Sathyanand Mohan’s series of twenty-six playful photographs, Abecedaire, 2012, evoked this story of childhood crossword puzzles and intangible life lessons. The artist’s photographs are about the simultaneous beauty and danger that the world of words evokes: each image delves into a colorful universe of constructed and natural landscapes with a childlike block letter, A to Z, in the foreground. The letters come to signify the paradoxes of meaning, and the symbols of a psyche that are disorderly, which attempt to conjure a reality that is illogical and an existence that is unknowable.
Mohan views language as:
"mankind's revenge upon the intractable fact of its own mortality. Faced with the one certitude that life has to offer, Death, as well as the pure contingency of an obscure, obdurate universe -- or, in a literary register, the capriciousness of fate -- to which we are consigned while we are alive, it is language that holds out the possibility of Meaning, of making sense of that which follows no human measure or law."
Sathyanand Mohan, Q (ABECEDAIRE), 2010 - 2012, Inkjet Print on archival ilford fibre silk paper, 16 x 24 in.; Courtesy of the artist & The Guild Art Gallery
The reason this story comes to mind is that the photographs to me were joyful, (See: Y) and evoked nostalgic memories of a secret childhood full of stories, stories that had been silenced (“without which language itself would not be possible”) by my grandfather’s death (as the artist claims is a metaphor in many of his works), a childhood that rejected the institution of school and the order of language, and gave way to the disorder, to instinct and play, of the room in the back (See: Q).
The artist’s own prompt in his statement invites the viewer to imagine a story of her own: “… the viewer can then use his or her imagination to interpret the works as they see fit.”
It is characteristic, when describing an aspect of one's past, to use the word "would". I would cry and cry. Would implies an action of yesterday, repeated frequently. I would hold on to his leg and pull at his grey woolen trousers. Over and over. And not let go. The "would" also morphs and ages with memory, as does wood with time. I suppose I can't distinguish between the actual passing of events and my own imagination, but it no longer matters. The woulds of my years with my grandfather are etched in comforting repetition, broken only by a single event, that only the two of us were privy to. Our time together was stolen time, as was his own time on earth. And as our woulds grew and transfigured, so did others' disbelief in our story magnify. Our woulds were challenged by sniggers and smirks, but finally lain to rest, just as he was, by the willful grunt in the back of my ear: ah, bollocks to them all. Belief, history, memory, truth, all these things ceased to matter. Just pay attention to the number of alphabets at hand.
One afternoon, I was playing outside, and the water tank had been left slightly ajar. I slipped over it, and fell into the tank, grasping onto its concrete sides. My slipper fell into the water—for no prince to find it later—just as my grandfather came to my rescue, pulling me out, calming my nerves, then applying rose water and glycerin on my mouth, which was scraped from the sides of the tank.
We continued our days of woulds, the afternoon at the water tank reaffirming my belief that even when I was alone and in danger, he would rescue me. I didn't go to class, but I learned the necessary facts of things. He did things with me that were good for my morale. And perhaps he told no one about my falling into the tank, because he knew that he and I had our own stories, bundles of words, like colorful toy trains that did not have beginnings and ends. Perhaps he knew that one day, I would tell our tale, fiction or otherwise: a narrative voice soaked in rose and glycerin, and memories of woulds that would exist in black and white, alphabetical, repetition.
And so are our secret days revealed, and yet, somehow, like to the man who does crosswords, the answers are precious to him only and steeped in the clues that led him to it, the story is dear to me alone. I hear sniggers and smirks, nana. Ah, bollocks to them all, he'd say.
(Image on top: Sathyanand Mohan, Y (ABECEDAIRE), 2010 - 2012, Inkjet Print on archival ilford fibre silk paper, 16 x 24 in.; Courtesy of the artist & The Guild Art Gallery)