Review of Subodh Gupta: Invisible Reality at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Subodh Gupta (b. 1964) has been working with pots and pans for nearly three decades. Since the mid-1990s these works have grown in notoriety and scale, from a singular milking bucket to vast spaces flooded with cooking implements. Continuing the artist’s signature motif, Invisible Reality at Hauser & Wirth Somerset spans all five gallery spaces, and centres around three large-scale installations which attempt to draw cosmic parallels through the repurposing of everyday realities.

The show’s centrepiece, a reassembled traditional wood and terracotta hut from South India, lends the exhibition its title. The modest structure is illuminated by a painfully stark light which emanates from within. A large, white sheet spills down from the peak of the roof, bundling on the floor like deflated smoke from a chimney. On the surrounding walls, steel panels reverberate every few minutes, obfuscating their reflective surface and crescendoing like rolling thunder. Even in such a large space, the levels of noise and light are uncomfortable and oppressive. Cited as a reference to the dormant, but constant, threat of nature, Gupta considers this our ‘invisible reality’; it is a danger we know but are unable to visualise.

Gupta’s work relies on the impression of scale. Housed in Hauser & Wirth’s restored Threshing Barn, Touch, Trace, Taste, Truth (2015) – a huge, gleaming, gold, globe-like sculpture — is suspended from a ceiling of wooden beams and lintels. Walking around the structure transforms it from a generic, circular form to an over-sized cooking pot, its seductive hollowness counteracted by the inclusion of sharp steel wire within its recess. The form itself is universal: initially the earth, moon, sun, and then the traditional, almost cauldron-like, cooking pot. While Touch, Trace, Taste, Truth is perfectly suited to the space, the subversion of the commonplace object is solely dependent upon its enlargement — to aggrandise that which we rely on but rarely acknowledge.

Echoing this particular form, Chanda Mama Door Ke (2015) consists of a cascading ensemble of aluminium utensils, individually suspended from the ceiling and meticulously placed to form a composite, enormous pot. All of these objects have a genuine culinary history and are used and worn, the surface damage visible reminders of their practical use. Some vessels have become misshapen and warped, while some are burnt through entirely, their holes a sudden and violent aberration within a sea of enclosure.

Gupta’s interest in these utensils is two-fold: they have a strong relation to his home country, and an intrinsic ability to disclose their own history. Outside in the Hauser & Wirth grounds, Specimen 108 (2015) demonstrates how integral to Gupta’s visual language the utilitarian object has become. Amidst converted farm houses and barns, the over—reflective sculpture takes the form of a Banyan tree, its writhing branches ascending and culminating in clusters of kitchen utensils, which hang like hyperactive fruit. The Banyan tree is finely woven into the fabric of Indian socio-cultural tropes. Imbued with mythic elements it is often associated with longevity, immortality and, conversely, Yama the god of death. For many, the belief persists that the Banyan’s roots never cease; their growth is perpetual and eternal. Gupta’s shiny, silvery structure is imposing and acutely artificial. While the objects are recognisable, their juxtaposition renders them alien.

For Gupta, the work clearly operates on the basic surrealist ideology of consolidating incongruous items to expose their inherent strangeness. However, it reveals Gupta’s over-reliance on a vocabulary he has accumulated over the course of his career. The rendering of a mythic symbol in the same, burnished metal as pots and pans in order to produce something unfamiliar does simply that; it creates a specimen which references nothing outside of its own abnormality.

Within Gupta’s practice there is the assumption that through the reappropriation of everyday materials, in making them gigantic and overpowering, their inversion will inevitably touch upon the cosmological. Invisible Reality aims to explore the relationship between the microcosm and macrocosm by mining the physical, mundane elements of a universal lifestyle. But to simply amass and enlarge commonplace objects can never be enough to reach to the cosmos.

Kathryn Lloyd

Subodh Gupta: Invisible Reality, until 2 May, Hauser & Wirth, Durslade Farm, Dropping Lane, Bruton, Somerset, BA10 0NL.

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1. Subodh Gupta, Chanda Mama door ke (From Far Away Uncle Moon Calls), 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photographer: Dia Bhupal.