by Sukanya DebJun 22, 2022
To view the skeleton of an artwork which never came to life, presented by the artist herself, is a different kind of intimacy. Like knowing a thought which hasn’t been thought yet, this allows us to become more aware of the parts of an artist’s practice which we aren’t usually privy to. In an exciting reveal, artist Dhruvi Acharya talks to STIR about her conceptualisation of a mixed media, immersive installation - What Once Was, Still Is But Isn’t. Acharya’s repertoire investigates the internal and external interactions a woman experiences in our world today, expressing in her painting the many layers of issues faced in daily life.
Acharya has held solo exhibitions at Nature Morte in New Delhi, Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai and Gomez Gallery in Baltimore and Kravets/Wehby in New York (USA). She has been working as a practicing artist for over 20 years, after formally studying Fine Arts in the USA.
1. Please tell us about your general practice.
I consider myself to be primarily a painter, and in my work I have been focusing on the psychological and emotional aspects of an urban woman’s life, in a world teeming with discord, inequalities, gender disparities, violence and environmental catastrophes. Often utilising subtle and dark humour to address these troubling issues, I am interested in creating works that are visually and psychologically layered. In my painted world, thoughts and feelings are as visible as ‘reality’ and the protagonists live and metamorphose by the logic of that world.
My work is based on my drawings, and my sketch books are like a daily journal: a chronicle of my thoughts, observations, emotions and experiences. Drawing is like a meditative practice for me, where I let things on my mind appear on paper without actively thinking about what I am drawing. Some of these images are compelling enough for me to want to make into paintings, spending time exploring the meanings and emotions associated with it. However, when the works are viewed, I believe the specifics of the stories and the meaning of each image become unimportant, and all that is felt and remembered is the universality of the human experience.
2. When and in what circumstances did you conceive this work?
In summer 2019, I was preparing for my 2020 January solo show at Nature Morte, New Delhi. Along with a pretty big collection of large and small paintings, I was planning to show a soft sculptural installation, titled What Once Was, Still Is, But Isn ’t…, which I had first shown in my 2016 solo show at Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai.
For the upcoming solo, I wanted to make the installation a little different, and was trying to figure out different ways to change it a little and yet stay true to the emotions I had expressed in the work.
3. What is the theme for this artwork?
The soft sculptural bedroom installation was about the surreal experience of the loss of a dearly loved one – when one cannot tell reality from dreams and nightmares. I wanted to create a world one could enter, and in some ways experience the early days of grief. I used unbleached cotton fabric to stitch by hand bedroom furniture and floated them from the ceiling. I covered the floor in soft mattresses so that people sort of lose their balance when walking on it, and covered the walls with a few thousand drawings that I had made over the last 20 years.
On the bedcover I made drawings of my memories of my life with my partner and best friend, the bookcase had handmade fabric books with the spine embroidered with words that represented each of the 16 years we were together, and on the carpet I had painted a poem that I had written about my experience after my late husband’s passing in 2010.
For the 2020 show, I planned to make an animated sound and video work based on the poem, and project it onto the bedroom installation.
4. What process was used to make the work?
To make the four-channel video and sound work, I recorded my reading of the poem that I had written in 2011 and painted on the carpet of the installation in 2016. Aman, my 16-year-old son, composed and recorded an original guitar score for it. I isolated figures and images from my paintings, and orchestrated its movements in photoshop, created backgrounds that would add to the story. I also worked out the flow and transitions between the images, and made sure the projections on the four walls would look harmonious. I finally hired a couple of young NID graduates to help me with the animating of the painted images.
5. Why do you think it has not been shown yet?
When I discussed this project with my artist friends and the gallerist, I realised that it was a more technically complicated project than I had imagined, and unless I figured out every detail by working in the exhibition venue, too many things could go wrong. And this was not really feasible for me at that time. But more than anything, I realised that the sculptural installation itself was a complete work, and adding this new visual element to it may not add to but take away from the experience of the viewer. So, I decided to not show it.
In fact, once I scrapped this idea, instead of the basement as originally planned, I put up the installation on the top floor of the gallery, where it looked like a floating bedroom from the floor below – and it looked great, and it was not a repetition of the old installation as I had feared.
6. What would be the ideal (most desired) format to display the work if and when given a chance?
I guess my most desired venue would be a museum or a biennale (why not?). I plan to separate the soft sculptural bedroom installation from this new video and sound work, and treat this as a new, independent video work. I would construct a new room based on the size of the projector specifications, and paint murals on the walls of this room onto which I could project the animations. Making a room in a studio space would also allow me to figure out every detail by working with the equipment I would use in the final projection, and avoid the technical issues I had been warned about.
Curated by Rahul Kumar, STIR presents Unseen Art: an original series that features works that have never been shown publicly, created by a selection of multidisciplinary artists from across the globe.