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Art Asia Pacific

For her latest solo exhibition, Ranjani Shettar creates two new installations and a print that respond to the natural world. The central installation, Heliotropes (2005-06), is a composite of linear hand-sewn and molded latex limbs splayed, affixed, and hung across a wall and strung from the ceiling. The installation emits a faint odor, a cross between burnt leather and smoked meat, the result of the process used to fix the latex. Stained to ruddy brown, the latex mimics the heliotrope genus of fragrant, reddish plants that grow toward the sun. Here, Shettar attempts to add a fourth dimension to the sculptural latex configurations by adjusting the light to cast shadows that create complex, natural-looking patterns like a spider web. Shettar's mimicking of the properties of the heliotrope–its smell and interaction with the sun– suggests her emulation of the natural world. She gravitates towards organic processes when working, as a plant uses the sun for survival. 

Elsewhere Shettar, who was born in 1977, flirts with both craft and industrial design. Hoomalae (2005), the installation in the adjacent gallery, is reminiscent of both Eva Hesse's crudely shaped and textured latex sculpture and Robert Smithson's indoor earthworks, the Nonsites (1964-73), which demonstrated land artists' desire to create parallel organic structures in art, rather than copied approximations. In this installation, a group of separate vertical lattices constructed of colored thread, beeswax and pigment emerges from the gallery floor. As the lattices rise, they form a webbed gazebo spun into the ceiling. 

The print, I Am No One To Tell You What Not To Do (2006), in the main gallery with Heliotropes, is the hinge between the two installations. I Am No One is a five-color woodcut print made from a section of a mesquite tree, which Shettar encountered while in residence at Artpace in San Antonio, Texas. Printed in pastel hues, the mesquite is reduced to its semi-circular arteries and curvilinear veins. 

Shettar hints at the form of the tree by breaking the print into three vertical sections. The paper is pristine and the printed colors, variations of green and pink, are complementary, but not obviously relevant to the Texas terrain. This choice of color is a further example of her restraint when referencing the phenomena of the material world. 

I Am No One balances the exhibition by demonstrating Shettar's dexterity in various media and different forms, replicating on a smaller scale through its sophistication the artist's handling of the larger, more ambitious installations. 

-Courtney J. Martin