Winding Time and Exploring Space: Gallery Ark and its current show on Myth, Suspension, and Violence

Updated: Jan 28

Living in isolation has meant that we’ve found more and more innovative methods to engage with our former lives - and the realm of art hasn’t been an exception. But perhaps thinking about it in terms of our ‘former’ lives might not be proper, for new avenues have been brought to us, and quite simply so, at the touch of a button.

Gallery Ark, a contemporary art gallery in Vadodara, is a case in point today. Founded in 2017 by Seema and Atul Dalmia, it is a space for visual cultures and performances, providing a medium to support and promote young artists while creating an accessible space in Vadodara to experience the arts. Its aesthetic is largely influenced by the Baroda School of Art which traces its origins with the acclaimed visual arts institution, Maharaja Sayajirao University (and its Faculty of Fine Arts).

The interior spaces of the gallery. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark.

It is no wonder then, that just as how the University gained prominence by providing a creative space to develop modernist trends, Gallery Ark has similarly come with its latest show - A Voyage of Seemingly Propulsive Speed and an Apparent Absolute Stillness. This is a show that goes beyond the conventional bounds of stretched canvases and washed paper, and an impressive range of mediums like LED lights, digital prints, video art, and zinc plates glint in its armory.

A journey beyond the conventional

Behind the intriguingly long title of the show lie three common (but not so innocent) words defining its essence - Myth, Suspension, Violence. Our lives are today a continuous process of journeys and tragedies. And permeating everyday existence, our journeys (and its tragedies) get defined by those three words, as we shall see.

Myths are beautiful performances, if not false truths to begin with. Engaging with these brings to the fore a set of alternate (and possibly un-understood) narratives which develop into something entirely new. A covid world has most certainly induced Suspension - a state of disjoint from known linearity. For us, the idea of a ‘normal’ presupposes the absence of suspension, for such a state, is only observed with the removal of a linear line of time, space, and context. Shift these, and we have a whole new world. It is only with such a shift that Violence - which today is not always about the extreme, but even subtle curbs and disallowances of everyday life - can be understood.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell had propounded the truth-functional idea of language, that its capability of representing simple facts in nature is due to simple (atomic) propositions. Engaging with myths, suspended states, and violence with such propositions end in fabricating the world in one manner - and it is the shift in context that provides an alternate map to seeing things.

Gallery Ark, with three artists - Arshad Hakim, Moonis Ahmad Shah, and Sarasija Subramanian - brings to you this alternate map. Here’s a look at some of their works.

Trapping subjective ideas of Arshad Hakim

It is the idea of ‘dislodged subjectivities’ that has captured the work of Arshad Hakim. A graduate of Fine Arts from Shiv Nadar University and a fellow at Ashkal Alwan - The Lebanese Association of Plastic Arts (2017-18), his work revolves around the processes through which subjective views of the world are formed and operated. Working with old photographs, text, cinematic clips, his work looks at these subjectivities via repurposing elements of the past - which, at one plane define lived experiences but at the same time highlight possibly new ones.

Arshad Hakim. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark.

A bright strip of LED - Ouroboros - remarks the centrality of experiencing the idea the artist plays with. As Hakim explains,

“I have used two lines from the sequence in the film(The Color of Pomegranates), where the protagonist Sayat Nova enters a cloister and has failed in his attempts to woo a princess. In this sequence, Sayat Nova says - “You are fire, your dress is made of fire. Which of these two fires can I endure?” Though within the film, Parajanov (the director) uses an elaborate arrangement of image-symbols to convey this, for me the lines and the images made me think from various points of view about seduction, desire and courtship, and how these pan out in various scenarios which may not necessarily be between lovers. By using this line only as text, it became devoid of its associations and held much more meaning for me where I could see it outside the context of the film.”

And the fact that the LED strip plays this text in a loop becomes a meta-commentary. Ouroboros.

Arshad Hakim - Orobours (2020), LED Running Strip.. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark.

Degrees of violentization with Moonis Ahmad Shah

It is the element of violence in the human condition that highlights Moonis Ahmad Shah’s work. An interdisciplinary artist of international repute, he works with hybrid practices that involve mediums like video, photography, programming. The idea of being interdisciplinary is the play between traditional archival materials and the aesthetics of contemporary digital technology. With such an interplay comes the question of hegemonic narratives (established by those archives) and what really constitutes boundaries and materiality. The result of such questioning is a subversion that leads to alternate knowledge systems.

Moonis Ahmad Shah. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark.

A common occurrence of birds, if one may, has an almost natural association with freedom and romanticism. So how would that image transform when they become pallbearers of violence?

Our lives today are products of life and death, of beauty and deathly decadence. Shah’s Birds Are Coming portrays this absurdity with deftness. Curated as a fictional archive of birds accused of espionage by various nations in the form of light boxes, the association of beautiful with horrific becomes an allegory of our embattled body and the besieged landscape today. For Shah,

“This hybridity, absurdity and irony of life-death, body-landscape is something which drives our current lives, especially in contested territories like Kashmir. There, where the dead birds threaten to return and become part of the sub terrains of life, acted as a point of departure for this reading of violence.In a way, the dead birds, their Archives, their bodies and their subsequent threat to return from the dead, is a laugh back at the tragedy, a celebration of an inherent madness which has the capacity to break through life and death.”

Moonis Ahmad Shah - Birds are coming (2017), UV Print and lightbox. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark.
Still from the 3D exhibition model. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark

An interesting take on violence is also seen in his work Accidentally Miraculous Everyday From That Heaven. Here, Shah subverts its idea into being banal, not always explicit and gory, and looks at the everyday lives of individuals that have reconfigured in states of suspensions due to long curfews.

Moonis Ahmad Shah - Accidentally Miraculous Everyday From That Heaven (2018) Archival prints on archival Epson paper 36 x 60 inches. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark.

Mythical nature and Sarasija Subramanian’s copies

“I was brought up in a family led by three remarkably green-thumbed women – my mother, my aunt and my grandmother – all of whom were as close to the plants and trees in their gardens as they were to any other family member. I inherited this love for the natural world, but it came into my practice very gradually… As my collection grew, I began to question the act of collecting itself, my own relationship with the organic world, and what it meant for me to take the position of being its ‘preserver’ or ‘saviour’.”

For Sarasija Subramnian, this approach towards biodiversity has come to define her work, and her documentation (which is aesthete and scientific) is a result of this.

Sarasija Subramanian. Image Courtesy of Gallery Ark.

Writing The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, critic and essayist Walter Benjamin talked about the reproduction and reproducibility of art, which with new innovations in technology, lack the original’s presence in a specific time and place (which is the basis of authenticity). The independence with which reproductions can be made - controlling the medium, lighting, angles, etc. - confuses the authenticity and originality of the art, and thereby confusing the object itself. Sarasija’s work The Dictionary of Gardening evokes similarity to Benjamin’s idea.

Sarasija Subramanian - Dictionary of Gardening, Bedding 2 (2020), Etched drawings on zinc plate. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark.
Dictionary of Gardening at view. Image courtesy of Gallery Ark

The work consists of extracting and reproducing specific drawings and information (with edits and alterations) from the 1887 edition of the Encyclopedia of Horticulture onto zinc plates. This act of reproduction initiates a tension between the original and the alteration - that is, between what is true and what (maybe) can’t be - and it is this questioning that opens up multiple possibilities of reading. Possibilities which, with changing contexts, create new meanings.

Speaking of her Sea Monsters project, Subramanian elaborates on the persistent fight between the unknown and the need-to-know of humans (for consequent control) in the creation of knowledge systems. The Sea, as a place to be comprehended, becomes suspended then between two ideas - the understood and appreciated, and the un-understood and fearsome, and we don’t just mean the Lochness monster here.

For Aaiushi Beniwal curating this show, this idea drove the point home for A Voyage of Seemingly Propulsive Speed and an Apparent Absolute Stillness

“This specific line talks about polarities; two extremes presented together...There is a violence in juxtaposing these sentiments together; these adjectives playing out with equal rigour, echo the feeling of a tug and pull - always in tension, and yet with the ability to move forward in this voyage. The fact that the force is seemingly equal, also in a way addresses ideas of suspension - an individual, a practice, an exhibition, being held together by opposing forces.”

This show then, is certainly a home with several windows - so which one(s) are you going to look out of?

Gallery Ark, in collaboration with Art Fervour brings to you a virtual artist’s roundtable that will feature these three artists, on the 16th of July. Keep an eye out on our digital directory for more information!


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