Watching Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity in the same week as Neha Choksi’s twelve-minute video work Iceboat at Project 88 loaded the words ‘gravity’ and ‘freefall’ with imagery that will take a lifetime to erase. Cuaron’s exemplary outer space drama, which sets new standards cinematically, played with the notion of gravity, rather, the lack of it – erasure as the primary gesture is brought home in the last scene. When Sandra Bullock’s Dr Ryan Stone grapples with gravity to take her first steps in a pristine land, it’s reminiscent of a Stone Age man in an untouched landscape. Cuaron draws us to the beginning of time; it seemed like the start of creation – or is it the end?
One visual in a sense loops all that has gone past and all that is there and all that will come, brilliantly. It’s not sci-fi at the end but some kind of cosmic karma he has gripped us with, 3D giving form to a void. There’s the exhilaration and fear of the silence of space, and breath-taking, floaty camera work over earth’s sunrises and the still swirl of oceans.
In a smaller, quieter way, Choksi’s Iceboat resonates with similar ideas sought in Gravity. The gesture of erasure, the partial freefall in water, the spare landscape, the still surface of a lake, the body in performance, the looking at a drama, an iceboat melting as icecaps melt, a certain timelessness that defies placement, the inevitability of failure, here, in the inherent striving of man.
Choksi has played with body and erasure in past work. In Minds to Lose she explores the temporary suspension of senses and time lost under anaesthesia; in Leaf Fall, a single tree is laid bare as leaves are plucked from it over the period of a single day, leaving one new shoot for regeneration. Despite the abject nature of submissiveness in these works, she leaves the window of regeneration open – the reversal of anaesthesia, the new leaves that spring will bring – the hope, the striving of man lives on.
Iceboat starts underwater, a boat made of ice, sinking as it melts; a body spins slowly downwards, only glugs and the sound of air bubbles rising through the water that accompanies the otherwise silent world. After this initial summation of events, she takes you back to the start – an ethereal row across a silvery plane of water that shimmers as it catches the sun, that sometimes is the only movement in a still scene. For the most part however, she rows earnestly, sometimes ecstatically, to a moving soundtrack, knowing it all must end and when it does it’s a sudden upheaval, the back of the boat slips under the surface of the lake just as Choksi is deposited into its underbelly. All this happens at the very edge of the frame; if you turn away for a moment, the moment is missed – the momentary ephemeral made present.
Accompanying the video are photographic works – Skyfold – cyanograms, which using light on chemically treated paper, produce a cyan blue print. She folds it horizontally and vertically, unfolds it and exposes it to the sunlight for ten to fifteen minutes. The result is a geometric grid – the slight gradients produced in the paper give each chequered fold a different shade of blue. Placed alongside each other they appear as a fragmented sky, much as it may look like to the sinking boat and protagonist of Iceboat.
Both Cuaron and Choksi allude to environmental disasters that are occurring in outer space and on earth, and tell their very haunting stories within that framework. Cuaron’s is a thrilling, heart-stopping ride, Choksi’s more reflective – in the time she takes to row you around Pawna lake, the inevitable effects of climate change intrude insidiously on the wonderful sound, leaving a disquiet despite the poetic imagery.
(All Images: Neha Choksi; Courtesy of the artist and Project 88.)