N. S. HARSHA AT VICTORIA MIRO

©Victoria Miro Gallery, 2019

Victoria Miro hosted an exhibition by the Indian artist N. S. Harsha featured his new and recent works. The roots of the artistic narrative are derived from the Indian mythology and consist of a multi-layered story-telling that develops along with the viewer’s understanding.
A priori Indian: wooden figures of elephants, primates, multi-armed gods, women in saris — these logo-simulacrums either remain just a trademark or point to something different; perhaps NS Harsha’s monkeys in Tamasha (2013), installed with a raised index finger.

The reciprocal circulation between global and local launches the narrative dramaturgy: recycled cardboard fast-food packaging, a bold attribute of consumerist routine, enters a cosmological realm by expanding the scale to the planetary. The wall-mounted panorama, Reclaiming the Inner Space (2017), the central work of the exhibition, clearly demonstrates this transformation. Its complex structure – assembled from an aluminium composite panel mirror, covered with found and disassembled carton boxes and about 1200 hand-carved teak elephants, alongside a black acrylic spot on which components of the solar system nest – switches spatial dimension when changing the viewer’s perspective. Depending on the distance, the audience look at the panorama afresh when approaching or moving away, and encounter either an abstract art piece, or the terrestrial world in 3D, trampled by wooden elephants. Is it a reenactment of the elephant processions of Dasara festivities in Mysore, the hometown of N. S. Harsha? The multiplicity of narration layers expressed through the artist playing with scales and ambiguous status of logo-simulacrums draw this exhibition out of the long-present category and literal post-colonial critique and recaptured identity to diverse contexts and understanding.

This uncertainty is also inherent in other works: in particular, the aforementioned Tamasha (2013), a scaffolding-like installation made of fibreglass and coconut coil with hypertrophied monkeys pointing upward jumps out at you when entering the exhibition. According to the press release, the title refers to the satirical Marathi tradition of performing arts, folk dance and songs operated by the nomadic theatre in India. Translated from the Persian, Tamasha means a show, or a kind of theatrical entertainment. This word also has other meanings associated with political change. Grouped monkeys with entwined tails act as a reminder of the mythological rat king — it is another N. S. Harsha ploy.

Each author’s references remain incomplete and restrained, showing the exhibition’s ambiguity. First, a clear hint guides to one context but then the it is still overlaid by another possible interpretation. Layers of decoding are unveiled when the artist merges temporary and human-bound scales, like drying clothes in Untitled (A Deep Lie Series) (2017), or implementing the fast food boxes in Reclaiming the Inner Space with cosmic perspective (whereas utilitarian items are filled with planetary images). Fusing the Indian cultural patterns with Western tradition and pop culture, N. S. Harsha transcends national container-boundaries and directs his own myth, presented to the audience.

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