by Sharmistha Ray | September 30 2016
The seed for my sixth solo exhibition we are all islands was planted over a year ago. I had started to imagine partially immersive landscapes as an intimate exploration of human experiences in the digital age. I’m primarily a painter and painting is a hugely solitary activity, which requires me to shut off from the world completely. It’s an activity that requires hundreds of hours, working alone towards an abstract goal. It’s a completely touch-mediated process that doesn’t allow for distancing. I wanted to retain that sensibility, but allow others to collaborate with me, to engage with my process. Trial and error were integral to the making of these new environments. I started with an idea, but the process has had a large part to play in shaping the eventual outcome.
I’m also a life-long émigré, migrating across continents from a young age. Since that became normal, I replicated that in my adult life. Relationships, familial, friendships and others, are mediated across vast distances. But I’ve realized that while digital technologies can collapse space and time, they cannot erase physical reality completely. A person’s presence, the intimacy of belonging and the sensory implications of touch are essential to what it means to be human. While the unfamiliar and the dispossession of physical roots calls upon something vital within me, it’s also created a strange distortion of time, place and culture, which inevitably enters the work.
A sense of bodily disorientation is deliberately orchestrated within the exhibition. Objects appear to tilt, shift, teeter on the edge. I’ve created an archipelago of sculptural landmasses the viewer has to navigate through in order to experience the exhibition. Within the archipelago is another archipelago of art forms ranging from painting to sculpture, photography, drawing and installations that I’ve been experimenting with over the last few years. I worked on-site in a residency format for three months on the five large sculptures in the show. Together, they represent the foundation of the earth, the original body from which we emerged as dust particles many eons ago. These formations have roots. They belong. It’s the viewer who has to find her way.
Making meaningful connections between these very myriad art forms has been a challenge in the curatorial layout of the exhibition. It’s an evolutionary process that has developed from the moment of conception until the very last hour, literally. My last intervention will happen an hour before the show, when I arrive for the opening. Complexity and layered exchanges are critical, of course, but so is the nature of ambivalence. Being open and present to changes at every juncture has allowed all the many small pieces to fall into place. The final connections have happened. It’s been exhausting, exhilarating.
Sharmistha Ray’s solo, we are all islands, opens on September 30 and is ongoing until 6 November at the Nine Fish Art Gallery at the Great Eastern Estate at Byculla.