02/32, Kamal Mansion, 2nd floor, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba, 400 005 Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
As I rang the bell at The Guild -- this strange Mumbai procedure for a gallery in landlord-owned rented spaces -- it struck me that it was a Monday. Were they shut? Luckily the door opened and the two-story climb up a tourist-infested Colaba building with an erstwhile dubious reputation is worth it. Prajakta Potnis’ world is anything but seedy. I love this profound contrast in senses that Mumbai assaults one with. Compared with any other city, the magnitude of the assault is incomparable and the polemic of difference is unmatchable. It’s not a badge of honor really, but ensures that life in this city still holds unregulated and unexpected moments of delight.
Potnis’ work is a quiet, insidious pleasure. The Guild show, “Time Lapse,” offers a fresh encounter that builds upon years of glimpsing the artist’s work across the city. I’ve sat in a tiny loft watching video among a disarray of nostalgia at Clark House, and watched her "mould" take over the walls. Is it her? Yes, it’s her … I’ve seen oversized cauliflowers in freezers at Gallery Lakeeren, creating arctic landscapes but recalling Bombay’s hot humidity; I’ve seen toothbrushes decay in forgotten cabinets in corners of The Loft. They seem like chance encounters but they are a deliberate practice by an assured young artist responding to intimate spaces with intimate objects and using manipulating scale to create landscapes that are infinite in perspective and place.
At The Guild, one is placed in a proscenium repeatedly, as a suite of paper works unfold. The theme, the consistency of playing with scale, and the monochromatic tone, all seem to allude to a theatrical set unfolding in the artist’s mind. At one level this show can be seen to sum up what Potnis’ practice is all about. Seeing a body of works together like this in "Time Lapse," brings forth the temporal nature of the artist’s works. The decay she constantly harks back to is not just a comment on Mumbai’s harsh climate but also on the nature of time. And it’s time that she tries to capture here -- if not succeeding in arresting that elusive mistress, she pauses it marvelously for the viewer.
Time lapses between two cities in India, Mumbai and Kolkata, which according to their longitudinal locations demand a time difference, but conform to one Indian Standard Time. Potnis turns to nature’s clock, and through a series of photographs taken throughout the day, evocatively captures the changing light at a given moment in both cities. It’s simple: so beautifully does she walk you through a day in two cities.
Prajakta Potnis, Capsule 4, Archival print on hahnemuhle bamboo paper, 24 in x 52 in, Ed. 1 of 5 AP, 2012; Courtesy of Experimenter Art Gallery and the artist.
Potnis splits time further with a solo "Local Time" that opens at Kolkata’s Experimenter Gallery almost simultaneously, and further explores the themes of decay and disorientation. In a set of photographs entitled Capsule, the stage is the interior of a refrigerator, but within the sterile glow, "escalators" freeze the mind -- in malls? airports? lobbies of Mumbai’s new gleaming towers?
Most artists living in Mumbai respond to the city streets and outdoors. This is not surprising, given that life for almost half its inhabitants is lived in informal structures that take over public spaces. Hence the street has become over-ripe with clichéd images that tempt many of the city’s artists. Potnis responds to the larger travails of this city with gestures that may seem innocuous in the broader scheme of things but belie the impact she achieves, distilling larger issues into personal matters of the everyday that occur within the home. Not many artistic practices are focused on this space.
At the entrance of the gallery is a tiny irregular block of cement on a pedestal. Layered upon its four square inches of plaster are loose fragments of several layers of paint, a palimpsest of histories that could be torn off any Bombay apartment wall. Here, succinct in scale, placed on a pedestal, for sale, it’s a cheeky comment on the ridiculous price per square inch of real estate in this simultaneously crumbling and opulently growing city.
The acrylic/dry pastel works are Potnis’ continuing theme. Altering spaces through perspective, mise-en-scene, colour, and scale, she creates tableaux of decay, loss, wonder, and disorientation. Ultimately what remains of the familiar are haunting, ghostly landscapes transformed in sets of the magically real.
Prajakta Potnis, Clouds, fans, threads and lace, 2012; Courtesy of The Guild Art Gallery and the artist.
A tubelight pulses randomly. But it is through the gentle whirring of a cluster of ceiling fans whose rpms have been tuned low that Prajakta brilliantly slows time. Threads hang from a multitude of somnolently whirring blades -- cobwebs of unuse? strands of dreams? unfurling thoughts? I want to lie myself down and let time lapse around me. For the moment, all else can wait.
(Image on top: Prajakta Potnis, 11:58 am, 2012, acrylic, dry pastel and lace on archival paper, 30" x 40"; Courtesy of The Guild Art Gallery and the artist.)