by Akhila Seetharaman
July 05 2013
Photo by Selvaprakash L
Sreshta Rit Premnath’s art is dense with cues, both visual and verbal, finds Time Out
It all began with a phrase, “let sleeping dogs lie” and so, on a walk home late one night in Sanjay Nagar, artist Sreshta Rit Premnath found himself filming sleeping dogs. At the time, Premnath was engaged in another project. One that took as its point of departure the late industrialist MS Ramaiah’s belief that he could defy death by constant construction. “I didn’t know what to do with them but there was something about them that interested me,” said Premnath, who lives in New York city but returns to Bangalore, the city he grew up in, intermittently. The videos of dogs didn’t make it to the exhibition titled The Last Image held in Chicago in 2012 but they stayed with him nevertheless.
Premnath found himself pondering the fact that Ramaiah had thought of building as his activity when in fact labourers were doing the building. “In the imagery of development, whose labour is symbolically subsumed and by whom? How do we, the citizens – who think of Bangalore as developing, as opposed to the people building the city – make the body of the labourer disappear?” asked Premnath. He hadn’t forgotten the sleeping dogs either, which to him were potent images. “They have no claim, no space, except for the space they occupy in the moment. The moment is both peaceful and full of threat. Anybody can throw a rock any time.” Mesmerising videos of the dogs occupying just the space taken up by their bodies are part of his latest show, titled Plot, that opens at GALLERYSKE this fortnight.Premnath’s creative process usually begins with a word or title and proceeds with both the words and the work unravelling simultaneously, informing each other along the way. “For me the word ‘plot’ has different registers of meaning. It’s a plot of land you build on or private property, plot or a narrative, but also the plot as the body, as in the case of the sleeping dog. And finally, the plot where one is buried or burnt. Everything is reduced to the boundary of the body.”
In his previous show, Folding Rulers, held at the Contemporary Arts Museum in St Louis last year, Premnath used images of sandboxes to depict shifting forms of portraits, reminiscent of fallen dictators in the Middle East. “The sandbox and measuring rulers leaves traces, almost like memories,” said Premnath, a quality that led him to employ sandboxes again in Plot, but this time in 6ft-long boxes resembling coffins. Rulers leave markings on the sand – traces, measurements, indicating experience and the absence of what was once there.Premnath’s works are a result of the commingling of three distinct threads of interest. Preceding everything for him is the question of his own political position in the world, as an artist and as a human being. Then follows the question of form, how an image is made and the history of image-making. As an undergraduate art student in the US in the early 2000s, Premnath found himself questioning the hegemony of a western art history, a line of inquiry that led him to question everything including canvas and oil paints. “Everything felt like a political decision because I was identifying with a certain history of making,” he said. He deliberately chose non-art materials such as soap, spices and pages torn from an atlas, a practice he continues. His new show uses flex, a material used on advertising billboards. Premnath’s work is built on a philosophical line of questioning triggered by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s analytical forays into language and experience. In his book Remarks on Colour, Wittgenstein asks whether there’s a point at which the colour red becomes orange, or orange becomes yellow, or whether this happens only in moments of relationship. “The word and the concept aren’t separate. You can’t even say that you have a perception and then you try and find a concept for it because it happens simultaneously and always in relation to other things,” said Premnath, who tries to think about other concepts like absence or freedom in the same way. “For me the idea of absence in the case of death, for instance, feels more like a moment in a series, rather than a finality.”
Premnath’s solo show opens at GALLERYSKE on Sat July 13.