The darkness of consumerism, as imagined by NS Harsha

Mysore artist NS Harsha makes a bold statement at the Biennale of Sydney, writes HAMIDA PARKAR.

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There is no escaping the dramatic impact of 900 teak elephants stamping through NS Harsha’s stunning wall-mounted installation, Reclaiming the inner space, 2018, on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. According to Harsha, they are carrying the weight of today’s brutal times. It’s a continuation of sorts for them, having carried the human burden through history until now. Midway, they decide to stampede all over it, “just like nature fixes human greed!”

Hand-carved in wasted wood by traditional carvers in Mysore, these elephants are straddled against acrylic mirror and a layer of unfolded cardboard packaging, sourced from family, friends and recycling facilities. The colours of toothpaste, soaps, prayer materials, tools, medicine, food, clothing, condoms, perfumes and alcohol wraps are fused in harmony, reflecting inwardly in the mirror. Harsha uses the unprinted side to splash streaks of black acrylic paint. “It is thrown in order to capture the essence of nature’s drama. Similar to the way cast nets are thrown into water to capture fish,” he says.

The packaging also finds connect in cosmos and its aggregation of planets, stars, dust and gas. “I am deeply intrigued by the dark spaces supermarkets store under their bright lights. Racks and racks of darkness, well-packed and stored! We assume dark cosmos to be far away when it is just around us, in different shapes and sizes. This thought led me to open cartons we use every day and expose their internal space.”

More than 4000 components went into the creation which took five months to complete. The process of thought began two years ago, mostly to plan the installation and deinstallation process.

Linking global changes to local times in all his works, Harsha sees globalisation as very much deeply embedded inside all of us in our daily life and existence. “Flux is the only permanent thing for life and yet this piece is not about the loss but about the moments we experience in today’s world,” he muses.

The artist is renowned for his meticulous paintings, works on paper, wall and floor works, sculptures, site-specific installations and public projects. Harsha’s domain and birthplace is Mysore where he works out of a large creative space he has built for himself. Despite success, the artist remains rooted and relaxed. “I got lazy to move out,” he quips.

The city has seen the rise of supermarkets, affecting food habits and cultural practices. The artist wanders around grocery store aisles for inspiration. His works aim to evoke commentary on globalisation, cultural evolution and socioeconomic inequities from a local standpoint. Several other works are in the process with similar materials. More thoughts? “Yes, many more. I will share through my future art works.”