The writing has meaning. The found object has associations. When these are used as components to create imagery in the context of the visual arts, there are layers to be discovered and readings to be made. Artist Kunel Gaur creates works using mixed media for commentary on serious issues like consumerism and the climate crisis. It often relies on retail packaging labels which have inherent connotations and nostalgia. There are irony and satirical references. “The thoughts expressed in my work constantly come and go as I continue to observe the human condition, our history, spirituality, geopolitics, concepts of the future, religion, collective memory, philosophy and popular culture. “, explains Gaur. He is a designer by training and is inspired by architecture. In contrast, Gaur uses the idea of function to integrate various elements into the construction of his art only as a way to tell a complete story. Matter and objects evoke memories that are an integral part of Gaur’s practice.
I talk to the artist on the sidelines of his current personal exhibition, Information Architecture at the Method art space in Mumbai, India.
Rahul Kumar: You use everyday materials like labels and packaging in your art. How do these add a layer of meaning to your works?
Kunel Gaur: The street ecosystem, on which I base most of my work, is a menagerie of commercial spaces, homes, schools, hospitals, libraries, florists, art museums, cafes and general stores that thrive and coexist as a whole. Coming from a background in design, I am naturally fascinated by the different elements that I encounter on my travels or not, such as products, stationery, signage, street art, even electricity and hardware – and I ended up collecting a lot of them. . There are so many things to find in the simplest places of everyday life. I then try to use items such as wrappers and other print from these places to create a scaled down version of this commune making each craft a unique representation of a street or situation that is ingrained in memory. – coming full circle in the distance. When a functional element like packaging or a label becomes part of a work of art, it loses its function and this changes the way it is perceived by you as a viewer. It is endearing to me.
Rahul: While undertones of irony and often satire are part of your narrative, you speak to sensitive and serious topics of climate change and contemporary capitalist life. Can you tell us how you go about designing your work and bringing them together?
Kunell: Often you can imagine something, but you can never achieve it. A bit like a chimera of a future aligned with the common good. And so, the only way to do that is to write about it. And that’s what I do. The thoughts expressed in my work come and go constantly as I continue to observe the human condition, our history, spirituality, geopolitics, concepts of the future, religion, collective memory, philosophy and popular culture. I only recently started writing and what I’m gathering here is a compendium of all the pent up frustration and ideas that suddenly found their way to building and molding themselves into some kind of commentary. And while this stems from my observation of the contemporary situation we find ourselves in as a people, I want to write more and more about the positive outcome of it all. Focus perhaps on a time and place where we exist as a more self-aware species, rich in equal parts knowledge and wisdom, understanding, respect and love not just for ourselves , but for every part of the observable and imaginable vastness of existence. Knowing fully that we don’t have the answers to everything in the present moment, I write about a mindful attitude.
Rahul: Also, songs like ‘folk lore from future’ are intriguing. Tell us about the curatorial framework of Information Architectureyour last exhibition at Method art space.
Kunell: Information Architecture™ is an evolving body of work completed over the past three years. I spent this time at home working with found objects and prints I collected on my travels before the pandemic, to manifest an aesthetic that best matches my sensibility and obsession with architecture. and brutalist design. The exhibit includes abstract sculptural art and DIY that have been constructed using found and collected objects after completing their communication course for a brand or product, the way they now exist purely without function. The work was divided into abstract crafts, wooden panels with the writing, or prose, and minimalist characters inspired by my trip to Japan, where I last visited just before the pandemic. The art sculptures are made of wood and equipped with electricity which makes them look like giant abstract devices or machines without any function. My attempt and my hope is that people extract their own meaning from the exhibited work.
Rahul: As a designer and inspired by architecture, function plays an important role in what you do. You use architectural materials like wood, concrete, resin, metal, acrylic paint, screen printing techniques, glass and electricity. How does your art straddle history and future, function and expression, text and icons?
Kunell: I work with function against its premise. An architect will not have complete control over other elements added to their work over time. Signage is one example, there are others such as furniture, autonomous lighting, objects, etc. And just by means of fate, some of those combinations just click. And they go well together so we take a picture of them. And now it’s a whole different story. I try to capture that story. Bringing the sensitivity of this visual back into our minds, into the architecture. To do this, I have to borrow the material from him to build a form that would remind me of a moment in time, whether in the past or in the distant future, and let it exist on its own.
Rahul: Finally, while most of what you do revolves heavily around hardware and objects, you recently entered the virtual world of NFT. Why the need to make this change?
Kunell: The virtual world is all about hardware and objects. With NFTs, we’re on the cusp of something that will change the creative landscape in the not-too-distant future. And since my background comes from working closely with brands in the ever-changing design and advertising space, I’m naturally drawn to anything that promises long-term innovation. For my personal practice, I want to test the aesthetics that I build as a global experience, using virtual reality or augmented reality. AR can bring a universe of possibilities to life, and I’m currently working on building a platform that has the ability to do just that.