Glass artist Anjali Srinivasan tells us about her fascination with the ephemeral material and her interactive art style
That artists see the world differently couldn’t be more obvious than when I met contemporary glass artist Anjali Srinivasan. She hates talking about herself in third person on her official website (or at all for that matter), thinks posterity is overrated, ?believes chocolate and cheese are the answer to all of life’s problems and is a compulsive twirler of pens and other objects — a habit she has picked up from twirling blowing pipes while making glass.
It’s her maiden visit to the UAE and she tells me she can’t get over how convenient life is over here. “I landed at DXB in the morning, got out of the airport, got into the metro, walked through the Mall of the Emirates, got to my hotel room and it was evening and what really struck me was that ‘Wow! I’m in a desert country and I haven’t seen sunlight all day!’ But apparently this doesn’t seem strange to anyone else around me,” ?she exclaims.
In town for the Art Dubai fair, she talks about one of her works on display — an art piece made of broken reflective glass lens pieces called ‘Mirror painting’. At the venue in the art fair most people almost walk past it without noticing, until someone stops in front of it to find the broken, seemingly dull glass pieces form multiple images, behaving in a similar fashion to the sheesh mahals in India. Suddenly, there is a deluge of interest and photographs being taken, until the crowd moves away and the art piece goes back to being an empty grey canvas until another unwitting curious onlooker stops in front. The reactions come in waves.
This phenomenon of sudden discovery always amuses her, Anjali tells me. “What gets me and the observers is the fact that the work gets animated and comes to life because of the people standing in front. Once they leave the piece fades back into the surroundings. I love the contrast.”
As an artist, Anjali loves looking at people’s reaction to her works, which tells her where to go next. “A lot of my works are contemporary material innovations rather than depictions of themes, incidents or commentaries. In a way this is very unnerving, as many times people don’t know what to make ?of it. There’s no subject matter to critique. What does one really make of a silver blob of glass? So they often ask me ‘what exactly is it?’ and then they move in front of it and find the results very exciting. They still don’t ?know what to think of it but they are certainly fascinated and enchanted.”
Anjali’s fascination with glass started during her college days at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi where she studied product and accessory design. “During my first internship with a crystalware company, I went to an Indian town named Firozabad which is famous for its glass making. That’s when I completely fell in love with glass.” She was in awe of the huge clay structures with molten glass that “looked liquid like honey and was hot and orange like the sun.”
Eleven years later, the medium continues to enthrall her. “What’s exclusive to glass is that it is a solid material and yet see-through. Everything else is either matter or light energy. But glass exists in between, it’s a fence sitter and I love it,” Anjali says, her eyes glowing in excitement.
She hasn’t just succeeded in making mind-bending artworks out of glass, she has also managed to effectively shatter its traditional definition, at least for those who come in contact with her work. “Art has changed so much in the last few decades. For my parents’ generation, art was mostly viewed as paintings and sculptures that were put on a pedestal and viewed from a distance. But now art has become so interactive and hands-on. There are so many new mediums that are emerging like video, sound and smell.”
I get video and sound, I tell her, but smell? She chuckles as if she was expecting my confusion. Innovation with smell is becoming a huge rage in the contemporary art scene, she tells me. “I did a unique, experimental installation called ‘Do/undo’ in a gallery in the US, where people could peel strips of white paper containing turmeric powder off the walls and this fragrance filled the air.”
Her works, Anjali explains, aren’t self-contained, pretty-looking objects that can be hung on the walls. They are usually things that break down, are built in parts, interact with people, age and are a little messy. “In my opinion, this kind of approach to art is very Indian. We don’t really recognise Kanjivaram sarees as artwork; we wear them. We don’t look at our temples’ sculptures as art that needs to be preserved; we have no problem putting flowers, kumkum, ash, milk or anything else on them. We are very let’s-touch-and-feel-everything kind of people,” she says.
The ephemeral nature of her glass work isn’t a problem for Anjali. In fact, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “When you accept something in your life knowing that it won’t be there forever, there is a certain human strength that comes with that knowledge. Come to think of it, most idioms about heartbreak or loss of basically anything that is beautiful and precious relate to glass. Shisha ho ya dil ho and a hundred other songs in Bollywood wax eloquent about heart being likened ?to glass, but no one talks about ‘heera and the dil’ [diamond and the heart]. We have more idioms related to glass than diamond, platinum, gold or anything else. So I think posterity is completely overrated!”