At the heart of Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s work sits the inevitable tension between dark and light. Darkness forms a first impression. Swelling and pervasive, it evokes vulnerability and desire. In the dark, we experience blindness and our surroundings are illegible. His work is the story of this long night.
The emergence of light is subdued and revelatory. It is a light that is precious, only allowed to flicker and dim for fear it will be lost. This is not the light of Kolkata, the artist’s home, a sprawling, electrified city in Eastern India. Mazumdar evokes the light of Jharkhand, a small, impoverished state. He returns to Jharkhand again and again, to the land passed down from his father, experiencing the endless darkness of this alien place. There, light is an experience beyond commodity. In Jharkhand, light is deified.
Manifesto offers a textual beginning, an abstraction from which to start. The objects are made of different materials: wood, metal, wax and paper. Together, they investigate the creation of an archive, from the impressions of its inception and the tomes that give it weight. One of the typographic plates is devoid of letters, exposing the structure upon which the page is built. Mazumdar presses text into wax and metal, exposing the layers within the palimpsest. Marks from before are hidden, indecipherable, but present themselves as faint irregularities showing through skin, like a ripple on the surface of water.
In Undated Nightskin, a series of steel carts loom over viewers. Dark and monolithic, they are mechanized to open and close, affording the viewer a hint of what they contain. Doors open to reveal images and embedded videos. Flowers seem to grow within these tombs. One cart can be entered – its walls are covered in velvet, dimly lit, a space invested with innuendo and subconscious fantasies. Through the walls, conversations are overheard, words are lost in mumbles and murmurs, and as the speakers flit between languages and registers, lilting music plays in the background. Another cart is completely covered in roses. The smell of the flowers wafts through the space. This fusing of organic and inorganic, of fragility within the inanimate enters the space of metaphor within the viewer’s imagination. The metallic, industrial casing is transformed into a vessel of desire. Mazumdar reveals this experience of modern life: the shifting louvers and obscure faces, a knowledge that is partial and obfuscated. Experience is decentered, always shifting focus and paired with the impossibility of lingering too long.
In Nights of Matryoshka Dreaming I-III, Mazumdar uses the medium of film seen through old bioscopes to create a work that is both nostalgic and voyeuristic. With an accompanying soundtrack that plays in tandem with partial and disjointed scenes of Kolkata, viewers embark on visual journeys of revelry and deliberation. Moments of chaos and cacophony are juxtaposed with protracted time, circulating the themes of devotion and desire.
In a four channel video work from 2009, Mazumdar layers imagery, sound and text. Water flows, figures pass through bright city streets, and voices which seem to belong to no one pierce through scenes. There is no recognizable narrative. Instead the work pulls together a series of impressions as though they have been collected from a wading unconscious. Meaning is tenuous and unfixed, mimicking the way in which we remember the past – in a series of interruptions, coincidences, and fading images, some no more than a feeling.
The sound of bells fills a room of suspended boxes and deep, red light. The boxes contain pictures, and scraps of paper. The squares are lined up like the passing of some obscure time, an unknown calendar, accounted for only through the collection of fragments. Photographs and drawings are incomplete, floating like remains of missing wholes. Among these is a single box which remains empty, a single square in the grid, a point of origin. Moving passed the boxes, the source of the sound become visible. The bells are attached to a single structure that resembles a womb – but this womb is mechanical and its movements are menacing. The sound begins like a slow ring, turning up into a frenzied climax, shattering the stillness of the boxes. Microphones continue to absorb the sound, replaying and remaking it through the surrounding speakers, and the sound and its distortions reverberate simultaneously. The past echoes inextricably in the present.
The next room contains a book, silent and closed. It requires the viewer’s participation to be activated. Upon being opened, a projection begins to play on the pages. Imagery of the Ganges River lapping upon the steps of the ghats is layered, and the ebb and flow of water is no longer discreet, suggesting the construction of time. A glimpse of a body, no more than an apparition, appears and vanishes again. Water becomes a metaphor for the slippages of language, for the shifting of meaning and context.
The final video is a layering of landscapes, some abstracted to the point of silhouette, and others engraved with scratches and lines. The land depicted is desolate, unpeopled, simultaneously suggested a scene that is ancient and post-apocalyptic. The place in these images is Jharkhand, a place steeped in artist’s past memories and present experiences. Mazumdar pushes these images the point of flatness, marking them to further to convey their construction – particularly the manufacture of memory, it’s perpetual rehearsal and reconstitution.
- Avni Doshi