After a visit to the wonderland of forms that’s Parul Thacker’s first solo at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, the whole process of meaning-making ( of contemporary art) is bound to come under fresh scrutiny.
All the available texts on the artist and her works, struggle to put her into a context, and visibly strain to find a broader theme beyond the striking yet enigmatic forms. And it’s not hard to see why. Her background is unconventional (Bachelor’s in textile design at Sophia Polytechnic Mumbai, then a course in surface ornamentation at NID, Ahmedabad). Her accolades so far are textile-specific (Premio Valcellina Award, Le Arti Tessili Association, Italy). Her work (till now) has steered clear of any socio-political, conceptual or art historical overtones. Yet, the imprint that her work leaves on the eye and in the mind makes it impossible to dismiss them as merely decorative or just experiments in materials and form. So all that’s a meaning-maker of her work is left with is gathering visual similes and stringing them together into a seemingly coherent narrative until the word limit (and writerly skill) exhausts itself.
I refused to jump through the same hoops and instead asked myself, “What would Google Images do?“ Outsourcing an exhibition essay to Google Images might come across as pedestrian because Google Images is not known to have much of a background in any kind of high art, unlike its arty sibling. But Google Images has been honing its eye for several years now. The ‘Similar Images’ feature, since its launch in 2009, has come a long way (it used to just concentrate only on the similarity in colour) since it has been combined with the ‘Search by Image ’ feature in 2011. The algorithm, after you upload an image from your computer (or URL), tries its best to identify the image (great for identifying those artwork jpgs you downloaded ages ago but were too lazy to correctly rename. ) and as a bonus gives you a host of visually similar images.
That is why, instead of racking through my brain for visual similes of Parul Thacker’s work on display (previous similes include cable-stayed bridges, wrecked ship at sea-floor, synthetic crystals, star clusters, crystal webs, and so on ) I put the hivemind on charge of deconstructing five images of my choice from the exhibition.
The first one (Untitled I – II, 2011 – 2012, nylon monofilament fiber, epoxy resin, paste ) which reminded me of ghostly mosquito nets yielded these. If we ignore the expected white sheets, marbles and cheeses, (colour match) we see a lots of laces and woven materials in the result, which are not very unexpected either. Results from a different image of the same installation have fewer non-fabric images. The keywords in the accompanying artist’s text are waves, ground vs air, turbulence vs cadence and silence. One of the reviewers commented on the deceptive sturdiness of the work. Going further in the similar images vein, if we compare this work with her previous works, Cosmic Dance (2008) and Consciousness (2010) we can see how she has been preoccupied with the same form but grown increasingly brave with unfamiliar and unlikely materials.
The second image (The Zero Point Field - I of VIII, 2012–2013, graphite, thread on linen) is much smaller in dimension but much larger in yield.The reviewers were not too off the mark when they invoked city-views, star clusters, topological maps or cellular structures to describe them. There are, of course, a lot of fabric and texture images pointing to the origin of her art practice. You might be intrigued to know that there is one single thread that runs through all the tiny graphite cylinders, but what’s more intriguing are the results that are works of other contemporary artists. One of them is Black Moon (2012, chunks of asphalt road) by Prashant Pandey, another master of materials. The other two, Takahiro Kondo and Patrick Favarel draw heavily from traditional Japanese art forms. You wonder whether these are just coincidences till you learn that one of the key evolutionary phases of Parul Thacker’s art practice was spent in Golconde, a guest house in the Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, which has a considerable imprint of Japanese aesthetics thanks to the chief architect Antonin Raymond and one if his assistants, George Nakashima.
The third image (Untitled II, 2011–2012, industrial paint, paper, thread) yielded curiosities of other kinds. They reminded me of industrial component brochures and the lunar craters at the same time and Google Images seemed underline the dichitomy, along with some amplifiers and tires. This specific work veers more towards the twilight zone of the organic and the mechanical than the others. The presence of this acoustic fabric in the results strengthens the case. I am by now ignoring all kinds of textile-related results, for obvious reasons.
The fact that the fourth image (detail, site specific installation of holy ash, synthetic fibres and a lone Himalayan crystal) is more organic-looking than the others is clear to the eye as well as the image results. Snakes, dried delta and fantastical mushrooms among other animals showed up. The notables among inanimates are cave paintings and video game screen shots. The holy ash, used in her other works as well, is collected from Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry during her many visits there.
The fifth and the last image (Black Hole, 2011, charcoal pigment, nylon fiber, paper) reminded me of something evil trying to leap out of the frame and giving up midway, unlike the Spiderman Symbiote but the artist’s key phrase for this piece is ‘geometry of darkness’ which Google Images results agree with. It even yields quasi-mystic imagery like this.
In the unlikely case you attempt this at home, you must remember that the google database of images as well as the Similar Images algorithm keep constantly changing, and so do the results. We can never step into the same river of digital meanings twice.
If this five-point experiment has not been particularly illuminating, let’s try one more, before we stop. 500Letters , an online artist’s statement generator , is Belgian Artist Jasper Rigole’s very articulate protest against the cookie-cutter contemporary art text. Here is what the generator created for Parul Thacker. The seeming respectability and competence of this text is something that is as amusing as it is horrifying.
And that. finally, brings us to the point that took more than thousand words to arrive at. While Parul Thacker’s work crosses the threshold of textile art into high art, a process which started at Pondicherry in 2006 in collaboration with a French Graphic Designer, it’s vital to decide what kind of meaning-maker the text will be in this journey : a verbose tour guide cum interpreter or words that don’t analyze but accompany the viewers in a journey through the ambiguities and serendipities of her work?
Acknowledgements: Tomoko Naka Kuroiwa and Vidha Saumya via Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke