Enveloped by Ranjani Shettar's works, one may recall the ancient concept addressed by all cultures - one of the music of the spheres. Desiring to evoke essential relationships and interdependencies among the rhythms of living, she strives half consciously and half intuitively to grasp the certain order that is guiding us as well as arising from the phenomena.
Although, passionately lucid about its spiritual and religious meaning, the artist discovers it as an aura of the higher plane pervading the immediate and the ordinary in an innate bond with organic life, where the present- day and the temporary becomes a receptacle of the eternal and the sublime. Retaining the tactile and emotional charge of what triggered it off locally, she abstracts the concrete to a subtle, minimalist, core grasping the fluidity of metamorphosing, material but often ephemeral, shapes that accept and flow into one another.
As such, even a non-religious person can empathise with her search or a tender connectedness. The mature clarity backed by an archaic lore merges here with the innocent and joyous freshness of a young person for whom the world is still new. Her work then has the simplicity of the rudimentary and the finesse of the precious, the physicality of the real and the nearly immaterial qualities pregnant with philosophical premonitions.
From the start of her artistic career, Ranjani probed diverse ways to express these premonitions and longing. Her first exhibitions (2000-2002) strove to find and build a "Home" or a plurality of houses-bodies, for the divine to enter a mundane reality. The artist appeared to be both locating actual sites of such residence and as though magically, with a tinge of humour and ardent, warm faith, coax the sacred.
Almost natural birds' nests of clay and straw sheltering eggs seemed to hold a generating potential as laboratory tubes did and medicinal capsules which metamorphosed into silkworm eggs. Coconut fibre, jute, and twigs served her on par with plastic wrapping, glass jars, and synthetic pipes. Ranjani conjured fleeting seeds of plastic sheets and conduits of pipes and funnels to goad spiritual powers to impregnate urban existence for the "Container and the Contained" to unify.
The most enchanting work of that period - "Thousand Room House" is a vast honeycomb of sheer plastic, studded with tiny metal rings and filled with tangled roots and threads. Lit from within, the image comes through as tangibly rough organic as well as nerve or vein-like, but also ethereally lofty, itself radiant and absorbing illumination from beyond. The graphic character of the roots and the stitches interacts there with the colorless translucence and the specific painterliness of the light and the shadows to imbue the whole with a sense of pervasiveness. By 2003 the desire to find epiphanies of such interconnectedness amid the physical, the emotional and the spiritual, amid the organic, the bodily, and the cosmic led the motif of the bead as epitomizing the precious on all levels.
Throughout, the artist sought a link between the actual and the physical with the sublime and the aural. Rather than opulent stone, she used common, natural materials associated with traditional daily crafts of women, like terracotta, cloth, and coconut shells.
She looked at the beads of a devotional rosary for a luscious vegetal stirring as well as an opening into the unknown. Echoes of ritual glory found an embodiment in a mantle of feminine adornment imbued with qualities of throbbing plants and marine life. Whereas tender, carnal aspects of it passed into a bunch of cotton shells embellished with glass beads its rhythms pieced together painstakingly and patiently by the hand seeped into an evocation of prayerful music created by the rustling of trees and their fruits.
Ranjani's first masterpiece - "Tillana" contains the quintessence of this feeling. A network of beeswax beads on cotton twines, it conjures up an image of intangible vision from shapes intuited rather than recognised among the interacting light and shadow, as apparitions of translucent hue and illumination, while the thin threads become elusive strokes mingling with their own cast shadows to resurface tentatively as graphic lines under areas of clearer radiance.
It could remind one of a spider's web as well as of stellar constellations on the macro plane, even of cellular structures on the micro one. Those are after-thoughts, however, the image inducing in the spectator as though promotion of the universal connectedness of things basic in their occurrence - generating, slowly and gently attempting to find their place in the expanse of the ever harmonising and ever-changing scheme. The manner in which the beads finely balance one another suggests a spontaneous as much as conscious means, both mutually intertwined and aiding one another, these elements of human behavior and thinking revealing to be ingrained equally in nature.
The same indeed underlie the reasons or inspirations behind and the compositional character of music. This musical dynamism seems to resound of the energies permeating life- its always co-present manifestations of becoming and growing, sustaining itself over constant efforts, thrusts and adjustments, and decaying to be reborn again in multifarious shapes and bonds.
The amount of engineering skills that went into the apparently effortless image widens its associations and parallels onto the regions of science. It is not only to let the hidden manifest itself in the ordinary that Ranjani did this work, more importantly, perhaps it was to find channels that would facilitate her to commune with it, and consequently afford the same to the viewer. The sheer beauty of the work makes this possible.
Ranjani's recent artworks achieve the aim with a yet greater finesse. As their sizes increase, so does their lyricism and the power to draw the spectator-participant within by immersing one in the natural and aesthetic revelation of some logos behind phenomenal occurrences. The aesthetic development is reciprocated by the artist's success leading her from her Bangalore beginnings to international exhibitions and residencies including the forthcoming Sidney Biennale.
"Vasanta" (2004) which refers to both the season of spring and the musical raga evocative of it, is suspended from the ceiling of a large room coming down almost to the floor and traversing the space like a delicate unfolding of a web with beeswax beads on cotton threads, as it curves to form a conical vortex. The hues softly graded from sap green to yellow retain a tinge of their materiality while appearing to be made of light, shadow, and air in response to the motions of the breeze. Fragile yet basic, this virtual environment conjures an epiphany of the universe in a state of perennial flow, its metamorphoses nevertheless guided by a mysterious harmony.
There may be in it a memory of festive decorations dotting Indian streets with minute bright bulbs under the expanse of the dark sky. That, however, is refined to offer a simultaneously tactile and abstract reference to the mood of nature as well as to its cosmic dimensions. The tenderness of it must have come both from the human heart and from a spiritual focus.
A still vaster composition of a more complex dynamism with its individual vectors spreading out, crossing and converging at different angles and with a suggestion of showering as well as of soaring, "Hoomalae" (2004) offers an atmosphere of auspiciousness unexpectedly received from nature and from the gods, the Kannada title holding the meaning of a rain of flowers inseparable from divine blessing.
The artist keeps oscillating between the two complementary opposites and returns to the wonders of the sensuously tangible world of the organic. "In Bloom" (2004) is threaded like a bunch of magenta red garlands from larger now, shiny lacquered beads of wood encrusted with tiny glass ones. The carnal, almost erotic feel here weighs quite heavy letting one think of blossoming plants and female breasts full of nourishment, and yet transforms into an evocation of the unseen forces that govern both those processes, as the garlands hanging in the air again acquire ephemeral properties amid light and cast shadows.
Whether in the immense installation about oceanic waves or in the also large wall piece "Maya" (2005) on the illusory character of phenomena and their perception, the natural and the bodily remain engulfed in the spiritual and the devotional. And so, Ranjani's "Heliotropes" (2006) mounted on a wall, although resembling plant stalks and buds which turn towards sunshine, let one guess the gesture of hands folded in front of an epiphany. The dyed latex they were shaped from possesses both a translucence alluding to the transcendental and a sensuality pertaining to live skin.
The artist being steeped in the immediate and the intimate as well as in the ideas and emotions of traditional Indian belief, translates the same, abstracts and sublimates onto a contemporary language through which the loving joy, aspiration and awe that accompany insights into the inner connectedness of all things can be recognised under any latitude.