TEJA GAVANKAR / M PRAVAT / SUDARSHAN SHETTY / SATYABHAMA MAJHI
“Nothing is built on stone; All is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.” ― Jorge Luis Borges.
The inverse of excavation is elevation. Elevation invokes upward-ness, reaching, expansion, and projection. We use this word to describe the heights of our landscape features as they rise above the level of the sea; we elevate our exceptional individuals. There is a connotation of rising and lifting. To elevate is to negotiate an escape from gravity or mediocrity.
An architectural elevation uses orthographic projection to convey a building’s exterior façade. In this context, an elevation is a visualization of a proposed future structure. Importantly, an elevation drawing is purely speculative; it exists as a concept yet to be embodied in material. Tatlin’s renderings for his utopian Monument to the Third International are architectural ‘elevations’ that became famous as works of art in and of themselves. The Constructivist tower, designed in 1920, was envisioned as a monumental commemoration of the Bolshevik Revolution; its soaring scale would dwarf the Eiffel tower. The tower was never built, but it persists in our imaginations as a utopian homage to the ideal.
The attitude of building up from the ground is optimistic and aspirational; we create structures that allow us to ascend to greater heights and gain an aerial view. Several works on the art trail move between the space of sculpture and architecture. The concept of elevation expresses these works’ wish to project an architectural vision into space.
Teja Gavankar’s Change is an architectural-scale work in clay is comprised of two simple geometric sections. A tilted cylindrical base rises up to supports a crisp hollowed pyramid. A sharp pivot at the juncture of the two forms creates an acute angle, so that the upper pyramid seems to be jutting energetically away from its base.
The design of Gavankar’s sculpture, which seeks to “orient the viewer to perceive the shifts in time” stands as a strong metaphor for the concept of change in Bhubanswar. Teja explains: “In today’s time, the city Bhubaneswar has two names – 1) Temple City and 2) Smart City. The second implies that we are developing our living conditions.” The diverging geometries of her sculpture imply anxiety about this transition. Its columnar base evokes the curvilinear shape of the Old Town temple, and seems to symbolize a stable past; the angular silhouette of the jutting upper pyramid seems to stand in for the “Smart City” – modern, sleek, inorganic. The sculpture’s sharp central pivot causes its upper half to dangle precariously, implying weakness in the transition. Here, future development is depicted not as a natural transition but a sharp deviation from the past.
Unlike Tatlin’s idealist tower, Gavankar’s message is profoundly realist. It is tempting to interpret the sculpture’s unfortunate collapse just before opening day as an answer to the questions it poses. Indeed, Change’s collapsed form is nearly as compelling and thought provoking as its initial design. But as proven by Tatlin’s Monument, architectural forms don’t always have to manifest physically to succeed in expressing an idea.
Neighboring Gavankar’s work is a large spherical sculpture by artist M Pravat. The Malleability of All Things Solid is a massive orb-shaped sculpture poised on a shallow earthen pad at the center of a vacant lot. More than any work on the trail, Pravat’s work feels materially bound to its location. The laterite stone orb shares its russet color with the terracotta-tinged earth surrounding it; one senses that the sphere has somehow manifested directly from the earth below.
Constructed of laterite stone blocks, Pravat’s sculpture asserts a direct connection to the Old Town’s temple architecture. Here, laterite blocks have been joined together and then ground down to create the seamed surface of a uniform sphere. It’s common to see stretches of Old Town’s laterite temples where the endlessly ornate surfaces have been worn smooth by time; Pravat’s sphere seems to suggest an extreme exaggeration this reductive wear.
Particularly tied to the concept of architectural elevation is Sudarshan Shetty’s contribution, Shadow City – A Life After. As the title suggests, this work is concerned with the transitory, ephemeral nature of architecture. We tend to think of architectural structures as being nearly permanent; Shetty’s collection of frail wooden architectural silhouettes expresses the opposite. To make the sculptures Shetty has employed local craftsmen who typically make objects for religious and social events; those objects are typically dismantled after use. Thus, as transient forms, the skeletal structures feel like an architectural mirage. One is invited to imagine the city itself this way – envisioned, erected, existing for a brief moment, and then eventually dissolving like dreams.
Finally, Satyabhama Majhi’s Temple City invokes architecture as an expression of temporality and a container for community. Majhi’s project is multifaceted; its main feature is a large sculpture inspired by the form of the Lingaraj Temple. Constructed of arched iron ribs that trace the contours of the temple silhouette, the sculpture depicts a double image of the temple, one erect and one fallen. Majhi’s ‘fallen’ temple implies future decay in the event of neglect; it suggests that without stewardship and care, the temple – and by extension the traditions it represents – will not persist through time. The iron bars have been wrapped in the red salu kanna fabric used in ritual. Here, the act of wrapping serves as a ritual metaphor for connection and caretaking.
Majhi’s sculpture is installed outside of an old monastery, the first floor of which serves as a community school. The second feature of Majhi’s project is a series of drawing workshops with the school students, with whom she has worked closely. The products of these workshops – tiny sketches inspired by the narrative and decorative imagery of the temple architecture – can be seen installed as intimate groupings in the school’s entryway. These fragments share what the child’s eye is drawn to on a sensory, haptic level. Majhi describes these works and the stories shared by the kids as sort of “oral folklore archive.” Its satisfying to think of these student drawings in the context of architectural renderings; unconcerned with architecture’s functional aspects, they instead reflect its capacity to imprint on our visual imaginations and channel collective expression.