Sunil Gawde blends art with engineering, philosophical concepts with everyday objects and poetry with humour to create sculptural and kinetic installations that embody the dualities of life and challenge ideas about reality and our perception of it. His choice of materials and the precarious balance in his compositions convey a sense of tension and lurking danger, yet his artworks are deeply spiritual. Whether it is an elephant balancing on an egg on one foot, a smiley face dangling between the blades of a scissor or a high heeled shoe with a tongue sticking out, Gawde’s artworks invite viewers to contemplate the fragility and constant struggle of life and the contradictions inherent in human existence.
The Indian artist is presenting works he has created over the last 10 years in his first solo show in Dubai, id-od & other dimensions. The show’s title comes from the engineering terms for inner dimension (id) and outer dimension (od). It refers to the multiple dimensions of our inner and outer world that Gawde explores through his precisely engineered and layered artworks.
“Each of us lives in our own bubble. We have our own beliefs, perceptions, cultural and other influences and we process what is happening around us in our own way. I try to create a bridge between what I see inside with my eyes closed and the world outside and that process results in the making of my art,” Gawde says.
The artist has used a variety of materials, mechanisms, readymades and handmade objects to create witty, thought-provoking artworks that explore ideas of perception versus reality, magic versus logic, fragility versus resilience, and inside versus outside.
Still Alive III, 2016-17, Painted FRP and steel, 150 x 117 x 94 cm, Edition of 3+2 AP. Sunil Gawde
A striking example is a group of big beautiful butterflies from his Secret Garden series perched on the wall. The seemingly fragile creatures are made of steel, with daggers for bodies, and the pretty patterns on their wings are composed of blades. They play with our notions of reality and perception, beauty and danger and speak about the inner strength one needs to endure the pain and struggle of life’s journey and how those experiences hidden inside us make us beautiful.
A butterfly also appears in the kinetic installation, Inshallah. Here it is seen calmly flapping its wings unaware of the moving blades of a garden shear that repeatedly miss slicing its body by a mere whisker. “This work is about the role of circumstance in our lives. This butterfly is in the wrong place but at the right time. It reminds us that some things are controlled by a higher power and rather than being paralysed by the fear of the unknown dangers lurking around us, we should learn to live with them,” Gawde says.
A rose garland made from painted blades similarly questions our perception of a popular symbol of respect and reverence. In another work a pair of spectacles alternate between being foggy and clear referring to the influences and beliefs that blur our perceptions. The title Temporary Blindness expresses the artist’s hope that the fogging of our vision is not permanent.
The onomatopoeically named Heart Beat Beat Heart is a row of heart-shaped Valentine balloons that magically remain intact despite being punctured with hundreds of nails. This work is about our search for love and about carrying on despite the painful experiences embedded in our hearts. On the other hand, another installation featuring an eyeball placed inside a glass bulb urges us to look within for enlightenment rather than seeking light and love outside.
Gawde’s kinetic installation, After Vincent, is a poetic work featuring several moons going through different phases and an array of stars referencing Van Gogh’s famous painting Starry Night. The work is a new iteration of a monumental piece he created for the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, where he deconstructed and questioned our notion of time through multiple moons moving at different speeds. “This new work is inspired by the same moon and stars that inspired Van Gogh over a century ago and the difference in our visual language reflects the difference in time,” Gawde says.
I try to create a bridge between what I see inside with my eyes closed and the world outside.”
The artist’s id-od series digs deeper into the dualities and contradictions he likes to explore. In one installation he has bound the hands of a clock with a chain, but they continue to move alluding to the desire and futile attempts of human beings to control what is not in our control.
Gawde has visualised the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth through a kinetic work with a pulley moving two glass bell jars up and down over two candles. “Science tells us that when the oxygen in a jar is consumed by a flame it will go off. But in this work the flame gets transferred to the other jar. The cage-like shadow of the moving jars and the flame that remains alive are allegories for the body and the soul,” he explains.
The movement is barely noticeable in another work featuring several glasses filled with liquid. Although the fluid seems to be frozen, a careful look reveals a subtle movement in the liquid in one glass. “I have been creating kinetic works for a long time, but here I wanted to create something that talks about stillness and inner movement,” Gawde says.
The id-od series includes several surreal installations featuring handmade miniature elephants. In one piece a herd is seen following its leader towards the edge of a transparent ledge. Similar figures on the other side of the ledge representing the reflection of the animals play with our perception by creating the illusion of a mirage. The work evokes images of migration in search of water and other resources and the ironical fact that the glass jars on which the ledge is balanced are filled with water adds another dimension to the work.
Gawde ensures that the levers, gears and other kinetic mechanisms in his artworks are always visible. “I want to show both sides of these works because one side is magic and poetry and the other is logic and geometry,” he says.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.
Id-od & other dimensions will run at 1x1 Art Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, until October 30.