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Articles on Indian contemporary art by Swapna Vora

by Swapna Vora

September 07, 2007

(click on the small image for full screen image with captions.)

Fig. 1
Prema Murthy knows the intersection between what is handmade and what is hi tech or digital is not always precise. 'Fuzzy logic', she calls one of her creations. She refers to states of mind and brings memories of movements and altered geological, primitive forms and crystals. From space and energy, material is derived and this story goes back even further into our heads, to the lines of our thoughts which possibly create everything. She wanted to focus on line, a singing, soaring line and step away from color. She said more constraints, rather than total liberty, can often make the exploration of art deeper. Her pictures on the wall show modern, if conventional, placing of pictures, like a controlled scatter of framed prints on an uneven, brick wall. It is not dramatic and an artist at the PS 1 museum said, somewhat fancifully, it brings memories of a constellation.

Fig. 2
Prema's wool sculpture is really two-dimensional drawings translated into a three-dimensional space installation. This simple and yet intricate structure of black wool yarn brings thoughts of crystals and geodes extended outside the given space. This installation, Fuzzy Logic, explores lines in space. She wanted to explore the concept of minimal, rather than abundant or even adequate and for her that meant lines, black, no color, no sound. Her installation is made of simple black wool, a few staples and knots and is very space specific: especially managed just for this room. It is ephemeral and will be taken down after the show is over. The stretched wool lines of her structure extend a little outside the door and a little boy trips on it…. It looks like crystal and resembles the slender man-made towers created through the centuries. Delicate it is like a spider's web, this sketch of the worldwide web of our collective thoughts. Skinny skeins of black wool stretch into space, a cat's cradle. Black wool is knotted simply at intervals forming a playful, simple structure which reminds one of outerspace, the interior of a crystal with many squares, triangles perhaps representing the wires which connect our lives to ourselves, to others, to space itself. They pierce the wall and spill outside the delineated room.

Fig. 3
Prema's pictures, scattered on the white walls, are called 'Unfolding, Dark Matter series, Emotional precision, Breaking the grid, Collide and quiver'. These prints are perhaps related to the mysterious processes of our bodies, our veins, our nerves and the prints are black on white, white on black. Is this a depiction of our nerves or our aura? Is that hair? The square and the circle are there. Pictures of black and white near the museum's distressed floor, tattered ceiling and redone walls offer a lyrical language. There are free floating thoughts of lines, the worldwide web, fishnet stockings, fish, our depleted oceans. The children scamper around her installation and one remembers the nursery rhyme, Will you walk into my parlor?

Then, her prints too look like delicate hand drawn lines but are actually computer generated, using several software programs and could extend into infinity. A growing pattern of galactic lines, and delicate, digital drawings reflect on the nearby wool crystal installation. These tiny circles are doorways into a world of lines beyond, they are perhaps the portals of outer space, the entry into tiny worlds, or perhaps just glimpses into microscopes. One sees other worlds made of lines, there are hints of space fiction, new galaxies and our ultimate mystery: the delicate tracery of human thought.

Fig. 4

All media is a collective sound, movement and graphics. Prema wanted to pare down and go into a minimal space as asked whatever had to be said, could it be said with less? She finally focused simply on the least: just form and line and thought about networks and electronic nets. She is interested in identity, the nature of what makes me 'me' and not someone else, how something is itself. These pictures are an exterior show of our inner identity, showing the networks of our lives, perhaps also the spider's web of creation that the earth's aborigines sometimes discuss. And so she says, we are networked, our thoughts are outside of ourselves, our physical self.

What does she dream of? Constant change, she replies. This computer child has pull-down menus, websites and electronics in her dreams. She says she started with design work and advertising to make money and then did her own explorations. Today, given space by delighted art directors and curators in many museums and galleries, she makes these prints and installations: sometimes ephemeral, often with simple material.

Fig. 5

Prema has offered some comments in her internet exhibits on pornography: no vociferous denunciation but rather a subtle observation of slavery. This mostly male desired phenomena, is often a shady, shifty work of abuse, where torture parades as erotica. True erotica, delicious, naughty, playful, secret is alas all too rare. Meanwhile slavery is passed off as erotic and Prema speaks on pornography, a word which means the depiction of slaves, the bonded laborer, the unfree. (Porno: slave, graph: depiction). Everyone loves erotica but pornography is a mean depiction of someone's power over someone else, a victim is always involved. A victim who is usually weak, without clothes or protection and is abused and beaten for the 'entertainment' it gives someone else. Pornography then is a comment on unkindness and distress and since this is always intermingled by its directors with images of beautiful, often unbelievably beautiful, people, the mind can get confused. Prema refers to this in her website. She refers too to everyone's fascination with bindi, that colorful dot that Hindu women and others, sometimes even men, sport on their foreheads.

She informs me that she is American by birth, has spent a year in her parents' Indian homeland and has learned the art of kalaripattu , the ancient south Indian art of self-defense specifically designed for women. She is a pretty, gleaming woman and reflects her years devoted to physical exercise and yoga alongside her ventures into creativity.

Fig. 6

PS 1, a branch of New York's MOMA offered Prema space for an installation made specifically for its rooms and the curators were pleased with her technological approach while using low tech material. Prema uses black and white, a lack of color. For her, black is not simple and we spoke of the seven essential shades of black, often seen very clearly in Chinese paintings. Her work intertwines science fiction, cosmology and infinity and evokes something simple, like a cat playing with wool, with everyday black yarn.

The broken ceiling, the uneven floors, the stark bricks of PS 1 make one smile. The curator explained that an earlier artist had dug up the floor before they could explain to him that, if they had known, they would have given him a different sort of floor. Anyway, she added, everyone seems to like this uneven simple floor, the slightly rough ceiling and some visitors even like the 'schoolish' appearance of this erstwhile school.


Prema Murthy

Prema Murthy was born in 1969.
She studied at Austin, Texas and then did her MFA at Goldsmiths College, London.
She has exhibited in the US and at the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, The Generali Foundation, Vienna, The National Gallery, Capetown, The India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, the Queens Museum, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. She is a co founder of Fakeshop, included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial. Her work on pornography may be seen on the internet. This current show of prints and a wool installation was at PS 1, Queens, New York, which specializes in contemporary international art. It was sponsored by Marguerite and Kent Charugundla.

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