“At the still point of the turning world”: In Conversation with Sakshi Gupta
By Ishita Singh
Sakshi Gupta, a Delhi based artist, speaks to Artsome about her first solo exhibition in the city which also happens to be her hometown. In this exhibition she moves from her usual animal sculptures and installations in scrap metal to minimalist cubes rendered in medium varying from bronze to concrete. The transformation in her artistic practice can be traced in the emotional and spiritual journey of the artist and this series of work comes from the maturity and stillness that comes with experience. Sakshi’s works have always been autobiographical and experiential in nature. One of her first artworks was a bed of nails she made at a residency in Rajasthan. It came out of a sleepless anxiety she felt as a young artist. In a moment of anecdotal candidness, Sakshi relates how because we in India do not have a culture of going to museums and galleries, her first introduction to art was when her mother enrolled her for a summer workshop at the National Museum as a kid and she believed that she was being punished for something she had done. Art came accidentally to her and doing her Bachelors and Masters in Sculpture were never conscious decisions she took. It is only at residency programs that she found her artistic voice and calling. In this interview, Sakshi discusses how her aesthetics have changed over the years and how she has grown as an artist as well as an individual.
IS: Your recent works are aesthetically very different from your previous works yet one thing remains common, you have refrained from naming your works. Is this a conscious decision?
SG: I prefer to not name my works individually; it’s just something I haven’t done because I do not wish to give the work only one direction in terms of meaning. As an artist I want to leave interpretation open, so when people come to see the show they should be able to take back something of their own, making their own meaning. However, I do like to give a title to a whole body of work and leave it at that. It is something I do consciously.
IS: In the accompanying brief the epigraph extremely says “The inner light that shines as pure experience in all beings, that alone is the self which is indicated by the word I: this is for certain.” Can you talk a little bit about it?
SG: Well the quote is actually from Yoga Vasishta, something I have been reading and thinking about. I felt it fit in really nicely because it talks about truth and the beauty of experience. And ultimately experience is what makes an individual. What each one of us experiences is the truth for us. The solidity of my experience is something that will always stay with me. And that is what can be summed up as “myself”. For every person it is different and yet we connect with others somewhere. I feel the beauty of all of it lies in the fact that the core of any experience is very liberating. And as an individual it gives you that necessary stillness, that restfulness.
IS: Would you then say your work is experiential in nature- your journey as an artist as well as individual is reflected in the transformation of your artistic practice?
SG: Well you could place my work in the context of Experience. My works invariably stem from personal experiences (it is quite autobiographical to that extent) and I try and portray the sentiments or the ideas in a universal language in the hope that they are absorbed by the individual viewer in the context of his/ her personal experience. Therefore resulting in multiple interpretations. So one could say that the work journeys from being particular to universal to back to being particular.
I have been working on the theme of transformation since 2007. Using waste material like scrap metal was adding another interesting layer to the larger theme. But now I feel I have reached a point in my practice and in my life in general where I can kind of filter out the unnecessary. I feel that I can perhaps negotiate the phenomena of ‘transformation’ from not only being in the midst of it, but also at the same time, observing it from the outside. One is engaged in not only the action, but also the stillness of it. This has been a bit of a realisation so to speak – that stillness comes in the midst of chaos.
IS: In your previous works, there are a lot of unpleasant and disturbing emotions. But here is a calm surrounding space very different from what you have previously done. How did the form of the cube as the core of stillness and light come to define your aesthetics?
SG: As I said I wanted to let go of my usual way of working – at least for some time. I felt a compelling need to work with form and space in their pure form; understanding each with the help of the other. I experimented a lot before I finally pared my thoughts down to the cube/ sphere.
IS: The works in this exhibition are a combination of the cube and the sphere. While the sphere is universally accepted as a symbol of harmony, totality and life you prioritise the cube to form the whole and the sphere only forms a part of it.
SG: For me the sphere is a tricky subject! It definitely is all about totality, harmony etc but for me it is also the non-material. Perhaps all that is formless and non-material is an aspect of the sphere. All else that is tangible; I feel I can break it down to a cube or square, but the sphere is like a fragrance, a cloud or even the wetness of water!
IS: About the concrete pillar, one of your early experiments with the cube, at Art Stage Singapore you mentioned how out of personal experiences you wish to create a universal language. How do you do that and what is the role that medium plays in creating this language?
SG: That was an early 2014 work that I did. And that is when I first began experimenting with the cube. Even at that point I was not sure about what I was going to do with it. There is a narrative engraved on that particular work and there is a lot happening with the feathers, the stories. The first piece I did in the current series is the black cube. I incorporated the cube and sphere but the outside form itself is cubical. When you decide on the form, the medium depends on the work itself; you have to let that piece speak to you to decide the medium. Cubes and spheres as forms are accessible to us all and have both physical and spiritual significance. And this is what creates a universal language. I wish everyone takes back something from them.
IS: Is this a Mark Rothko reference? Who are the artists that inspired you while you were growing up?
SG: No, no reference to Rothko. There are a lot of artists who have inspired me, but to name a few: Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra and Ram Kinkar Baij. Sometimes the way another artist approaches their practise is also very interesting and inspiring. I also travel a lot for inspiration and I especially love being in nature – that has been a constant since my growing up days. Also visiting places like Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta caves has been very inspiring.
IS: It is interesting how you domesticate industrial waste to talk about relationships. You even said somewhere that things that are meant to give you comfort can make you insecure.
SG: Yes exactly! So that bed, my first artwork in metal scrap, was meant to depict exactly that. That was a time when I would work the whole day and still not get any sleep at night even though I was completely exhausted. The bed that was supposed to give me comfort was proving to be quite useless!
IS: A lot of your works also depict this anxiety and aspirations of the youth…
SG: Yes. Like I said my works mostly come from personal experiences, and I guess they have also stemmed from the space of being unsure and having practical concerns of the kind any other young person goes through at the beginning of their career. But that’s where the residencies really helped me, providing me with space and support. I don’t think I would be here without the various residency programmes. They give you that time and space to develop as an artist and also interact with like-minded people.
The exhibition runs through June 11, 2015 at GALLERYSKE, New Delhi.