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The Business Times

Why does sculpture have to be monochromatic?

So asks Ranjani Shettar, the creator of colourful, site-specific sculptural installations titled Flame of the Forest on display on the 3rd floor of the Hermes store on Orchard Road. 

Interested in exploring colour in sculpture, Shet­lar presents her first exhibition in Singapore based on the familiar tropical tree of the same name which is found in Singapore and in countrysides throughout India. 

During the hot summer months, the trees have brilliant crowns of blossoming vermillion flowers that light up the entire forest with their hues. With its sheer power and beauty, It Is no wonder that this sacred Hindu tree would capture and engage the mind of an artist. 

Drawing her inspiration from this tree, Shetlar -a young and rising Siar of contemporary Indian art - transforms the gallery space at Hermes with her site-specific installations. 

Launched in 2006, the Third Floor at Hermes has been showcasing non-commercial site-specific works by young contemporary artists. Hermes art spaces can be found in Brussels, Bern, Seoul, Tokyo and New York, and these dedicated spaces offer a unique form of corporate patronage in the arts. 

Curated by Emi Eu, Director of Singapore Tyler Print Institute, the focal point of Shettar's show is a colourful wall installation in purples and blues called Green Breeze. 

Multiples of green bud-like shapes are installed on the gallery wall in a way that makes the wooden forms appear to be blowing in a gentle breeze. "This work is meant to catch the fleeting moment of some­thing: like a breeze flowing through a padi field," explains Shetlar. 

The other works in the show are called Flame of the Forest and Remanence From last Night's Dream. These works are made in teak wood and rosewood respectively and have sensuous and almost erotic orange organic forms in lacquered wood emerging from within the crevices of the wood. 

"This is the first time I am showing work all done in only one medium - wood." explains Shettar. "Gen­erally, I work in all kinds of mediums. whatever I find in my immediate environment from beeswax to latex, to PVC pipes." 

Born in Bangalore, India, Shettar is known for bold experimentations in a wide range of materials. She is best known for her delicate installations that blend references of the natural world with the man-made, and the landscape with the urbanscape. 

Shettar's works have been shown in several bion­nales and are part of many permanent museum col­lections around the world. 
One of her earlier works Just A Bit More was a suspended web-like installation made with thread and beeswax first presented at the Sydney Bien­nalo in 2006 and has subsequently been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York for its permanent collection. Another installation that made quite an impact on art enthusiasts com­prised of very interesting basket forms woven with metal. She procured the metal bands for the basket from a car Junkyard and made the work ti­tled Me, No, Not Me, Buy Me, Eat Me, Wear Me, Have Me, Me, No, Not Me. This work makes a commentary on consum­erism and can now be seen in the permanent collec­tion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. At the young age of 34, Shettar has gained considerable international recognition especially for her recent ex­hibit in the show On line: Drawing through 20th Cen­tury. at MOMA. in New York. 

She has also had solo shows in other places like the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (2008-2009) and the Institute of Contemporary Art Bos­ton, Massachusetts (2008). 

"I primarily respond to space, though the materi­al I use to make sculpture is also important. I am constantly observing materials around me and look­ing at their possibilities. For me my materials could be from anywhere, materials can trigger an idea or the idea requires a specific material. I often look at craft material and use craft techniques," explains Shet­tar of her process and choice of material.

For several years now. Shettar has been working closely with the toy-makers around Bangalore. "What the toymakers do for a living is quite different and I have used their skills to make these lacquered works in wood to express a certain concept," she adds.

The lush colours of lacquered wood have brought ma wide colour palette to Shettar's site-specific instal­lations, no longer restricting her to the monochromatic world.

Through her colourful forms and her unique style of mediating space, Shetlar expresses subtle aspects of nature in her installations, be it the organic growths in bright orange or the breeze sweeping through the green pacli fields. Although small with just four works. Shettar's show manages to encapsulate "the spirit of this beautiful tree and the sensuality of nature".

-Madhvi Subrahmanian