Art

Deserts and the mysteries of life

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An ongoing art show conjures the Kutch’s landscape to trace conections between the real and the virtual, and the past and future

In their ongoing show, The Shape of The Tortoise, Goutam Ghosh, Susanne Winterling, and Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay banded through the Kalpana Group to simulate the histories and landscapes of the Kutch. The show is a part of the group’s larger project that involves extensive research in Kutch and Arizona to connect imaginaries of geological, mythological and science fictional times through the speculative landscape of a desert.

The Rann of Kutch is a wetland that submerges during the monsoon and is a saline desert the rest of the year. In Sanskrit, Kutch also means tortoise, an animal that symbolises cosmic creation, preservation, destruction, and rebirth across diverse mythologies.

Says Winterling via email, “The Rann is the location of one of the cities of the Indus Valley, one of the South Asian cradles of civilisation. The site has come to accrue layers of intertwined geological, cultural and mythopoeic activity, whose inscriptions are borne in everything from fossil records to an undeciphered language, but also in the vibrant cultural confluence of religious exchange in sites injected with deep mythological significance, revered by Sufis, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists.”

Animating a static environment

Entering the space, one experiences a sense of stillness and alienation, amplified by the grey flooring and absence of natural light.

Outlandish installations and abstract two-dimensional works induce an estrangement that parallels one’s encounter with a sparse desert. A wall-based print on silk entitledPlanetary repercussions proton collider is the desert accelerator’ grabs attention through its brightly-coloured depiction of a large proton imposed upon an image of cables from the Adani Windmill Project in Kutch. The work highlights the presence of energy and motion in all matter. In the desert, every grain of salt, sand, or rock is effectively rendered animate, collapsing the dichotomy between life and non-life.

A photograph, ‘Saltline, eastwind on the desert’ depicts the horizon at Khadir island, Dholawira — it takes an acute eye to notice the subtle line between the seemingly never-ending desert and sky. In a walkthrough, Ghosh shared “Kutch has little human settlement because of its terrain; yet the mindset of the organisms that survive here suggests that it is habitable if one adapts.” For Winterling, microscopic activity in the desert proposes possibilities of “transformation and terraforming.” This idea is explored in the video installation ‘Cruel twist of air current metallic to titan, guided by shimmering shapes’ that features a monitor placed on the floor with a metal rod looped around it. In the video, a dog morphs into other creatures, conveying Chattopadhyay’s understanding of life as a continuous process of evolution. The irregular shape of the rod symbolises the ever-shifting desert landscape while serving as a marker of our perceptual boundaries, suggests Ghosh.

Transcendental transformation

An installation entitled ‘Mastabe’ features a makeshift tent on the floor that is constructed by black-carbon paper, a material that leaves an impression when touched. The black tent invites an imagination of the imprint that night has on the nomadic populations who live in the desert. The installation, ‘Airbag/Terra- 1 Rover’ features airbag cushions and a fire extinguisher. As containers of gas, the objects question atmospheric mining and extraction from the earth to confront our exploitative relations with the planet. The cement sculpture, ‘Transtemporal Sediment/Terra-1 Dock’, juts out of the floor, attached to the green ball used in water tanks to control the overflow of water. It’s a work that highlights geological uncertainties, contradiction between desertification and the drowned planet. While the former suggests the loss of arable land, the latter summons apocalyptic visions of deluges. Displayed on a wall, ‘Strip-Sugar’ features what appears to be a blueprint on an aluminium sheet, suggesting that an end doesn’t imply finitude but proposes a transcendental transformation whereby we must reconstitute ourselves to consider other possibilities.

Recording data

The artworks ‘Ivory’ and ‘Blue Print 2’ are aluminium sheets layered with silver spray, carbon paper and cello-tape transfer. These explore lines and forms that construct units and digits to consider the generation of data mountains and functions of algorithms, Ghosh explains. The use of tape may be viewed as a super-imposition of a new body to signal the possibility of a different kind of code. In ‘The turtle’s sensations never felt before’, a black textile is bleached to create indiscernible forms. Ghosh elucidates how these forms represent the bacteria that evolve constantly so no one can get a grasp of them. “There is no way to represent them and the moment they are recognised they become easy to manipulate,” he expresses, cautioning against political control associated with data collection. A riverbed sand-stone and lightbox sculpture dubbed, ‘Seat of Darya Devi’, depicts a landscape in which one notices how every sedimentary mark has a story that cannot be read empirically. The vestiges of time that create subtle formations and imbue a place with mythology and idiosyncrasy go unnoticed when reduced to a unit or digit. The red neon light that illuminates the sculpture is a reminder that not everything can merely be scanned and understood.

The Shape of The Tortoise is ongoing until November 30 at Project 88, Colaba

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 12:40:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/deserts-and-the-mysteries-of-life/article30090070.ece

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