroborated by their modes of inhabiting. The scenario of the heroic bird couple where the female waits patiently for her mate to bring back twigs while exerting equal amounts of pressure from each side so that the nest may form the desired dimensions is contrasted with the mollusk who carries the cumbersome shell to assure his safety, jostling from curiosity of the outside world to utter fear and trepidation of the same. It’s interesting to compare this phenomena of the many different personality types of human being and the way we often extend our being to different animal forms through a qualitative synergy that we perceive to forge a commonality that spans the divide between one species and another.

Bachelard also seems to approach the theme of the dwelling of the city disfavorably. He writes that the apartment block, devoid of attic and cellar alike is no more than a monstrosity of concrete which, due to elevators are robbed of even the heroism associated with climbing many fl ights of stairs to your apartment nestled in the clouds. However, when he comments on how the cacophony of traffi c noises, which are reiterated in his mind as waves to give them a more organic quality, thus scold him for his judgmental prejudice (Bachelard, pg 7).

The dialectics that exist between an urban and rural experiential causality and the modes through which one reconciles with the inherent divide between rural and urban sensibilities of how the ‘I’ is encased by the native circumstances and ambient qualities that eventually come to defi ne this entity, the way one functions within and builds a cognitive dialogue with one’s surroundings presented themselves on a purely foundational level at a point during Joglekar’s formative years. Though in Joglekar’s later years the tight matrix of human inter-relationships that no village could offer would nurture her drive toward forming her practice as an artist the original impetus can be traced back to the coastal setting of Maharashtra. Joglekar reminisces over how as a child the act of traveling within these two distinct settings left impressions that were imposed diametrically in relation to one another, putting in place a stark opposition in the perceptive construct of the innate value of these respective localities in the mind of a child. The double decker busses of the city moving precipitously down the then relatively traffi c free streets and alley ways would only afford her a glimpse at a tree that, in the village while pulled by bullock cart or on foot would come alive. Every angle that would present itself in a fl ash in an urban setting would be coloured by differing proportions of sun light exposure and shade, shadows formed by leaves and branches, the way the tree is animated by different levels of intensity of the blowing wind, loss of leaves, later to sprout anew, the natural progression of fl owering and bearing fruit through out the year. The tree that would be passed on a daily basis would no longer remain a stranger who is a regular feature of ones daily activity but yet is never truly taken notice of. Much like the space in ones life that is occupied by a ticket vendor for a local train who will never know one’s name or notice the dimples formed when a smile lights up one’s face. The fruit and vegetables grown locally, the fi sh caught in the morning, every morsel passing from hand to mouth bearing the name of the village they are being eaten in or that of those in it’s immediate proximity. In the city the only thing that would be locally grown is the spinach that would most likely have been planted and reared in the drains of the slum. The grit and bustle that would in an urban setting push the young Joglekar further in to her own imaginary world would in a rural setting bring these internalized forms to be projected for the fi rst time toward an external realm of intimacy, the village and the home.

There seems in human society to be a shift from complete incorporation in the ecosystem from which one has evolved to harnessing the life forces present through our understanding of the principles of nature to exploitation of the same, i.e. The shift from hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian to the industrial and post industrial times we live in presently. But the question most pertinent in relation to the work of the artist and her practice is, how does this progressive dialectical framework which consists of modes of living within different yet intersecting settings which comprise of environmental and societal forces set in place experiential norms which establish a certain precedence over the aesthetic quality of life and sensibilities of the one who chooses to live a certain way over another? Most simply put behavioral patterns are naturally dictated by one’s surroundings in the sense that one cannot go bathing near a waterfall if there doesn’t happen to be one in the arid local vicinity. If we have to walk to a well to fetch water, if we are lucky enough to gather herbs from shrubbery or even if we have to go around the corner to the nearest restaurant to feed ourselves we could take this evidence as proof that we posses a genetic predisposition to move toward the source of life giving substances but it is the life in us that allows us to recognize and seek both the sources of vitality and also other life forms that share in the same drive. It is then through our sensitivity of our own aesthetic, the feeling-tone of the individual soul that we can discern the aesthetic quality of that of another entity or environmental dynamic foreign to that which we are most familiar.

This often precariously strident way in which the human psyche constructs its perceptive framework around it’s way of life and that of others, a modus vivendi which in turn is governed by factors relating to the environment inherent to the setting in which it lives and functions. The ecology of the human settlement of various forms will in turn defi ne the temperament and the collective sense of wellbeing that any given human society gains from mutual bonding. A force that gives rise to the phenomena of culture, the very currency of all aesthetic phenomena which in this context functions as a sociological construct through which a niche is carved out from surrounding human settlements and more importantly, from the complex network of life that shares that locality and calls it home, each living plant and creature having a certain perception of those other forms of life that inhabit the same area (a phenomenological basis of life that most localities are robbed of by human encroachment.) For instance, the impulse that registers in the mind of a tiger at the sight of a stray gazelle after many different situations of feeling the same sense of happenstance and serendipity, to hunt an easy hunt and satisfy the burning in her stomach, the impulse itself would then of it’s own accord develop in to a nuanced appreciation of a familiar yet special situation. These fi ner nuances then in the psyche of a human would develop in to an aesthetic appreciation of the situation which conjures in the mind a vision or sound which would in turn urge her to write a song or a poem or paint a canvas in honor of that very aesthetic quality so that something the artist has fashioned may actually embody this elusive and abstracted paradigm of transitional form. The points of inspiration then constituting only half of the picture since the other half is cloaked in abstract form. For this reason an artist from Geneva may share more commonalities with one from Shantiniketan than she does with another Swiss artist. Thus it is suffi ce to say that one can not only regard ones way of life as the basis of human aesthetic activity but more importantly one must observe the way in which the assimilation process takes place from the gross aspect of form to the subtle aspect of abstracted aesthetic essentiality and through this process we can understand only how to deal with individual artists or distinct bands of artist, some of whom will also exist within the context of another distinct matrix.

The question then being, how is the aesthetic sensibility of a human being molded by her surroundings on a inexorably fundamental level and how does the discipline of biology (the study of life itself ) relate to the phenomenological aspect of activity and cognition, both on a human level and that of a higher or archetypal plane? In the book ‘What is Life’ the biologists Dorion Sagan and Lynn Margulis attempt to defi ne the parameters of this phenomena we recognize as life by setting in place a holarchical understanding of the way the myriad forms that exist on this planet interact and coexist and evolve in cooperation with one another thus expanding upon the linear discourse of the original Darwinian model, there is a reference to a comment made by the behaviorist Nicholas Humphries that our distant ancestors, the ancient human being would through introspective means gain an understanding of herself and her own needs and would thereby understand the needs of the other members that would have constituted the fabric of that given primordial society and would in turn understand their place in the larger ecosystem (Dorion and Sagan, What is Life? xi). Introspection in this analysis then bringing one to relate with the reality presented by outside world, the ‘I’ being the vehicle through which one comes to an understanding of that which exists outside the corporeal confines of the self.

One of the modes through which we can come to this understanding is the principle of autopoesis; we are all autopoetic entities in the sense that we are selfcontained structures that maintain ourselves. The term autopoeisis itself coming from the Greek roots ‘auto’ and ‘poiein’, the former meaning self and the latter meaning to make possessing the same root used in the word poetry (Dorion and Sagan, pg 19). When a living being has evolved and has been nurtured in such a way that all of the loss of energy and expenditure of heat that takes place while moving and breathing can be made up for through the food that we consume on a daily basis or the chlorophyll essential for photosynthesis in plants, the entity would be deemed autopoetic. The autopoetic being however has no necessary requirement toward reproduction to maintain it’s status as autopoetic since the only pre-requisite in this case is that one is able, quite simply put, to keep oneself alive. For instance, the mule, which is an offspring of a horse and a donkey, cannot reproduce but is a breathing, metabolizing being. Reproduction is often an option for these beings but if they do so or not they are contributing to the evolutionary drive of the species and not the phenomena of autopoesis itself, though both processes are obviously linked.

The biosphere of our planet itself can also be deemed as autopoetic in that it maintains itself through the exchanges of gasses that are carried out by other autopoetic entities on the planet. The oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane from the stomachs of the cow and a vast number of other chemicals that are given off by the multitude of unicellular organisms that inhabit the biosphere and other layers of the earth’s topography. The way in which our bodies contain keratin in the nails and hair but are still living and tree trunks which only possess an outer bark and core which are alive, the planet too has variegated layers of both living and dead material which functions together in such a way that one can not help but see the similarity to the organs of an animal and the cycles of wakefulness and slumber, (Refer to the Gaia theory of James E. Lovelock).

In the work entitled ‘germinators’ Shilpa transforms herself in to the three generations of ladies in her family that came before her for a performance piece. The only documentation of the same however are these pictoral images which are then painted upon to bring out the feeling-tone of the subject and to possibly gain an insight in to the internalized realm of the subject, a subject matter that had to be kept private enough to warrant the artist license to not take any other means toward further documentation, this constituting one aspect of the work itself. Through this work Joglekar is both commenting on and symbolically enacting the life process, both evolutionary and autopoetic - a principle that is applicable both on the micro level of the individual family and the planetary scale.

Krishna Pillai


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