Spring 2009 Fellow
Anjali Srinivasan’s thinking and, consequently, her art tend to travel from the particular to the general and back again; to see the whole as comprised of multiple smaller wholes. Srinivasan, a Spring, 2009 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, likes to work with palpable, often homely, familiar — even overlooked — things; things, she says “that is small and vibrant.” By allowing these particles to reveal aspects of their nature and embodied knowledge, she shifts them from ordinary to extraordinary. The process and the results are never static. Srinivasan’s work is not intended for preservation in a museum but for human interaction. The glove of silicone bonded to eggshell-thin blown and mirrored glass with which she shook the hands of 56 people, crackled into smaller and smaller surfaces which wore away until it mostly silicone was left. Some who touched her hand did not realize that the glove was glass. Once it reflected innumerable tiny evanescent images of outstretched hands. Now, having served its purpose and stripped of much of its original surface, it is more artifact than art work.
At CGCA, Srinivasan made similar clothing of mirrored blown glass bonded to silicone. The glass fragments as it is molded to a dressmaker’s form, later to be worn by her “to an evening event.” It won’t last long. Films of her wearing such a dress through the day and to an exhibition in London record the changes — and the slack-jawed responses of people in the street. Srinivasan’s “post-glass” attitude, is reflected in “vessels that flop,” like (Re)Flexion in which mirrored blown glass is lined with silicone, shattered, inflated and made to “breathe.”
Food figures often in her thinking and her process. A signature material is turmeric, a rhizome related to the ginger plant, used as a seasoning, dye for many materials or coloring for food. Turmeric gives commercially prepared American mustards that lurid yellow color, but it is not commonly used by American home cooks. Srinivasan has incorporated vast amounts of the spice into sheets of paper, in mounds on the gallery floor and powdering down from the ceiling, to be tracked here and there in a gallery. She appreciates visitors’ enjoyment of the color and is amused by their ignorance of turmeric’s tremendous staining power on hands and clothing. Its distinctive smell and flavor permeate the air, an immersion in the sensation that “makes people hungry in a subliminal way.”
So, turmeric has a raw sensory appeal in various contexts, but it also has been the subject of medical and legal process. A traditional ingredient in Ayurvedic medicines, turmeric became a focus of intellectual property rights when attempts were made to patent its use in cold remedies and cosmetics. Had this effort succeeded, such uses would have been legally denied to communities. “You cannot take an entire culture’s knowledge [and lay claim to it],” Srinivasan says. “You cannot say that my grandmother is in violation of a patent.”
“Art is a very academic term to me,” Srinivasan notes. “I went to temples all the time with my grandmothers as a child and every lady was wearing beautiful clothing and jewelry.” She does not distinguish this private expression of aesthetics from the formal activity of art. She studied at the National
Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi and worked in India with local groups to develop marketable products for socio-economic empowerment.
The distinction between one kind of visual stimulation and looking at art books is not all that significant to her, experientially she says. This is one reason she finds the process of making to be the core of art. “I’m not concerned with the end results. I don’t understand how to present objects that are packaged nicely and speak of one thing. The object does not have a clear narrative.”
This attitude plays into her combining unexpected materials with glass, including one product she calls “puffy glass,” in which food elements like baking powder or puffed rice transform glass into a strange new hybrid.
Also relating to Indian architecture, in particular, the sheesh mahal or “palace of mirrors,” in which surfaces are covered with many tiny mirrors, each a sparkling light-refracting element and a minute reflection. What one sees in the mirrors are many ever-changing worlds. A related tradition applies sequin-like mirrors to clothing. The analogy relates to Srinivasan’s mirrored clothing, and to objects she makes containing many small lenses. Srinivasan feels that her use of mirrors and lenses revitalizes a tradition which has become diluted through time.
“A very small thing like turmeric or puffy glass … changes your physical presence from a thing to movement. It’s analogous to the self-image in life.” Existence, as reflected in mirrors, encapsulated in lenses, or fragmented into atomic components like spices, is an endless dance: never static, never permanent. She wants her work “to bring to the front something that you never really see. I’m not a preservationist,” she says. “You only preserve dead things. I am interested in things that are alive.”