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Artist Profile3
An artist who explores boundaries between personal and cosmic dimensions
The photographic sculpture, ‘Books’ (UV Inkjet print on aluminum), features images of books layered on blocks that themselves resemble books. It both maps and manipulates the distance between idea and object, representation and reality. Here the artist challenges our understanding of three-dimensional forms through the use of pixilated imagery. The shift between two and three dimensionality is further explored in a large-scale stainless steel cube sliced through with a photographic mosaic of image fragments.

Alwar Balasubramaniam's oeuvre strives to express the oft-overlooked, unseen and the inexpressible – people and issues. His unconventional sculptural forms refer to philosophical concerns and raise discomforting questions. They not only bring forth his ideas but also denote his meticulous search process. The versatile painter and print maker, equally proficient at handling mixed media and sculpture, is keen to experiment with an array of materials like fiberglass and wax. He produces often very tactile and very physical forms to explore fundamental issues related to human existence, such as what defines the self and what is that confines us. It denotes his quest for the ungraspable and unspeakable. Through their implicit immateriality, they can merge intellectual, spiritual and emotional concerns.

The artistic phenomenon created by Alwar Balasubramaniam tends to reveal the omnipresent, albeit invisible, the essential yet overlooked, or the strong yet unnoticed. It unravels not only the immediate world but also one within us. He lets us transgress the boundaries between elements, as they seamlessly connect and then converge, as if questioning the submissiveness of our own consciousness to them and their foundation, in the process. For more than a decade, he has assiduously kept challenging our notions; also pushing our pre-set limits of understanding and perception of material as well as experience of space.

You may be prompted to know how interplay of light and shadow shapes our view of the world. The treatment of materials employed may vary in terms of form and content, shuffling between, silkscreen prints, plaster and paper relief. Ideas they look to project seem to reach out to us like sepulchral plaster bodies and arms frozen in walls. There are akin to big swipes being taken here. There are strong threads, which apparently hold these works together. Often evoking fragmented, disjointed body parts, ubiquitous objects, or unfamiliar organic forms, he challenges and explores the limits of perception.

Hailing from a small village in Tamil Nadu, he received his Bachelor’s degree (fine arts) from the Government College of Arts, Chennai (1995). In 1998, he joined EPW Edinburgh to study printmaking, after which he pursued his passion for the genre at Austria’s Universitat fur Angewandte Kunste in Wien (1998-99). Moving onto a wider canvas, his art seamlessly moves from rusty rural life to awe-inspiring international experiences – a juxtaposition that has let him absorb contemporaries trends even while staying true to his roots and imbibing traditional values. For example, several relief monoprint, comprising one made of alphabet soup, formed part of his first solo in New York.

From a purely Indian ethos and perspective, it seems as if he has managed to outgrow the confines of his context, and move beyond the rather strict formalism of the modernists. For instance, his work at a recent show in Kolkata ('Symbols and Metaphors', CIMA gallery) was a lucid, lyrical celebration, which clearly relished aesthetic imbalance, even while challenging our ways of viewing. Each physical work is akin to a journey that prompts us to retrace the artist’s steps. What you are ultimately left with is not just the physical boundaries of work, but your spontaneous reaction to it wherein the negative space within an excavation results in a corollary.

A Balasubramaniam's work has been showcased across the globe - in France, Spain, Japan, Malaysia, Egypt, Norway, Finland, and the US. Among his selected solos are ‘(IN)visible’ at Talwar Gallery, New Delhi (2007, 2009); shows at Talwar Gallery, New York (2002, 2004 and 2007); ‘Transition &Transformation’, The Fine Arts Museum, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (2005) ; ‘Unfixed being’, Van Every Museum Gallery, Davidson, the US (2005), Fundacio pilar i Joan Miro, Spain (2002); Association Mouvement Art Contemporain, Chamalieres, France (2000); Die Kleine Galerie, Vienna, Austria (1999); Carloz lozano Gallery, Cadaques, Spain (1999); and Taller galleria Fort, Cadaques, Spain (1998).

His recent significant group exhibits include 'A Summer View', Talwar Gallery, Delhi (2010); ‘Contemplating the Void’, The Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010); ‘Chalo India’, Essl Museum, Austria (2009), the Mori Art Museum, Japan (2008); 'India: Take Three', Kings Road Gallery, Chelsea (2009); 'Where In The World', Devi Art Foundation, Delhi (2008-09); and Singapore Biennale (2006); ‘Indian Summer’, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris (2005). His work has also featured in a show, entitled ‘On Line: Drawing Through 20th Century’ at MOMA, New York. Among his other noteworthy participations are 'Time Unfolded', (KNMA), Delhi (2011); 'Contemplating the Void', Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2010); and 'Open Your Third Eye', National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (2009).

The artist’s new works will be shown at a major exhibit at The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, whereas another display of his creations in Washington D.C forms part of an interesting contemporary art series ‘Intersections’, asking artists to create work in response to art and spaces in The Phillips Collection. Among the honors and awards won by him are Sanskriti Award, India (2006); Kunstlerdorf’s fellowship, Schoppingen, Germany (2001); Fundacio pilar i Joan Miro Awards for Graphics, Spain (2001); and Honorable Award in 3rd International triennial of graphic art, Bitola, Onia (2000). He was also shortlisted for The Skoda Prize earlier this year.

‘(IN)Between’, his critically acclaimed show of works on paper and sculptures, included of intriguing installations ‘Kaayam’ and ‘Shadow of a Shadow of a Shadow’. While both excavated the unseen and the invisible, the latter in particular revealed the presence of something elemental, and culminated a long process for him in imparting mass to the ephemeral and bringing to the fore the non visible. ‘Kaayam’, on the other hand, reflected on the absence of something very essential, to add to his oeuvre of attention-grabbing works cast from the artist’s body. It negotiated the thin layer of skin, setting apart one’s own being from everything else. The rigid walls yielded to confound and amuse the viewer in ‘In Sounds of Silence and Gravity’, whereas ‘Energy Field and Link’ seemingly tried to defy the rules of nature.

In essence, A Balasubramaniam's work leads to exploration of boundaries between personal and cosmic dimensions, and between tradition and modernity. Formally it combines light and shadow. It’s both amorphous and contained, comprising metaphors, which allude to a belief in the cyclical nature of things.