To describe the conception of Melbourne artist Sangeeta Sandrasegar’s latest sculptural installation as a wild goose chase would border on understatement. Created over two extended visits to India – the first as part of an Asialink studio residency in Bangalore – the oddly ornate, almost architectural series of brass sculptures that populate The scaffold called the Motherland spews infinite grace led her from the building sites of Bangalore and eucalyptus-lined boulevards of Chandigarh to the “brass city” of Moradabad and the sand-floored industrial foundries of Mysore.
“I’ve always bee interested in ideas of place and belonging in different ways,” says Sandrasegar, chatting over a coffee in her house in Brunswick, which she shares with her partner and occasional collaborator, architect Stefan Bagnoli.
“My plan was to finally go to India after all these years of people saying to go and explore my Indian heritage,” she continues. “Not even my dad had been and he’s Malaysian Indian, so it was this idea of going back to India and trying to find something that I related to, some kind of awakening or something.”
But landing in Bangalore, her most immediate impression was that of a peculiar sense of familiarity. Wandering the streets, she found a city “filled with Australian eucalypts”, the saplings stripped of their leaves and branches and used as scaffolding “poles” on construction sites, propping up immense concrete slabs and beams.
What begun as an “aesthetic reaction” to the poles prompted Sandrasegar – whose fragile cut paper and textile works employ shadow as key formal and conceptual motif – to begin exploring the history of the eucalyptus in India and its post-colonial bearing and connections to Australia.
She returned to India months later with the idea of casting the poles in brass, a material synonymous with traditional Indian sculpture, architecture and the decorative arts. But when leads in Delhi and Moradabad (a city famed for its brass industry) fell through, she found herself in Mysore, where she employed the services of a traditional sand-floored foundry to help her cast the eucalyptus poles.
“The brass all came from old temple candle holders and recycled religious objects, which are all melted down and, in this case, were made into funny brass trees,” she smiles.
The result – which follows recent works including Exquisite Corps, a surrealist collaborative collage and drawing series with Luke Parker – is a kind of material, cultural and conceptual bridge between locales; solid and heavy, yet luminous and light.
“All of our generation in Australia have grown up with a mixed sense of identity,” muses Sandrasegar. “Travelling between Malaysia and Australia in the 80s, there was always this idea of shifting between different cultural norms.
“I think that was a big thing in me wanting to make art.”
The scaffold called the Motherland spews infinite grace shows at Murray White Room from June 22 until July 28.