Art review

Art review

Probing memory

Ayisha Abraham, ‘Subterranea’, installation views

Ayisha Abraham is focussed on human memory, its documents, stories and moods that stand witness to the transforming spirit of the times as well as to personalities within the broader and intimate perspectives. She works with found objects holding traces of the past – domestic spaces and possessions, recordings of lived experience and of the imagination in the shape of writings, photographs, home movies and their old professional equivalents. Examining her materials with distanced objectivity and simultaneously with empathic closeness and sensitive involvement, she reaches out to the individual moulding him/herself against the wider background and being moulded by history with its processes. Remaining attuned as much to the raw properties of the data and substances as to their aesthetic aspects, the artist is able to bring out the ethos and the atmosphere of cultural phenomena along with their socio-political and technological implications.

Preserving as well as interpreting obsolete now film and video, she cuts, chooses and combines their fragments set in installation-environments to capture the essence of the original as reflected in her own understanding and vision. After her site-specific work in the ancestral house some ten years ago, the “Subterranea” exhibition alluding to things dormant under the skin of the world (Samuha, January 16 to 29), comes as a wonderfully evocative and analytically complex ensemble. The title refers directly to what is deep under the earth in the installation “through a dark mine” which is based on the film left over from a historian’s document about Kolar Gold Fields but reveals intangible moods and social paradigms.

The four differing yet interrelated projections let one intuit a fluid yet rudimentary feel of moving down and along tunnels, of proximity to rough rock and to nearly trapping structures, to the matrix and people. As the camera oscillates from long shots to surface, general views and almost abstract, geometric motifs, the pressure on the men can be sensed, while the fascination with the metal is suggested over the glimmers of artificial light in the murkiness. This is complemented by a video about the old-fashioned making of gold ingots and the wall piece expressively layering technological information and Xerox photographs. These darkened surroundings contrast with the illumination of the second part of the show that hides its own secrets, the artist translating the classic chiaroscuro into the language of film and the imagination unearthing approximate clarity from apparently random sources and meanings.

The large installation threads together and permeates various time strata of the 20th century encompassing parts of the interiors and paraphernalia of Ayisha’s grandmother, Ram Gopal, the amateur filmmaker Tom D’Aguiar who filmed the famous dancer and of the artist. If the grandmother’s is a simple, natural image of a warm person embracing tradition and modernity, its transparency nonetheless retrieved from the recording of someone who is no more, “Ram Gopal Archive” offers a rich evocation and inquiry into an ambiguous, verge world of life and staged art, of orientalism-imposed view of ethnicity and practical westernisation, of indulgent self-preoccupation and self-shaping between masculinity and gay effeminacy, between the given and the made-up with cosmetics and costumes.

Among the very consciously positioned and interacting tables and shelves on a period flooring, the memoir and reminiscence passages, films, photographs and interviews, there arises a multi-faceted atmosphere of the mid-century processing earlier times and linking to now. Ayisha’s presence can be recognised throughout as the observer, handler and transformer of the material and an insider whose emotive engagement is marked also by the organically suggestive drawings, poem quotations and collages on toy-like easels.

Bottled enchantments

The mixed media works of Suresh K at Sumukha (January 8 to 30) bring glimpses and vignettes of the present world’s charms bottled up in tight rows of little homeopathic flasks.

The young Bangalore artist displays more innocent joy than serious preoccupation, responding however sincerely to the fragmentation of our environment and imagination, on the one hand, and, on the other, to its belief in packing instant improvements and pleasures in potent capsules, whether medicinal or cosmetic, whose efficacy is promised by the attractiveness of commercial glamour advertising.
He fills his little glass containers with pieces of colour magazine photographs of beautiful girls and lettering, with some plain colour papers, while black twines suggest thick hair.

The regular, dense, interrupted motifs roll up inside and framed together in boxes create an aesthetically appealing effect. Its contemporariness relies at the start on Shilpa Gupta, but without her much graver address, to take it towards other areas.
The cases with bottles holding scraps of paper, shiny beads and threads of different hues conjure abstract compositions and delightful landscapes.

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