With a flair for scientific perspectives blended in an emotional narrative, artist Prajakta Potnis has been tracing the idea of the evolving position of humankind by breaking beyond the walls of sociological, biological or historical location.
In “A Body Without Organs”, her second solo exhibition at Project 88, she explores a space common for duration and delusion within objects that sustain a body beyond its own functioning. Set across several mediums that contribute to the thought – some in motion while others in a transfixation of ideas, the exhibition finds residence in psychological exchange through physical substance.
In a conversation with Art Fervour, Prajakta Potnis reflects on the making of the exhibition and how it acts as a discourse in the present day.
What led you to exploring the idea of a body without organs? How do you think art retains the sensations in such a structure?
Early 2019, one of the eldest uncles in our family complained of some breathing problem. He was almost 75 then, one of the fittest of them all, and I was a bit taken aback when I heard about his sudden extreme condition from my mother. As they started investigating, the first thing the doctor asked about after taking a look at his chest X-ray was his occupation, where he had worked before retiring 15 years ago. My uncle had spent all of his productive years working in a soap and detergent factory. The doctors had found some chemical particles within his lung cavity, which lay dormant for all these years. This fateful incident made me think of how a big corporation was not going to be held accountable, and how the body of a worker is often subjected to toxic working environments. It made me dig deeper into the nexus between the frailty of a human body and the greed of a capitalist state. Through the process of paintings, radiology, video and a time-based installation I try to examine the body and its relationship to labour, in an attempt to locate it through various perspectives of interiority and exteriority.
The choice of colours in your works is contextual to the spaces you have chosen to keep your works within. Does that benefit from defining the space or leaving it open to interpretation?
The paintings have been drawn based on my uncle’s memory of his work space. The process of painting was quite similar to a criminal sketch artist, who draws based on someone else’s memory. By layering the paper over and over with the same color, the idea was to create a dense layer of paint that creates a sense of a void. The attempt was to create a sense of numbness and heaviness simultaneously through this flattened image. I wanted the empty spaces within the paintings to carry the weight of an overburdened body. Some of the muted greys within these works are based on wall colours of a room while some are based on a hazy memory of an enclosed work space. My endeavour was for the viewer to experience and inhabit this space, which was carved out of someone’s memory.
Some of your works in your current exhibition “A Body Without Organs” are a continuation of using recorded time as titles. What is the story behind this format?
For the past few years, I have been titling my drawings and paintings with various time notations, since it was a way of highlighting the element of time within a work of art. Since these are images of spaces, devoid of human presence, the idea was to add an element of transience that would situate the image in a specific fleeting moment, to postulate the probability of its actuality.
Your choice of mediums hails from the objects that surround the routine of a common man. What was the larger message you may have attempted to convey through the choice?
I have been interested within the everyday, and the mundaneness of it. I am interested in addressing issues of unaccounted labour within the domestic space, the issues of gender and caste that one experiences on a day to day basis, starting from an innocuous looking space like the kitchen. I wanted to speak of these discomforting and shrouded issues from an immediate realm that could be more relatable.
How did you merge the surfaces of a biological, psychological and philosophical understanding within a common space that identifies your practice?
It is critical within my practice to assert the voice of an individual, and reflect on how top-down policies affect a life. In an attempt to negotiate the social, the political, or the private, the domestic space takes on the role of a protagonist. It is necessary for me to draw from the personal to the political, making room for an authentic voice.
The exhibition contains a personal narrative from your own life. Did you face any challenge in turning the emotions involved into visuals?
It was an emotional journey, but it helps to speak from first-hand experience, because you get to dig deeper into the skin of things. Further, the process of translating emotions into art is cathartic.
Which was the first aspect of ‘disease’ or ‘abnormality’ that encouraged you to build an energetic, alternative response to it?
I believe it would be the abnormality or the outcome that would probably urge me – the toll or the consequence of a capitalist society on a body. Traces of trauma through physiological changes and psychological disruptions are like an evidence to build an argument on.
Would you rather have your exhibition witnessed in person or on a virtual platform? Why?
The virtual space is an amazing platform that allows for more viewership, but I think in terms of experiencing and feeling an art work one needs to physically be in the presence of it. The virtual space flattens out an image, it also makes art accessible for a certain section of a society who have access and privilege.
Not only does her body of work individually discover the effects of mundane possibilities, but it also delivers the image of a dark social contrast with the ongoing conflicts within the body. By giving their own lives to objects, Prajakta empowers their role within a holistic discourse of birth and death.