Archetype: Two Solo Exhibitions by Ashish Avikunthak and Sakti Burman
"The contents of the collective unconscious…are known as archetypes." C.G.Jung
'Archetype' consists of two related solo exhibitions, one by the film-maker Ashish Avikunthak and one by the painter Sakti Burman.
In the ground floor gallery Avikunthak presents the18 minute long 16mm film 'Endnote (Antaral)' that follows three women who reminisce about their time at school and affirm their old friendships with each other. However, each also shares a secret with one another about the third, a secret that is never made known to the viewer. The narrative is based on Samuel Beckett's short play 'Come and Go'. Beckett referred to this piece, which lasts between 121 words and 127 words depending on translation, as a 'dramaticule'. In Beckett's play, three women sit side by side and make small talk before the character in the centre gets up and walks out of earshot. This begins the choreographed set of revelations where each character at some point is in the central position and at another point out of earshot. Avikunthak's film is longer than Beckett's play: "I did not want to make a film that simply mimicked the structure that Beckett had constructed", he has said, "but I wanted to experiment with the narrative…and push the polysemic narrative instrinsic to the play to further its disenchantment." The first half of 'Endnote' might be seen as a deconstruction of Beckett, with the second part, a reconstruction.
Avikunthak has stated that he was drawn to 'Come and Go' because its intricate formal structure produces a profound sense of melancholic trauma. In 'Endnote (Antaral)' this is given a heightened personal twist - the film is shot in Avikunthak's childhood home and the cast are non-professional actors; his wife, her sister and his sister. He has described the work as not being about memory per se but about the processes of his own interactions with his own memories. Avikunthak is an experimental filmmaker who has been making films in India from the mid-1990s. His films have been shown at Tate Modern, Centre George Pompidou, Pacific Film Archive, Goethe Institute Calcutta and Yale University amongst other venues. Avikunthak splits his time between Calcutta and Yale University where he teaches.
Sakti Burman is exhibiting a selection of recent paintings in the lower ground floor gallery. Born in 1935 in Calcutta, Burman initially studied at the Government College of Arts & Crafts before going to Paris to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts. There Burman was influenced by the work of Bonnard and Matisse and on a subsequent trip to Italy encountered Renaissance painting. This fed into his own practice, in particular his specked technique of paint application, although somewhat paradoxically this subsequently enabled his pictorial language to echo Indian decorative pattern-making. Subsequently commentators have reference a wide range of art history in talking about Burman's work, from Ajanta murals through to the work of Chagall.
Like Chagall, Burman presents imagery that veers between the dream-like, the mythic and the hallucinatory. The pictorial space on his canvases are filled with dense, intensely coloured, textural detail. By contrast the figures in his watercolours are more freefloating, less anchored in within the heavily detailed landscapes of his paintings. Each work resembles a dreamscape populated by sometimes by Ireligious figures, animals and contemporary figures, often floating incongruently in space in relation to each other. There is a deliberate use of symbolism and allegory with characters carrying particular objects or riding on particular animals. One commentator on his works Amina Okada notes that looking at Burman's work is a process of "discovering via the by-lanes, unexpectedly and inevitably subjective, some old friends, some forgotten acquaintances, or antique souvenirs that ought to have been entombed in the innermost depths of memory." Over the last year Burman has had solo shows in New York and New Delhi. His first solo show took place in Calcutta in 1954 and his first solo show in the UK took place at the Piccadilly Gallery in 1961.
As the art historians Paul Wood and Charles Harrison have noted, Carl Jung's psychoanalytical theory has had an impact on artists through the 20th century, and in particular his insistence on the collective nature of the unconscious. They note, "Jung conceived of the unconscious as shaped by the accumulated experience of humanity, which settled down as sediment in the form of 'archetypes'. These are…innate dispositions to respond to certain basic kinds of experience, such as desire and loss. Thus for Jung the archetypes affected the creation of symbols, myths and legends…" ('Art in Theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas' ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, p.378)
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