Ambiguities of the symbol
Sreshta Rit Premnath’s exhibition “Leo (procedures in search of an original index)” (Galleryske, November 22 to December 4) focuses on metamorphoses of the lion as a symbol of power through its varied recurrence in historical and cultural contexts, its direct examination revealing a confusing, contradictory propensity to support as well as undermine its intention.
The show oscillates between visual evocativeness and sensation as much as conceptual occasionally hermetic, strategies, some necessitating explanation if one is not familiar with American circumstances or technical references.
Such obfuscation, nonetheless, echoes of the layered, puzzling nature of the icon itself, while observation of the actual throws up unresolved conclusions and Premnath affirms them, negates and searches for an embodied region where they are simultaneously both or neither. Eventually, an intuition arises of a mutant behaviour of the icon shaping with the fluid paradigms of life in an equation between those who hold power and ordinary situations that ignore or adopt it on their own.
Premnath works with and invades existing images in an apparently documentary or indexing manner to stand it on its head with astuteness, wit and irony, with rough sensitivity and mischievous charm. The original MGM mascot is the head of a real lion who does not roar, the immediate and nuanced but subverted simplicity of the video showing it bewildered, somewhat human and like a death “Mask” presaging the firm’s likely bankruptcy.
The emblem becomes annulled in the video “MGM RIP” about a journey to locate the burial site of the first Leo. Sequences with gestures of determination, prosaic roads and alluring nocturnal light conjure an inconclusive venture into a perhaps non-existent place.
“Dept of Lions” assembles shots from diverse periods and countries where sculpted lions guard the entrances to temples, public institutions and a global bank. Their verge position, neither belonging to the buildings nor the streets, denotes might yet becomes de-monumentalised or taken over by the stream of humanity. The other works target that third ground where things are neither ‘asserted’ nor ‘negated’ but simultaneous, inherently contradictory and enigmatic in a flux.
The framed triptych with crosses employs masking, transparency, opacity and scratching to speak of cancelling and double-negativity, while the wristwatch in another as perhaps evidence of a crime’s hour is repeated with its glass broken, the evidence denied. The cerebral character of those pieces is compensated by the equally thought-provoking expressiveness of the next two. The video “Apology” depends on the word signifying fault admission and defiance, while its visuals sourced from the first MGM production display an assertive clown constantly hit by other clowns, falling down and getting up. The conquered and tamed beast is appropriated as a sign of human dominance, the hunt and circus connotation then linking with cinematography.
“Hide” too is a pun on concealment for protection and animal skin transferred to the physical substance of the canvas which resembles a pelt and bears the subconscious ambiguity of Rorschach-like pigment blots.
The dual triptych is framed by two old photographs with cameramen shooting a lion and gamekeepers in a cage shooting from their guns at a lion outside. Cleverly and sensitively, with humour and seriousness the work tests and reinvents the contexts around the icon, as Premnath cuts each print into two separate images which enhance the juxtaposition of men and beasts only to interchange or at least cloud the same.