March 19 to 18 April 2009. Al Quoz industrial area, Dubai. Flat desert landscape, sand like dust on everything, machinery and heavy construction equipment standing still under an infinite sky, a huge warehouse converted into an artspace.
Within, Undated: Nightskin.
Three chambers, one leading to the next. The first room with its bland white walls is hung with large framed digital prints. These mediated photographs depict one square kilometre of the ‘ancient earth’ of Jharkhand, the dark heartland of India, observed over five days as the carcass of a calf lies quietly decomposing. On the far wall is a larger print of the same landscape, photographed and then morphed into a dreamscape.
From here you enter a large, dark, vaulted space crowded with looming black metal ‘towers’ and huge squat black metal ‘boxes’. Mounted on wheels, yet unmoving. Shafts of light pierce the darkness. A rotating red light flashes on the floor. ‘Inchoate sounds floating in plangent music’ surround you. As you negotiate your way through the dimness, louvres or shutters or blinds slowly begin to open and close, revealing snatches of colour. ‘There are moving images: a raging fire; dense flowing water; a girl sleeping. There are banks of flowers: an intense, burning bluewhite; and deep red; and luminous gold. One tower [is] a narrow chamber lush with padded brocade and multiple layers of whispered voices we eavesdrop on. A squat metal box leaks smoke through narrow apertures, the only sign that something burns within. Crimson viscous liquid spills down the sides of one metal body . . . as black does another.’ Some of the tall metal towers are studded with little windows, partially open or latched shut, containing small digital prints of natural, organic textures and materials - body parts or flowers or soil.
You enter the third chamber. A square space, black. On all four sides, large screens on which ‘streams a restless flow of images and sound, interspersed with text. Flowing water, cries, the lights of a city at night, the wail of an infant, a woman alone, sirens and traffic sounds, stained walls and doors and windows, a female voice pleading, a placid pig wallowing in the filth and murk of its natural habitat, fragments of a diary . . .’ And throughout, the poignant, pliant tones of a sarangi.
You walk out into the bright light of the first chamber. A circular journey. We are back where we began.
Or are we?
The rest is interpretation. Translation. Hermeneutics.
- Anjum Katyal, Calcutta
All quotes in the text are from earlier unpublished pieces by myself.