Aarti Vir

by Ekatmata Sharma
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Sculptor Aarti Vir from Hyderabad shares her affection for the material clay and her experimental works with glazes, slips and porcelain resulting in head turning ceramic sculptures.
Seeking Centre - doorways 3
Tell us about your journey in the field of sculptures?
I studied painting for six years. I did my Bachelors of Fine Arts at Maharaja Sayaji Rao University and masters at S N School, Hyderabad Central University. During my bachelors, my month in the sculpture department stands out vividly in my memory even today. We worked with clay during the entire month and that experience stayed with me. My shift from painting to ceramics was not a planned one. I had heard about a course in ceramics at the Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry and decided to try it out. I enjoyed the material and the process so much that I have not stopped working with it twenty years on.
What inspired you to do ceramics?
I work with clay because apart from the fact that I love the material – the malleability, the expressiveness, the completely ‘down to earth’ ness of it, the entire process of making and firing engages me on multiple levels. I love the fragility of the raw work. And the transformation after it has been through fire. Every stage in the process is fraught with uncertainty and an ultimate relinquishing of control – much like life. 
Seeking Centre - Doorways L X W X H 16_ X 4_ X 21_ _ 12.5_ X 4_ X 18_ _ 8.5_ X 4_ X 14_
Please elaborate on your style of work.
I make my own clay body, slips and glazes. This involves a fair bit of testing and tweaking. And although I have a few staples and favourites amongst the slips and glazes, I enjoy experimenting with the material, tailoring it to suit whatever I am making. My usual clay body is brown stoneware. I have also used porcelain to make some of the work in a recent collection. The work goes through several stages in the making, drying and firing processes and every stage has its own rhythm.
Beginning with a sketch or a maquette, I hand build the work. A meditative, often slow process, the work evolves gradually through a series. Often the same concept explored in varied forms. Sometimes new ideas and directions emerge during the making.
I fire in a wood kiln, first to 900 centigrade. After which the work is slipped and glazed. Often the work already has a layer of slip and maybe some drawing on it before the first firing. I enjoy layering slips, sometimes painting, waxing over it, to create a resist, then spraying the glaze. The glaze firing to 1280-1300 centigrade, takes between 22-26 hours in the wood kiln. I also salt glaze. At 1280 C I introduce salt (sodium chloride) into the kiln. The sodium settles on the work, accentuating texture and colour.
 What are the materials you like to experiment with clay?
All the experimenting that I do is with the clay bodies, slips and glazes. Clays vary a lot in terms of the colour they fire to and workability. I like the fact that I can experiment with that depending on what I’m making. I sometimes add grog, iron pyrites, feldspar chips to the clay. This adds an entirely different dimension to the surface and what it expresses. I also enjoy layering different slips and glazes. I think that is a legacy of my days as a painter.
I think I do deliberately keep a lot of my forms very simple so that I can play around with the surface. But whether I paint on the clay or not, depends not so much on form, as on what I’m trying to say. Sometimes, the form is quite enough on its own- even if it is a very simple form. Other times, I’m trying to express multiple, layered thoughts, and then I draw or paint on the clay.
Seeking Centre 4 L X W X H 16_ X 10.5_ X 12_
What is the constant source of inspiration behind your work?
It is my journey through life. As my life unfolds, organically, responding to circumstances and changing with them, so does my work. Sometimes the work addresses an interior life, sometimes an external concern.
Which is your most memorable work?
What is memorable is the process, the challenges and excitement of exploring a new idea or direction.
Who are the art legends you admire?
Andy Goldsworthy – His work moves me by utter simplicity and stunning visual impact. His use of natural material to make work that is either transient or subject to transformation through exposure to the elements overtime resonates on a level that no words ever could.
Anish Kapoor – The playfulness and the sheer scale of his work is breathtaking. His work is an almost impossible convergence of complex thought and simple form.
Nasreen Mohamedi – Her work is to me the epitome of the subtle, the understated and the powerful all at once. There is an almost physical impact from her very incorporeal drawings.
No man steps in the same river twice 2 L X W X H 22_ X 16_ X 6.5_
Please share the inspiration behind your recent exhibition Ephemeral-Eternal?
In this exhibition, there is a slight change of earth. After primarily making stoneware, I have now included porcelain in my repertoire.
This body of work has found inspiration in Sufi poetry, Buddhist thought, Japanese haiku, nirguni bhajans, and my own journey.
A threshold, by definition is that place in time or space that is on the cusp of change. I have long been fascinated by this concept of a place that is neither inside nor out, yesterday nor tomorrow, here not there. Framed by a doorway, the threshold represents a pause – a moment of stillness, holding within it the certainty of passage. And they have led me, the thresholds and the doorways ever more insistently inwards.
There are five distinct collections. The first goes to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus for its title ‘No man steps in the same river twice’. I have used one element to suggest another – the medium is earth but the implication is water. Fluid wavy lines suggestive of ever flowing streams, their parting away and meeting again is the theme here. The pieces are steel grey, with smudges of brown and wonderful patterns that the called ‘gifts’ from the flyash in the woodfire kiln fires. The next category is named ‘Seeking Centre’, is more studied. These are portals reminiscent of a long garden pathway, a maze we’re in, or simply lost in the wonders of many splendor gardens. It’s like we are seeking the centre of it all, the very hub. On the same theme, but approaching it from a different tack is ‘Interconnected’– a comment on the complex connections that course through life and the universe. ‘Fleeting’ is another example where clay is made to speak for something far more insubstantial. This is a varied assortment of moods and thoughts, some dark, some playful, some weighty, but all of them just coming and going. ‘Moult’ is collection of delicate, gossamer things, moulted feathers, and butterfly wings. The motifs narrate a complete tale of in themselves of birth, decay and renewal.

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