It would seem Nandita Kumar believes in immersive environments. Perhaps her migratory existence – travelling between Mauritius, India, the U.S.A., New Zealand – has something to do with this; certainly she creates a world of her own in her artworks, locating them in the strongly individual, a flighty virtual space or an earthy community commons.
Her previous work may appear diverse in expression. Spearheading a women’s project in Dharavi (a well known slum in Mumbai, made famous by film-maker Danny Boyle in his film Slumdog Millionaire) that culminated in a revelatory exhibition ‘Ghar Pe’, held in a school hall in Dharavi, she helped empower the women to address issues that concerned their immediate lives. Using household objects and situations, the exhibition addressed larger issues such as water, hygiene, marital life, cultural transformations, the emancipation of women through the workplace, patriarchal attitudes, education, among many others, that were lucidly expressed by the women through their works. Unconscious perhaps, but Kumar dealt with individuation in a collective, even as she deals with it in ‘LeT tHe bRAinFly’ at Gallery Lakeeren, a more personal interpretation on a birth of an idea and identity.
In another example of previous work, her ‘Enchanted Forest’ installation at the launch of the Hermes store in Mumbai in 2011, a forest of kites made from kite paper, bamboo and cotton thread, left a minimal carbon footprint in a high-end consumer environment; the subversion was subtle, the fragile landscape created was a mise-en-scene typical of Kumar’s work – movement, comment, the individual engagement of the handmade.
Most landscapes that Kumar deals with need interpretation – the title of the current show is apt, LeT tHe bRAinFly, the title certainly does. Whether it’s a bottled, imaginary landscape (Element: Earth, 2012) that has been her most seen work in the past few years (bare electrical circuits, micro-mini LCD screens and sound create constructed miniscapes concerned with the environment and encapsulated in blown glass oversized bottles), what’s recursive is an immersive, sensorial experience, an imaginary place through experimentation in technology.
Nandita Kumar, C, Mixed media on canvas, 2010; Courtesy of the artist and Lakeeren Art Gallery
In this show (the works in which actually predate the works described above, hence the floridness comes as a surprise to the more recent pared clarity associated with Kumar’s works), the body becomes the landscape. Birthing a brain fly, this surreal organism traverses the body, rupturing preconceptions and in a final culmination in the Orgy of the Organs – using the without-gender ‘organs’, Kumar neutres the orgiastic – the brain fly, having explored and found itself, is thrown out into the environment where it perishes. The subsequent canvas titled ‘C’ is a play on the seeing with the third eye of awakening; it rises above, emerging at the top of the canvas in isolation, the ego discarded. It’s a sort of end-of-the-world scenario as seen under a microscope, blown up large and messy – the personal awakening that rises phoenix-like from a cataclysmic journey of discovery. Using Jung’s idea of individuation, the artist arouses the unconsciousness psyche to awareness in a Dali-esque way. The brain, as an agent of transformation, burrows into the body, a physical excavation of oneself, a quest to re-centre this self.
Circuit boards and canvases abound, each connected by the seemingly mutating brain fly – vinyl stickers of drawings of the creature connect one work to another, sculptural ‘drain clouds’ hang from the ceiling like suspended thought bubbles, till, walking full circle, you come to the video work. This movement in the drawings and continued from one canvas to another is a tad decorative, linked narrative, guided by the brain fly entering and exiting portals as they were, lands of discovery, a progression to enlightenment. It’s Dadaist in an absurd way, a montage of drawing, painting and new media with a touch of the ironical: the brain fly birthed in a wheelchair, then winging a coruscating way to a freedom – the death of a crippled mind?
Two videos looped, ‘Birth of the Brainfly’ and ‘Tentacles of Dimension’, are the culmination of all the drawings – the storyboards, as such. Screened at LACMA in 2008 (conjoint to a show on Salvador Dali), it is wonderfully hedonistic. It stop animates along – disembodied heads experiment with limbs, this exposing, laying bare of inner affective states; the ego, the preconceptions, the fragments of oneself is an evolution of sorts, both in the work and in the artist’s practice. It’s a sensorial experience, the morphing visuals matched by the excellent sound design. This is a feature of Kumar’s film work as well as her sculptural works – sound plays an equal part in interpretation. Tabla and cello, found sounds and staccato-ed voice all meld, in sparse, well-introduced segments that augment the visuals beautifully, a bit reminiscent of a Chris Marker short, say as in Junkopia.
One wishes that the video was not the final work shown on a monitor, but projected large instead; with the sound as surround, it could have been the backdrop beginning, middle and end for a truly, trippy immersion – here distracted by a crowd of canvas and circuitry, it seemed to stand timid in an overwhelming display.
(Image on top: Nandita Kumar, Assembly Line Emo, 2010; Courtesy of the artist and Lakeeren Art Gallery.)