Dreams of In-convenience
by Priyanka Dasgupta
They juxtapose dreams and images, they sandwich the image and viewer and they invite and repel at the same time. Priyanka Dasgupta’s latest installation project titled ‘Dreams of In-convenience’ is a forced but subtle reminder of these extremes of visual experiences. The artist herself articulates her positioning within the cutting edge art practice keeping her project as a point of departure.
Dreams of In-convenience, is a multi-media installation comprised of large-scale shadow puppets and single and multiple channel videos with sound. Structurally, each individual piece is installed such as to create a cohesive installation involving these disparate mediums. A loose, circular narrative surrounds the protagonists in the work and strings the individual pieces together. On entering, the viewer is immediately implicated into this visual narrative as he sees his own shadow projected alongside those of two male shadow puppets, both Naga Sadhus, one holding up a heart, the other, a brain. Before they can decline, the viewer has been transformed to participant, breaking through the ‘fourth wall’ and becoming part of the artwork.
Forcing the viewer to decide how their presence will engage the space becomes the overarching choice to be made on the journey through the installation.
Moving past the Sadhus, the viewer is met with a three-channel video installationof scattering projectiles and rippling surfaces, set to the sound of falling water. The repetitive, jarring sound and visuals complement and exaggerate the underlying violence of the large-scale projection with which it shares the room. This projection is a single channel video of a bed, left standing outdoors, being constantly pummelled by rain, until it finally, completely, falls apart. Seeing the bed, a symbol of safety and security, being destroyed by rain, a giver of life, creates a jarring juxtaposition of sentiment vs. perception
In the center of the space, the viewers find themselves sandwiched between two huge shadow puppet projections, in a narrow corridor flanked by cloth screens. On one side, are the two Naga Sadhus, erect, reminiscent of guards in a doorway. Turning the other way, the viewer is presented with the shadow projection of a falling female figure, a heart coming out of her chest, a brain falling out of her head. This figure, central to the narrative, is the main protagonist of Dreams of In-convenience, where she attempts to resolve waking anxiety through her dreams, only to find that, in her efforts, she ends up losing pieces of herself.
On turning back to face the Sadhus, the viewers now realize that they are offering up, not their own heart and brain, but those of the falling, female figure. Disturbed at this realization, perhaps also mildly irritated by the interfering shadows of other viewers in the space, the viewers are once again reminded of their physical presence within this intensely personal installation. Inconvenienced by this forced participation yet engaged by the beauty of the visuals, the viewers begin to question the relevance of the title. My decision to title the show Dreams of In-Convenience, is a direct response to Freud’s theory, where he claims that 'dreams of convenience' occur in order to resolve anxiety, substituting physical action with dream action, in order to fulfil repressed wishes or desires. Contrarily, in my experience, there is nothing convenient about these occurrences - they serve solely, to further un-resolve and compound waking anxiety.
The Naga Sadhus thus, are visual personifications of the two extremes of the demands, anxieties and desires, that the female protagonist is attempting to resolve. Not surprisingly, one extreme is ruled by the heart, the other, the brain. This split, that the viewers find themselves in the midst of, pervades much of my work, and is a constant reminder of what separates desire and expectation, happiness and ambition, home and exile, dreams and reality.
The final chamber in the installation contains a large video projection that presents the interaction between a woman in a voluminous red dress and a tree. As the video progresses, the woman unravels her dress, tying, red ribbons to the tree, an act influenced by the tradition of tying pieces of cloth to the lattices in temples, to make wishes. In this case however, the woman seems to be literally pulling from herself to make these wishes, and as the tree turns red with ribbons, she gradually disappears. This piece is set to a much gentler sound, of leaves rustling and birds chirping. The resulting atmosphere is meditative, inviting the viewers to reflect on their experience, while the size and display of the projection literally draws them into the visuals. Not surprisingly, children, or adults who have not yet let go of the child in them, by this point, have lost all their inhibitions, and are joyfully making shadow puppet projections with their hands, to play with the work!
It is this forced yet subtle, interactive quality of the installation, that makes it unique, or lends it its ‘cutting-edge’ quality. The contemporary Indian art world is not yet entirely familiar or comfortable with the viewer being implicated into the artwork, or physically interacting with it. For the most part, art still continues to separate itself from its audience, and remains perched on a wall, or secure, behind tape. Interactive artwork in the global art world, however, is no longer novel, but quite popular and desirable. What I believe, separates ‘dreams of in-convenience’ from interactive work of this nature is the subtlety of the interaction, where the viewer is at first not conscious of their participation but then discovers that they cannot avoid it.