Sunday, August 31, 2008

Memento Mori: Srinavasa Prasad at Gallery SKE, Bangalore

A short piece I wrote this spring for the current issue of ARTIndia. The text that appeared in the magazine was, unfortunately, edited in a way that caused me much anguish and embarrassment. The same thing happened with my piece on Archana Hande. Here it is as I wrote it.

The centerpiece of Srinivasa Prasad's Payana, on display from March 3rd to April 10th at Gallery SKE in Bangalore, is the sculptural installation whose title gives the show its name. In "Payana", a heavily laden bullock cart looms claustrophobically large in the gallery space; with its fuzzy surfaces hidden and blurred beneath mossy black fabric, it rises up like a shadow given form. Light cast by an old lantern that hangs from its axle creates a chiaroscuro on the walls, picking out details from among the black cargo that has come along for the ride. But the luggage on this journey is restless, some of it suspended in flight, frozen as it floats off into the mottled, dark air. A grandfather clock tolls its bell to complete the eldritch scene.


The artist, in whose earlier work transformations of quotidian objects and rustic materials feature strongly, turns toward the gothic in this impressive show, with a set of pieces linked by their preoccupations with remembrance, ritual, and death. Picking up on the funereal theme of his Kulu Mukti installation from 2006, Prasad develops oblique references to traditional death rites into an artistic vocabulary well-suited for depicting the personal and social negotiations transacted in the tenebrous space between the "quick and the dead".

In "Thirteenth Day", a video projection plays across the coarse surface of a circular screen stitched together from leaves. The piece takes its inspiration from the ceremonies that conclude the traditional Hindu mourning period, marking the end of twelve days of ritual constraints for the living, as well as the departed soul's final passage from this world. In the video, the camera's position creates the illusion that we see our own hand navigating its way through the last bites of a festive meal, scooping it into a ball and lifting it toward the lens. But it never reaches its goal: the viewer is left to hover like a ghost, separated from the living, unable to taste a meal that simultaneously bids farewell to the dead and reconstitutes the community of those left behind.


Several of the works emerged during a 2007 residency in Japan. "Cleansing" comprises a multi-layered set of video projections: footage of Japanese waste disposal systems was projected onto the shaved head of the artist; this, in turn, was filmed and projected onto a flushing urinal. In the gallery, the resulting video is projected onto a wall of old newspapers bundled for recycling. The piece refers to the tonsuring that family members undergo as part of Hindu funeral rites--ritually removing the pollution associated with death--and draws the tradition into a complex conversation with more modern notions of hygiene and impurity. Like the show as a whole it quietly, elliptically, points to the disappearance of things, the shedding of memories, and the passage of time.

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