An entire wall at Experimenter Art Gallery is bare, save for a few cracks – likely to appear on walls of old homes as a result perhaps of moisture, hammering or just the passage of time. However, such cracks are MOST unlikely to appear on the walls of one of the ritziest galleries of the city. Naturally, therefore, I’d passed it up initially for other walls, adorned with blown-up photographs of installations. We’ll return to those in a bit. But first the wall with the cracks: or, rather, the simulation of cracks formed out of lace, which make them look exceptionally real. An all-too familiar sight in most Indian homes, where the crack on plastered walls changes shapes and figures season after season of dampness, assuming decorative qualities peculiarly Indian. This sight on the walls of a gallery, however, was striking. Full marks to Experimenter, therefore, for consistently pulling out all stops to ensure the unhindered flow of an artist’s creative energies, instead of conforming to accepted norms and dictates of exhibitionary/gallery politics.
These simulated cracks are a visual throwback to memories of Thane, in Bombay, where the artist grew up. A suburb of the most cosmopolitan city of India, Thane, like many other suburbs in Bombay (and the rest of India) bears testimony to the complex tussle between the aesthetics of its Colonial and suburban fringes, which in turn is a reflection of the forced attempt at homogeneity across strata.
The obsession to reduce everything – especially time – to a common standard for different nation-states, referred to as the national standard, or local time, is also one of the themes Potnis explores through her works. Even though arrived at through scientific calculations, this method of deduction conveniently overlooks the four-minute difference between every line of latitudinal grid: thereby making a homogenous ‘construction’ of unity fall flat on its face. Therefore, it’s not just a matter of mere time difference; it is, at a more fundamental level, differences of standards of living, philosophies of life and socio-economic cultural gaps that are glossed over in pursuit of that thing called ‘unity’.
In keeping with its penchant for starkness, the gallery puts up one blown-up photograph of Potnis’ installations on each wall. The picture of escalators within the empty cavern of a fridge is a disquieting invocation of the sense of isolation that mall-cultures have imposed upon neo-Indian citizenship. The sense of loss and being directionless, and also, at some levels, rootless, is poignantly conveyed in this picture; the shade of aqua driving the point home even harder. Also interesting is the picture of huge fingers creeping out of a decaying vegetable; a signifier perhaps of our own decadent existences, both mortal and spiritual. Coupled with a sense of imminent extinction is the desire to hold on to and preserve, even if in an artificial manner, all that does exist now. Creams, potions, and refrigeration are all desperate attempts to freeze time, freeze ‘now’. This makes for a haphazard concoction, often incongruous with the ambient surroundings.
What struck me as particularly riveting was the parallel display of photographs of the sky – taken at the ‘same time’ by two different photographers, the artist herself in Bombay, and Dhrupadi Ghosh in Calcutta – to map the changes that are natural and inevitable; changes that defy geographical-scientific-systematic and logistical attempts at similitude.
(All images: Prajakta Potnis; Courtesy Experimenter Gallery.)