Bharti Kher's works evoke the eerie resonance of objects, how they figure in the aftermaths of our daily lives, the space between seeing and remembering, the chasm between what we do and what we leave behind. "Leave your smell," a new show of her works at Galerie Perrotin in Paris, through June 18, calls to mind a phrase from Elizabeth Bishop's short poem, To Be Written on the Mirror in Whitewash: "I live only here, between your eyes and you, But I live in your world." Kher looks at the puzzlement of interaction, and the impossibility of ever seeing clearly.
Kher was born in London, and is based in Delhi, India. Her works utilize some Indian motifs, such as saris, but her sculptural creations seem both East and West: constructed abstractions with universal implications.
An encounter that changed their lives is made of wood, fabric, resin and the decorative shape known as a bindi. This sculptural creation is a freestanding staircase on which a sari lies, as if tossed off in flight. The stairs are decorated with the bindi character, which symbolizes a variety of things in South Asia, such as wisdom, honor, love and prosperity. Here, covering the staircase like a carpet, the bindi suggest a teeming life and the prospect of propagation. The dropped sari implies, however, something lost – opportunity, perhaps. Kher leaves us to question what we see and lets us imagine a scenario of possibility or regret, or both.
Make up (as you go along) is a wooden vanity tilted on a glass brick, with a mirror on which schools of bindi seem to swim. The dressing table itself is covered with bindi in various patterns and colors – bursts of inspiration, perhaps, on a utilitarian piece of furniture that, being lopsided here, skews toward disorientation: work and play and imbalance.
The bright pile of resin-covered saris on a chair, in Saturate, recall both the suicidal mourning practice of suttee, in which a recent widow would immolate herself, and huddled, nameless crowds you encounter everywhere in India. Kher upends the notion of ceremony by fixing a ritual in resin, solidifying the remembrance of an act of public grief into an object of passing contemplation.
Artists have been incorporating everyday items into their creations for a long time now, toward various ends: the flat and yet delirious affect of consumerism in Pop Art, Picasso's elevation of found objects into inspired sculpture, Dada's upending of artistic self-regard. What Kher is after is how we weigh what we disregard, how we imbue what we use with reflection, how we look at something inanimate and see in it the ghost of an association based on who we were at the time, what we did, how we moved through it. We carry with us stories of our encounters, and we forget at the same time how important even something random may be to our experience.
Kher's works are manifestations of what we might have missed. They have the allusive nature of ever-receding opportunity. To paraphrase Elizabeth Bishop, Kher's works are like a window across the river that caught the sun, as if a miracle were working on the wrong balcony.
~Robert J. Hughes, a writer living in Paris.
(Images: Bharti Kher, The day they met, 2011 , Wooden stair, fabric, resin , 8.7 feet x 30 inches x 67 inches; Make up (as you go along), 2010, Wood, mirror, bindis, glass bricks, 67 3/4 x 51 1/4 x 28 inches; An eye, a tooth, 2011, Wooden panel, bindis, metal stake, frame without plexiglass, 8.2 feet x 12.7 feet x 2 3/4 inches; Give and take, 2011, Wooden and leather pitchfork, fabric, resin, 65 x 31 x 30 inches; Courtesy Galerie Perrotin, Paris)