This young artist’s work has been divisive partly on account of the content, partly on account of the form (see: the ceramics-as-craft vs ceramics-as-whatever-the-fck-you-want debate) – and both, perhaps, amplified by his rapid rise from art school graduate to feted favourite. In 2015 he won the $50,000 Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Art Award; in 2016 he was given major commissions and shows at the National Gallery of Australia and the Ian Potter Museum in Melbourne. In 2017? His massive installation at Carriageworks is a pretty good start.
Though Nithiyendran started at small scale (no doubt as much due to practical limitations as conceptual) his works seem to get larger with each showing. His immersive room installation ‘The Cave’ features his biggest figure to date, the ‘Dirt Deity’: a figure in unfired clay, rough-hewn polystyrene and flex lights, created on site by the artist – and to be destroyed at the end of The National.
Nithiyendran plays with cliches of representation; it might seem like mere provocation to some, but his works are the product of thoughtful study of – and irreverence towards – establishment values and aesthetics. Case in point: ‘Dirt Deity’ is a response to large scale public – and particularly religious – monuments.
“A lot of these large scale monuments – in Australia, colonial monuments – are incredibly phallic,” he says. “There’s plinth on top of plinth on top of plinth, topped by the figure. I wanted to bring a humorous but also inclusive and almost egalitarian sensibility to the monument.”
Check out our full list of highlights from The National Biennial of New Australian Art.