Art News & Views

Moments in Time (And a Little While After)


by Prayas Abhinav

On the Sidereal' a project in process, a conversion of a gallery space into a space of unexpected activities, was curated by Prayas Abhinav and presented by the Guild Gallery, Mumbai in July 2011. In a dramatic monologue, Prayas Abhinav recounts the nuances through which the project unfolded itself.

Necessarily, a process needs to be looked at in terms of what it was first. Before what it produced and how it can be reported and logged even comes into the picture. The naked process - not yet couched in the packaging of interpretations and glossing over.

First, of course we arrived. Living with people is getting to know people you have always known, again. One becomes sensitive to the pauses in the conversations and what they mean. Stresses in sentence construction and the perceived emphasis. The joy of eating good food together. Good food somehow lends the opportunity to focus on something singular. All the layers, all the granularities are in the food itself. Talk is light. The rain outside. The jokes. The nano wars. The washing away of the work -flow from the mind temporarily.

The work-flow. This process was called 'On the Sidereal,' An inter-disciplinary meditation on the many notions of time. From July 18 to 26, 2011, eight of us (Prayas Abhinav, Amitabh Pandey, Amitabh Kumar, Kiran Subbaiah, Tahireh Lal, Eelco Wagenaar, Umesh P N, Asim Waqif) made works which responded to an initial set of ideas that proposed a multi-dimensional reality with many “Siderealities.” The format was simple. Mornings: work, Noon: good food, Afternoon: work, Evenings: talks and discussion, Nights: insomniac babble, beers and lounging around in Kiran Subbaiah's room. It could have happened only in Mumbai. Everything being far away, things going wrong in the middle of the night, plans changing a quadruple times - in the end it was like moving though many iterations of a thought while actually moving through only one. The city's capacity to generate accidents as well as antidotes might well be infinite!

The idea for the evening program was to allow all of us to dwell on different perspectives of the exploration at hand. Physics, Performance, Mythology, Architecture, Art. On the first day, I started with an introduction of the initial ideas and some other research I had been doing on the psychological perception of the temporal characteristics of our reality. I played a recording of the interview with Dr. Kusum Dhar Prabhu, a Jungian analyst in Bangaluru. T V Santosh then responded to the set of ideas being put forward by pointing out the difficulties and inconsistencies of the enterprise and it became an interesting discussion. Some of us were not playing it very safe, as it was a small intimate setting rather than a podium for mass discourse. Kiran Subbaiah read out a story which had everyone smiling, it was the back story for the work he did at the residency.

The second day had Vyom Mehta and Hemant S K perform. Vyom constructed a set using which he shared his perception of simultaneity, and fractures/ruptures in the passage of time.

Hemant played with noise and the looping / repeating patterns which constitute it.

Another evening had some students of architecture from Rachana Sansad and Kamala Raheja School of Architecture present some projects which had the dynamic of time as a parameter. From a clock and lock married together as a machine to looking at urban landscapes from different speed zones to beautiful visualizations of the study of the "architecture of time."

Kaiwan Mehta shared his projects which looked at documentation of travel and the way we learn to look at spaces in transition. The way text layers onto the visual experience of presence, reading and travelling, journaling, were the areas he navigated. A memorable slide was a picture in which the reflection of a building in a window and a picture of the building stuck in the window were made to overlap and create an illusion of aortas.

Dr Sunik Mukhi, being a physicist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), attempted to open up to us the view of time in physics. He very fluidly spoke of the guiding principles in the description of time. It turned out that he lived across the street and that was the first time he was stepping into an art space.

Towards the end many of us started staying in their rooms, skipping lunch, going away to work. When the talk gets too much, the work finally happens. Some stories of adventure we collected on the way. Catching a midnight train to Goregaon and coming back in the morning with a structure tied onto a taxi roof (hoping that it wouldn't rain, and it doesn't). Amitabh racing against time to finish his huge drawing, me dealing with crisis after crisis to basically cut a pattern into glass.

And then in a moment's abandon - Kiran calls one mobile from another, holds them face to face - mic to mic and speaker to speaker. An impromptu performance happens. Producing feedback from mobile phones on speakerphone mode. Sound of internal conversation? Psychoelectricbabble?

We repeat it the next day at the open studio. We even try to record the sound. Sound can be recorded, moments can be described but how can they be experienced after they are past. The envelope of time… For some time in the space there was the break-free, the abandon of a mass reverie.

And when it is over, you lose the capacity to arrange the memories in sequential order in your head. It's all mixed. And then you withdraw. Revoke the temporary licenses you gave to others to peer within you - and make it the material of jokes - but then again some licenses were not revoked and enjoy a ad-hoc mode existence.

The show comes together, the opening happens and then its closures being sewn together. A walk-though in words and pictures now is in order.

You step in. I start speaking. This is the open studio of a short residency process. This residency process has been mulling over the facets of time. More specifically, is the now a singular or plural entity? Do parallel, unexpressed nows exist in hidden ways? Calling this the sidereal - can you imagine? The nature of time that is observing us unknown to us, maybe. We move on.

Tahireh Lal's work is in the room. Pieces of clocks floating in, what seems like magma from the earth's core. Floating is an exaggeration, drifting slowly would be more accurate. Happening in a discontinuous way across the wall. Multiple channels.

A belated declaration of the rules of this walkthrough: no artspeak, only description. I trust you. We are connected - you see what I see. You can unravel riddles, yes.

Tahireh has also showing an earlier work that relates to the engagement at hand, time. It is a video crafted from 8 mm family footage archives of her family.

We move to the next room. Eelco's work. A document that speaks of the artist as system engineer, a functional installation that tackles drift and simultaneity with digital clocks. Poetry through plastic. A fan with kites strung on it, and also diverting light with a disco ball of mirrors.

We take a turn and the size and presence of Amitabh's work maybe hits you for a moment. He has worked on a composite, a massive digitally processed and printed drawing made from fragments he drew and scanned. The operator's desk, the operator who is outside time. Maybe the drawing is an archive of things that get left behind. In moments, in histories. A two-headed crocodile? Maybe it got left behind from some dreamscape?

We turn now to my work. A print - which visualizes the mathematics (through python code) of the multiple configuration of who we can be, from moment to moment, or from reading to reading. In the room, a projection of fragments of jittering text mapped onto a zig-zag acrylic surface. A pattern stuck behind the sheet of transparent acrylic and passing through this pattern, the projection spills over on the wall in fragments. Hypertext, how on part of us looks at another and ways of meaning-making.

Out of the room and we are in Umesh P N's space. Here you have three frugal and sparse works challenging our expectation and need for another spectacle to placate us. A set of hangers doing the double flip to seem to be a part of infinity. An image of a square sun which is maybe setting/rising.

Kiran Subbaiah's Studio Sidereal is here now. You walk in to the space he has installed in, the couch inviting you to sit. Put the headphones on and then… you hear some questions. Letting the mystery be the mystery, rather let's skip to the moment after you have taken the headphones off. Mind racing, amused, cynically questioning, quietly unravelling, wearing dead-pan face and laughing hysterically? Which state would you be in?

At the second reading, it's possible to look at the process in terms of the content of the moments, the biochemistry of the mind. We were discussing time - questions like is time travel possible popped across a lunch table were perfectly valid. Also speculation - Amitabh weaving tales within tales which some of us lost the capacity to keep pace with.

And we skip back to the day before the opening. Vidya Kamat made a presentation on the symbols of time, linking references from globally diverse sources to identify common memes and beliefs. Kiran then performed an introduction to some of his video work. Besides trying to consume the performance as an experience, the sense of history being replayed, resonance not just of this moment but reflecting archived pasts simultaneously was very much there.

Making a gallery into a studio-space. like living in a theatre, cooking in an incubator. There is definitely something in it. And then also the feeling that this can go on forever.

These are puddles that run foot-deep and two-thousand-feet-deep at the same time. Making an informed reading of something can be can be iterative at best. More speculations on time? Maybe.

But from here to where is a question left unanswered.

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