KOCHI: Poetry is often not readout, it is experience. Artist cum writer Sheetal Shivaramakrishnan has found a way to make it tangible both viscerally and physically — you can smell, hear and touch each word of a poem that encompasses myriad meanings and emotions.
Her installation at Lokame Tharavadu, the art exhibition curated by Bose Krishnamachari, is probably the first attempt at combining technology and poetry in India. Sheetal has used augmented reality to achieve this. The artist was brought up in Mumbai and returned to Kerala around 2016. “That change was overwhelming for me both emotionally and physically. Everything I knew and remembered about Kerala from my childhood had changed — the social fabric of cities and villages, nature, lifestyle and food,” she says. That was the beginning of ‘Mother, I need to Hide’ - her installation.
“Bose selected me for this exhibition in October 2020. I was impressed by the beauty of Alappuzha and the venue that hosts the work of 270 global Malayalee artists. My work has been carefully designed with a powder-coated GI tray. The poem is cast in cement with a total of 171 letters,” she says.
The poetry is an accumulated observation of today’s Kerala against her memories of it from her childhood — of running through her maternal grandparents home hoping to hide away for hours in the attic or on trees. And then the vacation would end and she would return to Mumbai awaiting another summer.
“Maybe I became a poet because longing was one of my first, deepest emotions — a longing to be free among trees and nature,” she adds. The brief poem uses metaphorical references to the urban landscape, climate change, migration and colloquial ironies.
Sheetal always wanted to extend the experience of poetry with strong, tactile mediums. One needs to employ all the five senses to experience and remember something, that’s how she wants people to meet her poetry. “I am fascinated with emerging technology like augmented reality. Now, we think of technology as more of a data harvester that takes away the fun and childlike wonder from us.
But I feel people should be able to enjoy technology with innocence too. It is challenging, but I hope more artists understand the possibilities of incorporating technology into their work,” she says. Jithin M S from Kitebe Pvt Ltd, a state-based startup, helped her with the AI part of her installation.