Group Show Curated by Heidi Fichtner
January 24 - February 20, 2009
Analytical Engine curated by
including works by
Sophie Christopher Rohini Devasher Anita Dube
Abhishek Hazra Lavanya Mani Rakhi Peswani
Mona Rai Kiran Subbaiah Navin Thomas
Bose Pacia Kolkata
Stephen's Court, 18 Park Street,
Kolkata 700 071. Tel: (033)4001-0148
The exhibition Analytical Engine explores the ways in which the use of artisanal techniques, of craft and of "do-it-yourself" approaches emerge in contemporary art practice as an expanded field of analysis – as a platform for a critical engagement with social, political and art historical discourses. The show argues that the emergence of strategies that subvert the 'assembly line' logic of industrial production are more than merely incidental in our hyper-mediated era. Analytical Engine brings together a selection of works by ten artists at various stages in their careers that can be understood as handmade in either their conceptual orientation or in a more literal sense, in terms of their materials and processes. The show also aims to reveal the trajectory between codified systems of making and ordering - from the warp and weft to paper index cards to the uses of language - and the potential for analytical human intervention. Works in the show underscore the primacy of artisanal skill and humble materials, avant-garde methods in painting and printmaking, and hands-on or "hacker" approaches to digital and sound works.
Rakhi Peswani and Lavanya Mani both employ low-tech, traditional means and materials – embroidered scraps of old saris, lace, home made dyes – to enter into discourses on history and language. Peswani often refers to art history in her practice, reflecting on her readings of the printmaker Dürer and the contemporary artist Louise Bourgeois, among other figures influential for her. In this piece, she focuses on the word, 'nowhere,' choosing to leave her entire process of creation visible, exposing bare threads and unfinished silk edges in simple transparent framing, thus also reflecting her musings on the process of language itself. Lavanya Mani employs her narrative imagery to trace reflections on myth, history and post-colonial discourses. The work in this exhibition shows an enormous bird carrying an elephant through a landscape of water and leaves. It recounts a tale told by Marco Polo of just such a mythical bird, reflecting the way in which this story mingled with others to inspire popular notions of the East transmitted by Marco Polo and other traders.
In the video work "Index of Debt," Abhishek Hazra explores the peripheral antennae of the scholarly apparatus. The video is comprised of still images of academic quotes printed on a series of index cards, that manual technology for ordering data commonly seen in libraries until recently. The quotes on these index cards are short extracts from the acknowledgement sections of important scholarly books in South Asian Studies. The cards themselves, however, appear as a strange hybrid of an index card and a generic currency note. The accompanying audio track is a collage of excerpts from interviews Hazra conducted with the founder and current director of Gasworks, a London based arts organization that supports artistic practice in non-western contexts. The artist thus strategically reframes a humble precursor to modern computing systems as an optical trope for the parallels between the structures of exchange and support that underlie the formidable 'knowledge engine' of globalised academia and the transnational frenzy of contemporary visual art. Hazra's two digital print works in the exhibition elaborate upon the ideas explored in the video while also sampling formal elements from it and digitally transforming them into a dense mesh of visual symbols that play with the memory of a certain modernist language.
Kiran Subbaiah presents one of his net art works in the show: a computer virus, or rather a carefully constructed simulation of a virus attack on a personal computer. The basic material of the work, then, is the handcrafted code that produces this humorous simulation complete with a range of visual and sound effects triggered off by specific user interaction. This work, with its abstract blips, screeches and misleading visual commands would commonly be perceived as unusually advanced technology and beyond an easy technical grasp by the lay viewer – which indeed it is – although it is not in fact mass reproduced. Consisting of hand-written code, in the context of this show it can be taken as an example of the way in which new media works may also be embedded with the human element of craft.
A positive affirmation of craft is also evident in works by Anita Dube and Asim Waqif. Dube is already well known for her transformation of rough found materials into resonant objects, almost talisman-like, through the meticulous application of lustrous finishing elements. Adding found photos and other found objects to her assemblages, Dube's works reverberate with an unusually rich symbolic and conceptual content. With the "I-Jali" work in this show, a series of words in black velvet beginning with the letter "I" – Image, Idea, Instinct, Immediacy and so on – Dube continues her investigation into the power and potential of words and phrases whether presented in sculpture, performance or photo. Linking her practice to the concerns of some of the younger artists in this show such as Hazra and Peswani, Dube is engaged in an ongoing exploration into the complexity of the signifying fields that open up when one begins to address language as a material form.
Two works in the show by new artist Asim Waqif of Delhi reflect his attention to the functional and symbolic capacities of his constructions that resonate with an uncommon aesthetic elegance. Trained as an architect, he has presented several art/architecture projects in Delhi. For his first appearance in a gallery he presents "Pandal," a large site-specific sculpture constructed from bamboo and rope that pays homage to temporary ceremonial architecture and its significant role in the festive economy of the Pujas. Adorned with a clay idol in the form of Saraswati, the work also acknowledges the particular Puja which takes place in Calcutta during the period of this exhibition. Waqif also presents a wall sculpture-cum-helioflex device patched together from wood, metal, architectural drawings and suspended photo lenses. Here, the artist's intent is to elaborate upon simple materials and traditional methods while underscoring the formal beauty and cultural value of rudimentary handmade apparatuses.
Mona Rai has been working as an abstract painter for over 30 years and is represented by two new paintings that employ her hallmark use of formal, repetitive patterns, vivid colors and physical intrusions onto the canvas' surface. In slicing wounds into the canvas which are then sutured with colored yarn, and applying gold leaf to her surfaces, Rai continues her assertive interventions into the field of painting which follow more from a tradition of action painting or abstract expressionism than from classical Indian Modernism. As with some of the younger generation artists included in the show, Rai is pushing out the limits of her medium, calling into question the conventional use of materials vis-à-vis their potential. Having trained as a print maker, Rohini Devasher is represented by a number of print works in various sizes that date from 2004-2005. Intimate and less imposing than her new digital photo and video works, these unique lithographs and solar etchings are a product of creative invention into the processes of printmaking and reflect her ongoing interest in the intersection of science and visual forms.
Navin Thomas is the sole artist in Analytical Engine whose work is conceptually grounded primarily in its sound component. Composed of three separate sound tracks that project from PA speakers mounted on assembled wooden pedestals with large resonant momo-pots as amplifiers, the work is a tongue-in-cheek interrogation of the tenets of art history and the apparent irreproachability of history. One track is a digitized version of Geeta Kapur reading from her now classic tome on Indian Modernism, "When Was Modernism" and another track is of the artist in discussion with Pooja Sood, the director of Khoj in Delhi and a contemporary flag-bearer of independent art production, on the unstated etiquette of artist 'do's' and 'don'ts' while in residency at a supporting agency or otherwise. The last track is incongruously composed of the groaning din of belching following a meal of momos, those infamous sticky dumplings originating in Delhi, the erstwhile capital of Indian art discourse. Constructed in a bricolage fashion which points as much to the inventiveness of it's own making as to it's content, the piece is indicative of the self-reflective character of the works presented in Analytical Engine.
Heidi Fichtner is an independent curator, consultant and critic currently based in Bangalore. She has lived and worked in NY, Paris and Berlin and contributes regularly to international art magazines and reviews, as well as translating from French and German. Analytical Engine is her first exhibition in India.