Splitting the Other
In association with Chemould Prescott Road
To visually render human pain and social suffering, past and present, in such a way that its representation nurtures and illuminates life, rather than indulging in voyeuristic titillation, or succumbing to fatalism in the face of mythic cycles of violence- this, it seems to me, is the quest that has energized Nalini Malani’s remarkably consistent body of work since the nineteen-seventies.
Grounded in Indian and European modes of painting and drawing, Malani has increasingly turned from oil painting and watercolor to installation, theater, and video art since the nineteen-nineties. But she had not wholly abandoned her earlier painterly modes. Against the dissolution of the artistic mediums in performance on the one hand, and in fleeting video or digital work on the other, Malani has invented a spectrum of artistic cross-media, thus transforming the tradition of an earlier avant-garde modernism, with its focus on the fraying of media, the bleeding of the visual into the verbal, image into voice, narrative into image. She works in new ways on the threshold between the mythic and the modern, between ancient cultures and the contemporary world. She mobilize the obsolete and the forgotten by making use of age old material supports and discarded conventions, such as reverse painting in combination with watercolor drawing theater, and the performing body, putting all to novel use in a variety of installation and stunning serial imagery.
Unique to her practice are her compellingly beautiful shadow plays with their reverse
painting and drawing on giant transparent Mylar/Lexan cylinders that rotate as light
projects through them, thus producing flowing cinematic loops on the gallery walls. The brightly colored, dream-like images are taken from the tradition of scroll, or pat, paintings and other popular art sources, mostly referring to aspects of the ancient epics like the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Bhaagwat Purana. Spectators find themselves caught between the turning cylinders, with their luminous images moving in the round on one side, and the flat black projection on the gallery walls on the other.The two-dimensionality of the floating shadow figures on the wall confronts the three-dimensionality of the turning cylinders and their colorfully painted human figures,animals, monsters, plants, and mythi personage. The spectators’ shadow silhouettes become part of a spectral re-enchantment as they move through the darkened space between projection and slowly whirring cylinders. Reminiscences of the laterna magica are suggestive, but it is a laterna magica in motion that blurs the boundary between spectator and spectacle.