The Intuitive Shaper Of A New Sound Revolution


New Delhi-based artist Harsha Vardhan Durugadda recently won the prestigious $50,000 Rio Tinto Sculpture by the Sea Award, the most generous award in Western Australia. Durugadda’s winning work, Column of Sound, eight feet in marble and mild steel, depicts sound as marble slices stored between two steel hemispheres. The sculpture will be on permanent display in a public space in Western Australia.

Durugadda was born in Andhra Pradesh, India, and is currently based in New Delhi. Preeti Verma Lal talks to the artist on Column of Sound, whirling and spinning, his love for large-scale art work, and more.

What is the idea behind Column of Sound?

It signifies the idea of translating sound wave into a three-dimensional sculpture. The column was created after recording audio from the vicinity of the sculpture’s site. Then, I conceived a physical representation of the sound. The marble slices are stacked and adjusted to match the visual of the sound wave. The two hemispheres are holding down the sound. For me, there seems to be a need to store the memory of sound in tactile form, so that it exists forever in physical space.

Explain the sculpting process.

The work was created in New Delhi for my debut solo show at Lalit Kala Akademi. I started with making a maquette/model and spent more than a year with the model, planning on how to execute the large work. Once finalised, I created detailed drawings. The marble was sourced from Rajasthan and cut into slabs. Mild Steel was hydraulically pressed to make plain shells. I disassembled the sculpture and shipped it as sea cargo to Australia.

Whirling and spinning are recurrent themes in your work. What appeals to you? 

My solo show Whirling Out explored the core idea of whirling as an energy-creating force. There is no being or object which does not revolve, because all beings comprised revolving electrons, protons, and neutrons in atoms. Everything revolves, and the human being lives by means of the revolution of these particles, by the revolution of the blood in his body, by the revolution of the stages of his life, by his coming from the earth, and his returning to it. My recent work Whirling Man is a revolving portrait, a manifestation of the body, as if in full spinning motion allowing to be spun by the spectator.

Tell us about the spinning-top series. 

A spin-top becomes a metaphor of the world we inhabit. Spinning occurs everywhere, from the planet to the electron in order to transform energy.  Spin Face is a revolving portrait which ceases to spin. In sculptural form, it is half-human and half spin-top. I inherit the merits of a spin top by spinning around a central axis. The spinning top ceases to spin, as if staring back at us. The upper portion is informed by the artist’s face, as if in full spinning motion. A maze is carved on the bottom half which could only be visible to us when the spinning top freezes in motion.

Tell us about the social art project.

The project was titled Loo Culture and I was given a scholarship by the British Council as part of the UNBOX festival in New Delhi. Loo Culture is about questioning the existing practices of defecation, out of which came the need to bring in awareness about the fact that many people still prefer open defecation to using bathrooms. The quest inspired me to do artworks on found and new toilets.

You want to start where language ends. Where and when do you feel that ‘language has ended’ and your work is ready to begin?

If we look at language, it is a set of words and pronunciations we associate with objects and emotions which are universal. But this is an indirect approach of communication, as we have to decipher these words in our mind before we understand them. That is why rituals and artistic practices always have direct and powerful messages embedded in colours, textures and body moments. I can communicate directly through art more effectively than language.

You are moving towards creating large-scale works. What is the significance?

I like large-scale works because I am interested in creating and facilitating public engagement with my work. Mostly, I have made works which can be touched or spun. There is a sense of performativity involved in asking the audience to touch, rotate or spin the work, which is in tandem with my interest in performance art.

You are interested in Buddhist sculpture and whirling dervishes. What is your idea of the Supreme?

I call myself Atheist 2.0, which I draw from Atheism 2.0, a book by Alan de Botton. I would like to pick and choose aspects from Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions rather than blindly denying them. For me, the Supreme lies within each being, whether alive or not, and is not someone/something who sits there to judge what is right or wrong. For me, being mindful is the most blissful thing that can be achieved by a human being.

What next? 

I have been thinking of the idea to understand the phrase ‘Moon cannot be stolen’. I am working on my new series. It is too early to talk about my future works in detail. I have been working on a video work which explores gender stereotyping.

Durugadda with his work ‘Column of Sound’.