Tarshaa Krishnaraj is a South Asian design artist currently based in New York pursuing her BFA from Parsons School of Design. She combines her passion for furniture with fine arts, upending cultural, colonial materials while considering her marginal status as a form of freedom and challenge.
Using her connection to her roots back in India, the artist creates and examines objects with an endearing tribute to the sensory experiences in Indian culture. Her latest project, 'Kulir' is a fascinating exploration of heat and our interaction with it. Tarshaa's work is informed by the Brown experience and her unique perception of objects as storytelling devices creates a fresh new dimension of cultural artistic expression that has never been conceived before.
We interviewed the artist to dive into her mind and take a look at her creative inspirations and her experience in creating her project. You can read it below.
What are the things that reignite your connection to India?
Food has always been an endless realm of exploration for me. Just being an Indian living away from India, there is always that subconscious desire of finding roots through food. But I wanted to use food differently. And Jon Rubin’s Conflict Kitchen pushed me to think about food and public spaces more politically. I began using food as creators of liminal spaces themselves; using Jim Jam biscuits as the frail legs of a chair or molten jaggery as a glue. And having traveled and seen so many places, there was something saccharine about the construction of a space, the way the Indian movie theater was built or a supermarket that made me want to make my own objects within such spaces.
Could you name some of your favourite artists?
Cheryl Mukherji, Baseera Khan, Anicka Yi, Laila Gohar, Shubham Lodha.
Is there a project you wish you were a part of?
Shaun Leonardo's Primitive Games performance at the Guggenheim Museum.
What is something you discovered while putting this project together?
The extent to which our sensory experiences are politicized. Which, can turn out to be even more pervasive to the stratification and division of our society. Besides the feeling of heat; poverty has a smell, luxury has a touch, and soon perhaps these sensory awakenings will lead to a more stimulated but incredibly surveilled world.
Tell us about your project, 'Kulir' and how you conceptualized it.
The childhood curiosities we collectively have around Heat have been fascinating to me. Heat is angry, erotic, comforting, reddening, sweaty, melanating. So common, and yet Heat is so esoteric to the Indian experience. The materialization of such a complicated character that Heat is was practically impossible, but I was interested by this external environment’s ability to bleed into the most abstract parts of our lives, resulting in larger racial and political interactions. I wanted to literally memorialize this identity of Heat through my affection for making sculptural furniture. Kulir (‘cold’ in Tamil) is made of sanded steel, embedded mini handheld fans and an upholstered saree. The sculpture is an initial step in this speculative, politically directed thermodynamics research. In its most fundamental construction, Kulir is anti-heat in a whimsically pragmatic manner. Or it attempts to be, with a chilliness shooting right from the seat of this chair. Recreating and re-thinking utilitarian objects that are unique to the Indian community with an intuitive, yet entirely unnecessary material assemblage was what I was used to making, but it felt ironic when considering Heat. Heat was like a master, and every object, every material knew of its presence. The saree, known to every single Indian, also bore full knowledge of Heat’s existence, and Kulir had to be draped in it. There are moments in the intrinsic Indian experience where Heat has left its marks, and continues to do so every moment; starting from the color of skin, to our colonial history, even our community’s social dynamics. I hope to keep finding these moments and materially constructing and/or deconstructing to create further projects within this area of research.
What are some of your biggest design inspirations over the years of your artistic career?
Set design in films and music videos have always intrigued me and my art. The intersection of screenwriting with unprovoked design in Chaitanya Tamhane’s film Court, Hannah Beachler’s incredible set design in Black Panther and Alberto Mielgo’s multidisciplinary art in Love Death + Robots are huge current inspirations. The homes we inhabit also become our own sets. In Bangalore and Chennai where I grew up, there was a certain attitude around objects and maximalism that I carried with me. And recently, learning about affect energy, our spatial orientation to things, and how our cultural experience around spaces changes these energies, drives the way I make my sculptural forms.
Could you tell us about your creative process?
My very first, childlike reactions to things I see, smell, touch, hear or taste that momentarily occur before the more critical thoughts come in are the ones I keep close to me. There is a sense of awe that these initial reactions pertain to, and my making process is narrated by that same feeling of awe. I like to use stuff I find around me, like badminton racquets, air filters and stainless steel vessels and then question and play imaginatively with their language of being. I think I make art to explore the quality of my own questions, and very rarely do I find answers to them.
Follow Tarshaa here.