India, Sept. 2010: Pooja Iranna is a Delhi-based mixed-media artist who just opened her solo show “In the Waves and Underneath” at the Palette Art Gallery in Delhi. India ArtSlant Editor Sophia Powers had the great pleasure to meet with Pooja at her home in August as she was putting the final touches on the show. What follows are excerpts from their conversation.
Pooja Iranna, The Twist, 2010, Staple pins, 33x104 cms; Courtesy of the artist
Sophia Powers: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Pooja Iranna: I’ve been working with the architectural format since the beginning—since I finished my B.F.A. in 1991 (Painting at the College of Art, New Delhi). I think this is because I grew up in a metropolis and so much of what I was seeing as a kid was the city changing all around me so quickly.
SP: Were you ever tempted to put people in your pictures?
PI: Never! At that time in India, everyone did canvases and figurative work. But I did works on paper with no figures at all. People called me stubborn, but at that age you can afford to be adamant. Maybe things don’t work out, and maybe they do, but you’re young! But I do think my works are talking about people indirectly. Just because there are no figures does not mean that you can’t feel people in my spaces. There are emotions and so I think you start to think about how the space relates to people.
SP: What did your professors think? Did they understand what you were interested in?
PI: No, not really, their visits were short. You know, I was from an artist’s family, so there were so many expectations from people around me. But even my parents never really knew what I was doing when I was working, and it was pretty much understood that if I ever had an exhibition, then they would get a chance to see my work then. I think it worked in my favor not to have much feedback in the beginning. That way I wasn’t swayed by anybody’s ideology. I learned to be my own critic. When I started out, I was mostly doing watercolors which depicted architectural spaces—both the inside and outside. We had been taught how to use watercolors in college, but I wanted to negate the rules. So instead of using big brushes and the usual technique, I used the thinnest of brushes I could find—usually a size zero or two and built up layers with the paint. I would put down fifteen or twenty layers-- which would take a lot of time as you can imagine, but the density I would get was overwhelming. I started developing my work bit by bit. You see, here I drew one city, then another, then another, right on top (we were looking at a painting called “Over the Old One,” from 1995). Something else I started experimenting at this time was with scratching of paper to reveal the surface underneath. I never used white paint in my works, so anytime there’s white it means the paper has been scratched; I used a paper cutter to cut out the first layer of the paper and peal it off. These pieces, I remember, would take fifteen or twenty days each!
Pooja Iranna, The never meeting Lines, 197, Mixed media relief, 46 x 36 x 1 in.; Courtesy of the artist
In some cases I stopped using a brush at all. See how the form really comes off the page? I would stick layers of rice paper on top of each other—just using my hands. I was really trying to understand the tactile value of what I was working with. By this time I got heavily into relief work with paper construction. Then, in 1997, I started working on bridges—both as digital collages, drawings, and mixed-media works. They seemed to embody the fragility of human relations—I mean, if one link is cut the whole thing tumbles down to debris. Around this time I also became interested in playing with light and incorporating the natural shadows that were created from some of my more three-dimensional works.
Around 2001 I went to study in London, and began working with digital technology-- taking pictures and making digital collages with them. I would photograph a building, and then play/work extensively with it on Photoshop. When I got the printout in hand I would rework it with different materials.
SP: Do you find your work is very different if it’s based on a building from one place as opposed to another?
PI: Actually, no. The world has gone so global that today you can see basically the same building in DLF as in New York! Of course, each city has a totally different feeling, and the vibrations of one place is different from the other. Since I’m not actually interested in city life as much as the city’s architecture it often doesn’t matter where and in which city the picture is shot.
For my solo “Metamorphical Mathematics” in 2003-04, I did an installation called “Standing Strong,” which was actually just a series of pictures I had taken and then folded up to make boxes.
Pooja Iranna, Standing Strong, 2003, Folded paper structures, variable size; Courtesy of the artist
This I stacked to make a skyscrapers by placing them on top of each other. Actually the concept came into existence as I thought what would I do and how could I keep my work after the show. I realized that if I could dismantle the boxes then I could put them flat after the show. In the end I didn’t have to worry about storing, though, because my work was sold. I showed the same piece in Bombay. There was a fan placed on top so the pieces swayed constantly in the wind—but never fell down. This went especially well with the ideas about fragility and stability that I was exploring at the time. The idea to work in 3-D really only came after I felt I had exhausted the possibilities for 2-D, and needed to expand into another dimension.
(As we stroll through the house we stop in front of a pair of sculptures made entirely of staples set side-by-side on Pooja’s dining room table.)
Pooja Iranna, Segregating, Staple Pins, 2009, 21 x 26.5 x 3 in.; Courtesy of the artist
SP: These are amazing. How long did it take you to make them?
PI: Each one took months. Like this one, ”The Twist” This was especially difficult because I had to lay each layer of staples judging just by eye. If I was even a little bit off then it would throw the curve of the whole piece. Even though these sculptures can be very small or as long as six feet, I think size doesn’t really matter—just like a skyscraper. It’s the same thing whether it’s huge or tiny, and when you look at it you can see it either way. I like working with staples because as time goes on, they lose their sheen. This is just like life!
SP: You have so much work around your house. Do you always keep it like this?
PI: Oh yes. I like to live with all the pieces I make so I can constantly see the works differently— in different lights, with different angles, even in different moods. It helps me to think about my work. Right now, though, there’s possibly even more work than usual, because I’m trying to make the final decisions about what to put in my upcoming exhibit. I want to have four mediums in the show—including paintings. In my whole career, I’ve never done large canvas works like this. (We go across the room in front of a very large canvas. It is a rich and commanding portrait of an architectural space, and as I walk from side to side to view it from different angles the colors shift subtly but unmistakably.) Compared to a normal artist’s trajectory, I guess, it’s kind of like going in reverse! But I didn’t really paint it but build it up through the process of dripping. It took a really long time, but it was the only way to really build up the texture and density that I wanted—that feeling of solidity. It also allows me to build up certain portions of the canvas more than others. And, the light reflects of each layer, which is why the painting looks different if you’re standing in one place than if you’re standing in another.
Pooja Iranna, The Walls, 1992, Imperial, Watercolour on paper; Courtesy of the artist
SP: The form in the painting looks so confident. Do you make a lot of sketches before you make a large work like this and start the hard work of building up the surface of the canvas?
PI: Actually, no. I’m very sure of my lines, and they hardly change from the sketch to the painting. I have in my head the exact form that I want to put on the canvas. Along with the paintings, some drawings, and some of the staple sculptures, I want to include at least one video piece.
Pooja Iranna, Another new Beginning, video still, 2010, Duration 7.40 minutes; Courtesy of the artist
(Pooja shows me her video,“Another New Beginning,” that starts out with a single shot of a skyscraper that slowly falls into the mirror image of itself and transforms into a boat floating on a rocking sea that slowly drifts off into the sunset.)
PI: [The video] is about how humans have reached the zenith of their creation, but still there’s no end. This could be terrifying, but there’s also great hope. We, the human race is capable of doing the unthinkable at any point.
SP: How do you manage to actually create the video technically? Did you learn programming? It looks pretty complicated.
PI: It is. First I have to know exactly what I want. I plan it out down to the exact degree that I want the ship to turn…and then I sit with a technician and together we see what is possible—what can actually be done in form of animation. As with the move from two to three dimensions, I only started working with video when I felt a strong urge -- what I was feeling I could only express through that medium. So I went from two dimensions to three dimensions and now sound and movement. It’s very exciting… I wonder what will come next!
ArtSlant would like to thank Pooja Iranna for her assistance in making this interview possible.
The website will be permanently closed shortly, so please retrieve any content you wish to save.