Ravikumar Kashi, who turns 50 this year, is a man of many parts: painter, printmaker, photographer, papermaker, writer, tutor, and long-time collector of objects and curios, often picked from flea markets and isolated street corners where people surreptitiously get rid of their unwanted wares.
In a career spanning 25 years, Kashi has held more than 20 solo shows. Trained in painting (BFA, College of Fine Arts, Bengaluru/1988), printmaking (MFA, M S University, Baroda/1990), and handmade papermaking (Glasgow School of Art,UK/2001), the Bengaluru-based artist has also extensively written and published articles on art and aesthetics. His Kannada books on art appreciation, Anukta and Kannele, have received awards from Kannada Book Authority and Karnataka Sahitya Academy respectively.
Over the years, Kashi's artist books and assemblages have featured in several solo/group exhibits across the country. His one-man show, 'Silent Echo' (Sumukha Gallery/December 2016), was almost entirely made of artworks created out of 'found and made' objects. The show has now travelled to Mumbai (Sakshi Gallery/on until February 23).
The central piece of the exhibition is a captivating sculptural installation in the shape of a boat (made of rusted metal mesh and handmade-paper pulp tinted with tea decoction) filled to the brim by an array of odd but identifiable objects. Its cerebral form, haunting structure and the accumulation of objects seem to point towards facets of the prevailing sociopolitical and cultural milieus. Watching 'Silent Echo', one is reminded of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, who proposed that any reading of the nature of objects is possible only in relation to the context they are situated in.
In a freewheeling conversation, Kashi shared his ideas about art and his varying interests. Here are some edited excerpts:
On what he sees in common objects
While painting, printmaking and papermaking reached me through academic training, my interest in collecting objects is a self-driven passion since my childhood. Over time, I have realised that objects have several lives. From the time they are created to the time they are consumed and ultimately discarded, they undergo many stages of transformation and acquire new meanings, positions and associations. When these objects come into my possession, they are of practically no use to anyone else. But for me, these very discarded items stand out as eloquent memoirs, holding special sense and significance.
On his assemblages
For years, I have been collecting objects with no specific or immediate use in mind. The collection has included wooden/glass boxes, antique photographs, toys, caps, broken/cracked figurines, jars, plastic alphabets, and many other seemingly worthless things. At some point, I began playing with them, placing them one next to another, and sometimes, photographing them in small groups and arrangements. When I did that, I was astonished to discover unexpected and visually stimulating results, with hidden meanings emerging from the formations and juxtapositions. The concept of sannidhi or proximity as a tool to generate meaning worked here. That I could build visually engaging narratives through these odd objects became a revelation, which then turned into a passion.
On his choice of mediums for artworks
As a student of art, I was fortunate to be trained in many mediums and genres of aesthetic expression. So, when I get an idea and decide to make an artwork, all these become available. But the primary foundation for all art practice begins as a notation in my journal. That is something that binds all other interests, be it painting, printing, sculpting, or assemblages. I make notes in a diary all the time, and it consists of drawings and texts. Later, when I set out to make the actual painting or sculpture, these notations become trigger points from which the work grows organically.
On looking back at his long and continuing career
I think more than anything else, I have gone with the flow, never dogmatically accepting or flippantly rejecting anything that came my way. In all these years, I have never believed in sticking to one rule, one medium, one language; but have tried to retain a curiosity to understand and represent the dynamic life around me through multiple perspectives and mediums. Having said that, as a visual artist, I know that communication is very important. I am intrigued by the way one can or cannot communicate, and how one translates thoughts and intentions into images, words and action. I also observe how others communicate, or don't communicate, or miscommunicate. And how all these can go to the extent of affecting relationships.
On recurring themes
Aspects of personal identity, social behaviour and public morality have constantly motivated me and engaged my practice. As a normal person living in a particular milieu (which is also continually changing), I am tested as a witness, participant and responder. My experiences and observations come out in one way or another through my art. I try not to become bombastic or take moral positions, but that does not mean I can always remain neutral. Using poetic metaphors and expressive visual tools becomes vital in communicating my thoughts and feelings through my artwork.
On 'Silent Echo'
This is an important exhibition for me and one which involved intense preparation of more than two years. I had to pull out all my experience as a visual scavenger while designing the artworks that consisted of drawings, paper sculptures, photographs, artist books and installations. I called the show 'Silent Echo' because, for me, it represented a poetic but harsh reality about the times we live in. Without explicitly showing the human form or figure, I wanted to hint at the many levels of sociopolitical discourse that affects our day-to-day existence. While it can generally be seen as a critique of contemporary culture and society, I hope the content and construct of the exhibit opens up possibilities for deeper deliberation and multiple interpretations.