19.09.19 - 19.10.19


The ages of humankind are substantially defined by metal: gold, silver, bronze and iron in Hesiod’s scheme; copper, bronze and iron in the history taught in schools. Myth and archaeology agree on the sequence of those eras, but differ in their valuation.

From the standpoint of history, the control of progressively harder metals is a tale of ingenuity and progress. As humans successively discover mining, smelting, alloying and casting, they exert greater control over their environment, to the point that they dominate an entire planet.

In the mythic conception, the four metals tell a story not of development but of gradual decay, a degeneration from a life of truth and purity to one of greed, misery and toil. In this, they parallel the four ages defined in Indic sacred texts: the Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali yugas.

Gold is the most inert of metals, and is therefore often found in its native state. Being non-reactive with its surroundings, it stays untarnished for long periods. Iron, at the other end of the scale, is highly reactive, and therefore usually exists in ores from which it is difficult to extract. Once derived in its pure form, it doesn’t stay that way for long, reacting with oxygen in the air to form an oxide, a slow combustive process known as rusting.These intrinsic properties have inspired the diametrically opposed narratives of mythological and historical epochs, the softness and glitter of gold contrasting with the hardness and corrosiveness of iron.

Art and artifice have utilised metals for as long as humans have been able to work them, reflecting and questioning received symbolic meanings and cultural assumptions in the process.  The artists in Burnish / Tarnish sustain that legacy, mobilising the materiality of metal, engaging with metaphorical associations built up over thousands of years, andexploring how the duality of purity and corruption, and the many shades between those extremes, play out in the public and political arena in our time.

Girish Shahane