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Artist C Krishnaswamy uses art and performance to explore mythology and human existence

Ashvita’s gallery space looks sparse. All shades of grey emanate from the space, lined by glass windows — save for a few structures made of steel, and minimalist canvases. The latter, make up a series titled Mutual Closeness, each portraying a lone ray of light or illumination, rendered in a linear way, against chaotic blue-black and brown-black backdrops.

Artist and performance artiste C Krishnaswamy’s work is predominantly a search: there are no right or wrong answers for him, each work is born out of intuition. Which is why abstraction is his strong point, as is seen in this display titled Primordial Universe — the steel structures (which remind me of stick figures), sporting various poses are unassuming and inspired by racks.

Life imitates…

Krishnaswamy’s lived experiences are what most often translate onto his canvas.

A performance artiste known for choosing unconventional spaces, his journeys with art and performance are mutually exclusive.

He hails from a village called Chinnasalem, where every two years, a temple festival is held, centred around The Mahabharata. People dress up as gods and goddesses to offer prayers. As a child, this ritual fascinated Krishnaswamy, and the possibilities of being one with an intangible concept stuck with him.

Mutual Closeness, one of the works

Sanjana Srinivasan, curator of the show, says, “He has always had this tendency to become one with his work. This reflects in his performances as well.”

The artist humbly chimes in with a smile, “I believe in the form of disguise. I believe that everyone is in disguise; the true essence of one is not known.”

For instance, his performance Kundalini Rising portrays him practising yoga on a painted canvas, while another performance has him cooking rice for the souls of the deceased in a crematorium, and later smearing himself with it. The transience of a physical form is what Krishnaswamy explores through this. And while exploring this, his native experiences also surface. One of these is a penchant for mythology. He remembers, as a four-year-old, listening to the episode of the birth of Dharma, every night from 8 pm through midnight during the festival.

“Though his ideas are very contemporary, most of his paintings and sculptures have elements that go back to something very personal. And how he can translate that into his own language,” says Sanjana, adding that, for instance, the material used in the sculptures are a tribute to his family’s profession. (They are vessel merchants.)

“Whatever he wants to know, seems to evade him. Which is why he feels that everything is in disguise,” continues Sanjana. The artiste takes over. “Only the body is material, and we know that through age. Somehow, there is an intangible thought working at all times, within us,” he says.

Artist C Krishnaswamy uses art and performance to explore mythology and human existence

His relationship with the practice of yoga is also part of this search. He believes that there are infinite layers within us. “Each and every day, I look at my own work and realise a different thing,” says Krishnaswamy.

Liberation is another aspect that he is trying to achieve through his work. Sanjana agrees, saying that Krishnaswamy dwells on his calling, till he is satisfied. Which is also why many of his performances go on for hours, regardless of people walking out or getting distracted midway. He sticks through until he knows he is done. This, is perhaps, liberation for him.

Primordial Universe is on display till February 22 at Ashvita’s, Dr Radhakrishnan Salai, Mylapore. It is open to all.

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