An archival impulse is the drive to organize, characterize and locate information within a system. The archive itself, as a concept, is large and complex, dusty with years of accumulation and hidden cracks, which can conceal and divide information. More essentially, the archive is above all, a human endeavor, and is there for marked with the subjective understandings people have of time and space. It is deeply biased, and unquestionably selective in its order of things, with the words and symbols that lend it structure.
“Loss for Words,” a show at Gallery Art Musings, curated by Avni Doshi, takes its title from a sentence in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the author describes a bout of amnesia that besets an imaginary village. In an attempt to protect their own knowledge, they begin to label everything, until the activity of archiving every bit of information they can becomes their sole preoccupation. It is already to late when they realize that the words themselves are beginning to look foreign, and that the symbols and sounds that once seemed so perfectly entrenched in their memories are beginning to unhinge.
For Marquez, whose novel is filled with irregular chronologies, and where time and memory do not fit in exacting terms, archival instability and the idea of amnesia become subversive technique of undercutting super-structures, whether these be linguistic or even societal.
In this show, the curator has invited artists to consider such a situation, where the names and notions of things begin to unhinge. What does this mean for history, for memory and for the way we experience objects?
The artists in the show include Radhika Khimji, Tushar Joag, Chitra Ganesh, Nalini Malani, Sarnath Banerjee, Adip Dutta, KK Raghava and Tara Kelton.
Radhika Khimji’s mixed media work explores the way figures move within their environment, existing abstractly while continuing to transform into something else. She understands the archive as a place in which a person can be absorbed and even lost. In her images, she excavates the layout of the city – what she describes as “the supernatural mind” of the city – which maps the geography of the gulf and creates ruptures in the landscape that continue to change over time.
Nalini Malani’s painting offers a disorienting view of image and text – where both act as symbols floating around in a precarious relationship. Language whether it is visual or textual, is imbibed with a certain violence for Malani.
Artist Tushar Joag is creating a mixed media work using paper pulp and other materials. Joag’s work will consider re-imagined histories and the way in which euphemisms of language operate within the systems of recording and telling those histories. His work is often a satirical commentary on the public sphere.
Chitra Ganesh dives directly into the text itself – re-envisioning Marquez’s story and the grandeur of its imagery. She considers the complex way in which time and memory are woven through the novel, finally explicating that they are only linked distantly and fleetingly.
Adip Dutta’s work is a combination of diagram and object. The works can be considered separately or as a continuation of the same train of thought.
Tara Kelton explores the idea of archival memory, which is constantly on the verge of being lost or reformulated. In her multi-layered work, she hires mechanical turks (a terms for inexpensive labor that can be hired over the internet to perform almost any task). The relationship of the artist with these assistants is complicated, as they are separated from their authorship and individual voices through the Internet. At Kelton’s instructions they all perform the same task of drawing, again and again, which is superimposed upon the other using software designed for the artist. As the lines are drawn, however, they immediately begin to fade and disappear, exposing the tenuous nature of record keeping and the archival impulse.
KK Raghava began his work by examining a poem by TS Eliot. Through the rereading of this poem, which outlined the difficult romantic relationship of a young man with an older woman he began to examine his own relationship to India, which over the years has evolved in a struggle for identity and power. Raghava’s final work takes the form of a storybook, which is in some sense the narrative of his own experiences.
Sarnath Banerjee will be creating a live work in the gallery on the day of the opening which considers the relationship of people to lost objects. Banerjee is an artist, animator and graphic novelist based in Delhi. He received his MA in Image and Communication, Goldsmiths College, University of London and a BSc. (Hons.) in Biochemistry from University of Delhi. He was born in 1972.
Avni Doshi is an independent art historian and curator living between Mumbai and New York. She completed her BA in Art History from Barnard College, Columbia University in New York. Avni then received her Masters in the History of Art from University College London. Her dissertation was on the subject of violence and the body in contemporary Indian art, referencing artists like Rummana Hussain, Nalini Malani, and Anant Joshi. Since 2008, Avni has been working and writing in Mumbai, for publications like Art Asia Pacific, Art India Magazine and Frieze. She curated “The Pill,” at Gallery Latitude 28 in Delhi, January 2011. Other recent projects include the catalogue of essays for the 2011 Skoda Art Prize, the 2012 Mumbai edition of Art Guide (for iPhone), and content and curation for the India Art Collective, India’s first online art fair, where she also conducted a series of interviews for the online film series “The Art of Collecting.” Avni’s next curatorial venture opens at Gallery Art Musings, Mumbai in January 2012 and includes artists such as Chitra Ganesh and Nalini Malani. Please visit avnidoshi.com for more details.