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NS Harsha: Mixing cosmos and consumerism

Indian artist NS Harsha's installation at the Biennale of Sydney mixes profundity with humour

‘Reclaiming The Inner Space’ by N.S. Harsha.
‘Reclaiming The Inner Space’ by N.S. Harsha.

NS Harsha’s Reclaiming The Inner Space is mammoth. The Mysuru-based artist’s wall-mounted installation, almost 40ft wide, takes up a whole wall at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Then again, the piece does deal with the whole of the cosmos—and elephants.

Specially commissioned for the ongoing contemporary art exhibition Biennale of Sydney (on till 11 June), Harsha’s work is made of hundreds of upturned cardboard packages, around 1,400 hand-carved wooden elephants, mirrors, aluminium sheets and paint, adding up to about 4,000 components in all.

In Reclaiming The Inner space, Harsha’s long-held interest in the cosmos meets consumerism. “I am deeply intrigued by the dark spaces in supermarket stores, under their bright lights," he writes on email from Sydney. The dark space inside all the packages—toothpastes, soaps, medicines, cereals, perfumes, cosmetics—is, to him, the same as cosmic space. This thought led Harsha to open up the carton boxes, prop them up on a wall and expose their internal space.

A study for the installation.

He uses acrylic paint to visually suggest a rupture, as the dark interstellar space seems to break through from beneath the gallery wall, engulfing all that surrounds it. Dark space isn’t “out there", says Harsha, but here and now.

As if to ground the lofty theme, Harsha introduces elephants. In the left half, they are mostly buried under the cardboard cartons, but halfway across they emerge, reclaiming their space in this grand universal story. Freed of the burden of human civilization, the liberated animals roam free, “stampeding over the burden", in the right half. “It’s like the way in which nature fixes human greed," says Harsha.

Like his earlier works, Reclaiming The Inner Space is injected with humour but invites the possibility of being profound. While the piece grapples with themes of the universe, space and ecology, the heaps of product packaging safely bring us back to Earth, the land of Kellogg’s cornflakes and pimple creams.

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