Skodas’ Award-Winner Navie Thomas Newest Collectionby Opinion Express November 20, 2018 0 comments
Navin Thomas showcases and takes Image Nair through the exceptional journey of his latest collection.
What sets Navin Thomas apart is his originality and his ability to keep art lovers guessing about what he will unravel next.
When he won the SKODA Award in 2011 he said, “There are a couple of things which I have been preoccupied with over the last few years — beta-testing on the possible afterlife of salvaged electronic junk, mostly discarded transistors and smaller objects, with a possible audio capacity. I love to observe how pets and smaller species react to magnetic fields.”
Seven years hence, Navin’s exposition at Gallery SKE in Delhi is the stuff of melding and meandering moorings which create corollaries in conversation and complexities of transcending sound in myriad ways through recycled wood. “Out here in the exosphere,” he is more than curious, more than quaint and it holds up a host of narratives from the past to the present to the Sappers Band in Madras and the tide of time.
In the past, he has created works by degrees having a penchant for discovering the beginnings of his installations and films in and around the discarded detritus of scrapyards, recycling plants and flea markets. He uses “rough” technology to construct his poetic and philosophical art from the salvage of rapidly transforming 21st-century economies.
Here at Gallery SKE, it is the brass band instruments, The Phantom Orchestra, that catch your gaze. References and memories come floating by, think of Louis Armstrong and eternal enchanting melodies like What a Wonderful World, As Time Goes By, La Vie en Rose and all Navin does is smile because he goes off on a tangent with sound.
“The main work of this show, The Phantom Orchestra, is an ensemble of wind instruments, (tuba, french horn, euphonium and so on) which were originally retrieved from the local metal recycling unit when the instruments were cast off by the local military brass band,” he adds.
“I have always been known for my sound sculptures in the past. Earlier they were about built architecture and ecology and now, with this new show it’s more about aural form and the mechanics of it,” he says. “These instruments were reconstructed to become The Phantom Orchestra and for this show they are playing a rendition of the Weather Report, which is a score that is written in three parts. The first part of this piece is an orchestration of instruments ‘tuning’. The idea of the instrument that can never be tuned is the foundation of this piece. I am not going to get into the details of the remaining two parts as I don’t want to ruin it for people visiting the show,” he affirms.
Sentinels in time
The other larger sculptural work, which is titled Sentinels in time, comprises wooden chambers of sorts. In the artist’s opinion, it is to further explore the process of calibrating what cannot be tuned and then ultimately turning inwards to tune oneself. It is uncanny how he creates an entire vocabulary of designed elements around sound and its intricate references that run through memory and time and tide.
Tangential narratives and metaphors spill out of his very reckoning. Navin is perhaps a visionary in the many conversations he creates. His titles set you thinking about his voracious appetite for reading and his powers of observation that go back and forth through the grids of decadence and history itself. “Most often the empty space of a would-be title is a chance at a separate text work by itself. When I was younger, it would be to play a trick on your sensibilities, to label a cheap red rubber ball as human spirit, some fun and game to get thrown out of Bible studies class and go fishing. Now that I am older and more accommodating, the role of the title would be to gently guide the spatial experience of the person without having to drop too much of cultural appropriation,” he adds in sheer humility.
“When I first conceived The Phantom Orchestra, I knew for sure that the dead members of the local military brass band wouldn’t be playing music as you traditionally knew it. I was keen to make a piece on the climate, mostly the sounds of ecological disaster,” elucidates Navin. “It was beginning to sound more like a Hollywood science fiction film score. I trashed it and finally came back to a question of representation and that’s how I arrived at the ping pong ball — a smashing object, courageous, battered, uncertain and then symphonic. The final score is called the Weather Report, which is in three parts.”
Acoustic alchemy in wood
When you look around the room and take in the different paradigms in wood that speak about design dynamics, you know how preserving and passionate Navin is about what he creates. Sheet Music for Table Tennis is as enchanting as the two flattened violin prototypes bringing about a host of memories and moods.
“I use wood in some of my sculptural work not for its aesthetic quality but for its inherent acoustic capacity. In the choice of timber I have a preference for, what is locally called jungle. It usually means trees that are data-deficient, basically trees that have no name and then in terms of its construction. I do a lot of the joinery, mostly because I enjoy doing it and the dynamics of colour are honestly just a system of chance. I will stretch out to what is closest to me,” clarifies Navin. Throughout his career he has experimented with the reverberant and percussive effects of insects, birds, animals and people as they react and co-exist with invisible electronic fields. For his installations at Gallery SKE he uses powerful modern symbols— hybrid wooden designs —and creates between them an unfamiliar anthology which is at once dense with sound, memory and sensation.
Writer: Una Nair
Courtesy: The Pioneer