A Gap in the Void

She had a nagging thought that her life would end at 42, she grins as she tells me. From that came the work, A Gap in the Void. The documentation of a poignant struggle to achieve a balance between the fear of death and the hope for survival: a record of the changing years in a series of 42 ceramic heads.

Even as I wonder at the heads encased in glass cubes, almost 'trapped' in the water and oil, I realise that with each element she yearns to show how it feels to fear dying at 42: to bring near that sense of claustrophobia, of breathlessness. This is why the water is sheathed, in an almost sinister way with a layer of oil, not allowing it to evaporate. It is, as if, the artist felt, that placing the heads (and her fears) in boxes would kill the possibility of untimely death.

In the Blue Head, the crackled turquoise glaze is the only makeup this face wears, contrasting, and so beautifully encasing the dark brown head. And though pretty in texture, the form is one that disturbs: the mouth looking as if stitched shut, stifling voice and opinion. And yet, on the back of the same head is another mouth, open to speak, though not loudly, not in revolt. As if the mouth of someone crying for help, or learning to speak for the first time. A juxtaposition of one's own fear of speaking on the timid self that would try, hesitantly try, to make a sound. There is a sense of restrained pain, untold pain, bound inside this head without a body and it leaves you unsure if the voice will escape.

Yardena Kurulkar deals with a subject that most of us do not want to think about, our own mortality, the changing shape of life. As I contemplate each head, fascinated and, sometimes, running out of words, she nods, "It is okay to say you do not know how to react."

The next head I see, seems as if it wears a mask on the back, as if there are two personalities in there, residing comfortably together. One is a bit harried, the other almost looking like Socrates in profile, seemingly living life as it comes, stoic and in thought. The bald ceramic surface with its cracks denote experiences that life etched into that mind, that part of her life.

You do see her, the artist, in the pieces and sometimes not. You see the cherub she once was and the older person she might turn out to be. And yes, at some points the work reminds me of the Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's story, where a painting takes on the years of the artist, his fears that turn into wrinkles, his joy that turn into laugh lines.

And a piece that I like to call Holding her Breath illustrates that well: the image of what seems a person too slothful or satiated to bother exerting himself to face the work of life. Its relatively smooth skin (surface) and plumpness imply a life given to pleasures.

Unlike her early work, A Gap in the Void deals with her study of man's denial of death even as he fights for life. How the certainty of dying betrays life's fragility. How life and death co-exist.

Yes, Kurulkar has shown before. At the Clay Talk group show at Sheridan Russell Gallery, London, as part of the Ceramics Contemporaries 4 touring show, London, UK. More recently, though the heads were part of a group show at The Gold Coast City Gallery, Australia and at the Queen Gallery, Toronto, Canada.

The heads, as she has created them, are reflections of her own stubble-marked one. I can imagine her, creating moulds of her own face in an experience that could only be personal and intense. It was as if, in using her own face, she wanted to breathe herself and emotions into that clay. And she did. Even so, you do not see her, but stages of life, emotion.

Her own journey with ceramics began in 1997 at the Golden Bridge Pottery, Pondicherry, India. Later, looking for a wider approach to the material, she did her MA in Ceramics from The University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, UK, followed by post graduate studies at the same university. That and her year of residency at The Living Arts Centre, Mississauga, Canada influenced drastic changes in the content of her work.

While the earlier work focused on the material, there is concept at the soul of these pieces. When you remember that each head originated from the same mould and is yet so different from the other, you see each again as a chapter of a person's life, each depicting a different characteristic of that individual. Take for example the almost cherubic head, holding its breath under water.

Cheeks puffed out, mouth pursed, at first glance it seems as if it wants to come up for air and, then as you study it further, you notice there is a sense of peacefulness about it. As if, even though she is under water, she is in no hurry to come up for breath. The gentle curves of the head, the smoothness of the face, tell of a Buddha-like knowledge: there is no point in hurrying, that the silence is good and restful and that cocooning watery silence could be home.

The heads disturb you, they make you want to look away, unsure. I can imagine people strolling away, looking for lighter stuff and smoking a cigarette later. This is not gossamer and spring. This is dark, melancholic - one head looks gaunt with an eye that seems hollowed out. True, something you would not want to put in your living room, but if this was a part of a series of emotions, this would be the one that would evoke quiet fear.

But it does not leave you indifferent, somehow getting into your unconsciousness. A Gap in the Void is a personal journey, put up there bravely for all to share. The question is, how many will want to stare away from the mirror of life and into the one called death.



Joanita Pinto