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Smoke out the halo | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis

LN Tallur turns artist and curator for his show 'Smoke Out' at Chemould Prescott Road gallery, of 16 works with a socio-political bent, says Ornella D'Souza

LN Tallur, the Kundapur-born Seoul-based artist and sculptor, has been on a roll of late. For instance, occupying centre stage at the ongoing 'India and the world' exhibition at CSMVS museum, is his Nataraja-like ‘Unicode’ (2011) – concrete rock pasted with coins encircled by bronze flames. Next door, at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), as part of the ‘SUB-PLOTS: Laughing in the Vernacular’ exhibition, is his 2012 interactive piece, titled ‘ATM’ (Anger Management Machine) that fans the user to ‘cool’ him/her down.

Till January 7, his 2012 ‘Quintessential’ work was part of the ‘10 Contemporary Art Acquisitions Exhibition’ exhibition at Byculla’s Bhau Daji Lad museum, inspired by the stone elephant that was mended after it broke into pieces while the British transported it from the Elephanta Island to its current location outside the museum. His ‘Chromatophobia’ (2012), a wooden log embedded with coins as a comment of the fear of money, is part of the collection displayed at the sculpture park unveiled at Madhavendra Palace in Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur. And in the light of these one-off displays is an ongoing solo show at Chemould Prescott Road, titled ‘Smoke Out’. Ask Tallur about his omnipresence and he blushes, “What can I say, I've been lucky.”

Perceived as a commentator on the “absurdities of society”, Tallur wasn’t as lucky when he started his practice in 1999. “There was no acceptance or no market for my kind of art. So I did the reverse, showed extensively from New York to China for 15 years before exhibiting in India again. But most of the state governments here are still unaware about the contemporary art practice. The audience too is tiny and artists have no support or much of a collection in museums. Though South Korea, despite being half the size of Maharashtra, has 320 museums on contemporary art, India has barely 5-6.”

Tallur, however, takes the unconventional route. For instance, he’s also the curator of ‘Smoke out’ that displays his 16 works in wood, stone and metal, all dating 2017. Each work is positioned in a way that they are in tandem with the other. For instance, the mammoth ‘Threshold’, of swirly blades with razor-sharp jagged edges and spears, towers over ‘Tongue Twister 2’, that shows conjoined human jaws, a dagger and a depression where the tongue should’ve been.

“Threshold is that in-between area, as in the case of making a Samurai sword, where if the bladesmith doesn’t achieve the right temperature threshold the sword will break. It’s also that moment when the bride crosses the threshold of her maternal home forever. Whereas 'Tongue Twister 2', represents the ‘gap’ between what’s on your mind as opposed to what you want to say.”

Armed with an MFA degree in Museology from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, among other painterly qualifications, Tallur has conserved each of his artworks with chemicals used on archaeological exhibits to prolong their shelf life. For instance, the Turkish stone in Tongue Twister is treated with a thermoplastic resin surface-coating called Paraloid B 72, common in conservation. 

Despite the precautionary measures, he hasn’t deified his works, but, on the contrary, has made them tactile, meant for the viewer to enjoy the play of coarse and the polished surfaces, rake up memories and draw their own interpretations of the works. “I want people to touch and feel my works as opportunities for such experiences are slowly vanishing in a digital age. I want the viewer to gain a diverse experience and think.” Tallur, however, is unwilling to classify his art under the bracket of activism and also strictly clarifies that none of his works have any association to religion, despite their direct, outwardly appearances. "But the viewer is free to form their own associations."

The piece on which ‘Smoke Out’ is centred is a ‘rat’ from a rock drilled with holes – the animal whose essence, he says, of being dirty and Ganesh’s vahana at the same time, traditional sculptors, have failed to capture. “The Nandi bull can be looked as a ‘brand’, but somehow the human psyche doesn’t classify the rat on the same level. I’ve tried to sort this problem with a contemporary form that’s not fixed and made porous by drilling stone through ‘stone flaming’ that sees the end of the drill, flamed.”

It was his observation of bronze sculptures at museums, of a rod protruding from the head of the statue to support its halo, is what birthed his most prominent Halo series. “While this was done to fix a technical problem, I saw it as the head carrying the weight of the halo.” This led to his 7th and current Halo at ‘Smoke Out’, titled ‘Tolerance’, of a concrete sculpture having a cracked disc wedged into a cross-legged human. This particular halo is a departure from the earlier ones, and this evolution, he says, is a result of constantly ruminating on this idea behind it.

“Sometimes the perception/expectation of people and yourself about you is bigger than what your body can carry. We forget that we are not as self-aware as we assume to be and are yet to comb the deepest ravine and sea.” On the other hand, ‘Intolerance 2’ (2017), a larger-than-life pile of stones that appear like a game of lagori or a cairn – what Inuit Indians used as direction-markers. The sculpture, in actuality, is carved out of a single Mahabalipuram stone, like few temples in south India are. It also invites the viewer to deface this setup by scribbling on it with an electric engraver, like miscreants who ruin public edifices with mostly explicit messages.

Of ‘Antila’, however, Tallur chooses to stay mum about whether its concerns the Ambani abode, and why the elephant sculpture has a grinder mechanism as the head, which, after a point doesn’t work and switches over to grind off its own grind.

The work most personal to Tallur, is perhaps, Supply Chain (2017) in shellac and bronze, which has a blown-up photograph of a red 'X', sewn entirely in 2.5 lakh cross stitches by his mother over two years. “I wanted to keep her busy after my father's passing away,” says Tallur, who thinks that unlike his Halo series, this work is the first and final interpretation in this medium. “There is no scope to push this idea any further, differently.”

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