Ashwini Bhat: What I Touch Touches Me

Opening Reception for the Artist: Saturday May 8, 2021 3 -5 pm

May 8 – June 5, 2021

Press Release

Lucy Lacoste Gallery announces the upcoming exhibition Ashwini Bhat: What I Touch Touches Me May 8. – June 5, 2021 in Concord MA. The artist’s new body of work explores her track toward a metaphysical understanding of nature, objects, and our relationship with them.

Ms. Bhat, once a classical dancer in her native India, now lives in Petaluma, California with her husband, the celebrated poet Forrest Gander. Her sculpture is primarily abstract, with lines of sensuality (echoing the dancer) moving through her work. Color, always an element in her art, becomes increasingly important, contrasting with the backdrop of raw clay. Long respectful of nature, in the last few years of her career, nature to Bhat has become not just an influence, but the wellspring. This is her second solo exhibition at Lucy Lacoste Gallery.

As Ashwini Bhat writes: “the structure of my new body of work is derived from my immersion in my surroundings in a dramatic, highly various, and fragile Northern California landscape. The sculptures are assembled in four segments: Comfort Objects evolved— during a pandemic in which touch has become unsafe— from my examination of the shapes and forms of seedpods as symbols of mysterious, life-birthing potentialities. Animated Objects are studies in gesture, movement, and the feelings evoked by my memories of objects that have deep personal associations for me. Intimate Earth Objects reference elements of earth and body. These biomorphic forms enact the co-existence and mutuality of the human and non-human. And they also focus on the sorts of objects that are historically or culturally associated with rituals and sacrality. Assemblage Objects juxtapose colors and consortiums of form that reference particular landscapes in which I’ve spent time. The shadowbox is, clearly, an homage to Joseph Cornell, who lived most of his life in physical isolation, but remained in touch with his contemporary makers.

All four segments are linked by allusions to primordial symbols or patterns such as the Mandala, Spiral, Serpent, the Ouroboros, and the Fibonacci sequence. The meanings of these sculptures are fluid, not rigid. The objects might easily cross over and fit into other groupings. And this boundarylessness allows them to acquire multiple connotations. There is an open interplay of elements and a possibility of infinitely reassembling alliances. My aim is to suggest ways of looking that promote raveled and linked engagements that define the relation between all animate and inanimate matter.“ Ashwini Bhat, Spring 2021

We are honored to have Shannon R. Stratton, the independent curator, writer and current Executive Director of Oxbow School of Art and Residency write the catalogue essay for this exhibition, excerpted below:

“Bhat’s new objects are a reminder of the realness of the earth we continue to live on, even while the digital realm might drag us elsewhere. I could describe the objects Bhat has made for What I Touch Touches Me, as 

impressions. Impressions in that they are feelings or senses of the world, of space, of time and of the body. Impressions in that they are, or they bear, the imprint of the body or the earth upon them. Impressions in that they are the artist’s rendition of a moment, a place – specifically her physicality during a global pandemic in the dramatic landscape of Northern California. These objects tell me: “I am here. And here is here. And this was now, then.”

....as I long to spend less time in front of a screen, I recognize that what I truly want: is to hold things. And while I cannot hold Bhat’s Comfort Objects, I am grateful for the reminder that I too am touched by the things I touch, and it is through those material encounters that I am better able to feel. “

- Shannon R. Stratton, April 2021

Ashwini Bhat: Artist Statement 

Although my earlier work was also focused on earthliness and materiality, in the last few years of my career, nature has become not just an influence, but the wellspring. This new body of work explores my trajectory toward a metaphysical understanding of nature, objects, and our relationship with them. 

In developing this body of work, I take inspiration from the lauded eco-poet Brenda Hillman, one of American poetry’s more innovative writers, whose recent books and whose company on several hikes in Northern California have stimulated my imagination. Hillman talks about the artist’s formal aspiration for both “structure and boundarylessness.” 

The structure of my new body of work is derived from my immersion in my surroundings in a dramatic, highly various, and fragile Northern California landscape. The sculptures are assembled in four segments: Comfort Objects evolved— during a pandemic in which touch has become unsafe— from my examination of the shapes and forms of seed-pods as symbols of mysterious, life-birthing potentialities. Animated Objects are studies in gesture, movement, and the feelings evoked by my memories of objects that have deep personal associations for me. Intimate Earth Objects reference elements of earth and body. These biomorphic forms enact the co-existence and mutuality of the human and non-human. And they also focus on the sorts of objects that are historically or culturally associated with rituals and sacrality. Assemblage Objects juxtapose colors and consortiums of form that reference particular landscapes in which I’ve spent time. The shadowbox is, clearly, an homage to Joseph Cornell, who lived most of his life in physical isolation, but remained in touch with his contemporary makers. 

All four segments are linked by allusions to primordial symbols or patterns such as the Mandala, Spiral, Serpent, the Ouroboros, and the Fibonacci sequence. 

But the meanings of these sculptures are fluid, not rigid. The objects might easily cross over and fit into other groupings. And this boundarylessness allows them to acquire multiple connotations. There is an open interplay of elements and a possibility of infinitely reassembling alliances. My aim is to suggest ways of looking that promote raveled and linked engagements that define the relation between all animate and inanimate matter. 

I’m drawn to points of view that reject the privileging of human existence over non-human beings and objects. I’m drawn to rituals rather than religion; to animism rather than monotheism. I feel a kinship with Brenda Hillman when she says she thinks of herself as a mystic in a practical way, and I feel an appreciation for her poetry which flows through matter, spirit, and everything in between: 

“In the expiation of nature, we are required to experience the dramatic narrative of matter. 

The rocks under California are reigning in their little world. 

This was set down in strata so you could know what it felt like to have been earth.” 

— Ashwini Bhat Petaluma, CA 2021 

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