Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin, 2011
Storeys End seems a culmination of Sreshta Rit Premnath’s engagement with the Viennese philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who undoubtedly acts as a kind of muse for the artist. Like Wittgenstein, Premnath relishes philosophical, linguistic, and cultural aporia. In Storeys End, named after the address where Wittgenstein composed his posthumous text, On Certainty, and died shortly thereafter, the viewer is presented with a detective plot redolent with post-modernist obsessions.
Minimalism, Pop, and Conceptual Art offer Premnath an art historical language game, like so many of his generation who have returned to the “scene of the crime” of their parent and grandparent generations. But this game cum crime story also takes place between multiple media, which include photography, sculpture (the partial reconstruction of a kite designed by Wittgenstein in 1909), and painting.
Visual puns occur between objects, such as the five inkjet prints of detective fiction writer Norbert Davis firing a gun at a target out-of-frame (Toners, Dyes). The bullet hole seems to appear on an adjacent wall, as a hole cut-out of canvas (Eclipse). Similarly, the titles of many of the works play on the relationship between death and narrative (Storeys End; Toners, Dyes; Doyen’s Rest), a relationship defining of modern philosophy, art, and literature (think of Gertrude Stein’s comments about the structural importance of the corpse in her Everybody’s Autobiography; think also of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and L’Aventura, in which the plots revolve around a corpse or missing person). The corpse of Storeys End, as in the detective novel, provides a pivot or absent center around which individual works interact, becoming visually and linguistically slippery—polysemous and indeterminate.
Premnath’s works allegorize the indeterminacy of cognitive-perceptive processes wherein, following Wittgenstein well-know quip, the ethical becomes embodied by the aesthetic. The process of bleaching and scraping off photographic emulsion in EX / X represents a non-site (or non-sight?) where the viewer’s perception becomes negated (X-ed out). Likewise, the greenscreen to bluescreen gradient of Toners, Dyes indicates an absent presence, while the Ellsworth Kelly-like blue canvas of Eclipse evokes the nowhere of Bluescreen video technology (wherein one’s image can become superimposed upon any place whatsoever). As in many of his works, in Storeys End Premnath develops a language of displacement and difficulty in relation to existing cultural materials—detective novels, philosophical treatises, historically significant photo-documents, and art historical precedents.
Premnath’s installation pushes against the limits of a particular universe of meaning, the work of art measuring the limits of a world—the personal and collective capability to understand in situ through a set of linguistic and visual propositions. By entering into the work, the viewer encounters the artifacts of the artist’s research practice, which move seamlessly between philosophical speculation and humor. In the narrative tension of these objects, stories actually begin rather than end. Objects mark the mobile traces of our compulsion to make meaning faced with negation, absence, aporia, and gaps within signifying processes.
–Sreshta Rit Premnath
Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death.
If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.
Our life has no end in just the way our visual field has no limits.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.4311
To say “these are the limits of our understanding” is different from saying “Our understanding is limited.” The first statement is a paradox that assumes knowledge of the limits of what is known. To know a limit is to see a boundary and its outside.
But to say “My knowledge is limited” is to take an ethical position. To drench every assertion in uncertainty is to allow space for the unknown – to assume that my knowledge is another’s outside but that I can never see its edge. I must therefore assume it is anywhere, and as such it is everywhere. Let us not imagine the relation between the known and unknown as a circumference and its surroundings. Nor even must we imagine multiple intersecting circles of exclusive selfhood – a body at each center. Rather we must imagine a vast land receding in every direction beyond the horizon. The shifting shadows cast by the objects inhabiting this infinite land constitute a nether world (another world). Picking up a rock to look below it does reveal something new, but it also changes the orientation of its shadow, casting it elsewhere.
The story’s end – death – infuses every moment of life.
To be born is a miracle, to die is an eventuality.
There is no afterlife after death, this is our afterlife and it goes by the name of life.
Meaning is produced from the anxiety of meaninglessness.
But the cynics who think they can decide not to produce meaning are making an analytical mistake. By assuming a knowledge of the limits of their knowledge they begin reifying their lack of knowledge through empty cycles of repetition, a dog chasing its tail.
A cynic is a true believer who thinks the world is an inventory of facts and that these facts negate each other, and that negation results in nothingness.
For the cynic life is not saturated in death, rather, it is death. Rock + Shadow = Rock + Not Rock = Rock – Rock = 0.
The cynic is the living dead, a zombie.
Indeed, Rock + Not Rock = Not Rock + Rock (a tautology).
Cancellation is impossible.
Negation is the full name of a thing. Like an eclipse it is both, it is all, but it can only see one side of its reality. The other side is blindness.
Bluescreens and Greenscreens occupy a space that is not-body. They are stand-ins, temporary backdrops, only to be replaced by landscapes, maps, the weather. They are empty brackets (context in quotation marks). They situate a non-place that can transform into any place. A zero with infinite potential. To point at a Greenscreen and say “this,” is to give body to a void. It is to preempt an image where there is none.
To point at an eclipse, the light glow around a celestial black sphere and to say that is the sun; or that is the moon hiding the sun and the glow around the black moon is the trace of the sun, its aura, its absence, not-sun.
Every specter conjures a body in absentia.
Darkness envelopes light and light defines shadow.
The eclipse is simultaneously a figure of negation and a metaphor of negation.
The Greenscreen is both the empty brackets and its content.
Zero is a concept, a mere metaphor for nothing.
To extract the toner from an image, to separate it into its constituent colors – CMYK, RGB – reveals nothing about about the image. To scrape the emulsion from a photograph has nothing to do with finding the true nature of the image on its surface. The image exceeds the surface of the photograph and yet the image requires a substrate upon which to lie.
A mystery begins with a corpse.
The individual, becomes victim, becomes cadaver and the body is reduced to a repository of clues. Its archive of traces marks out a territory of intentions. To extract a reason for death is to study every detail of life. To turn narrative back, the bullet retreating into the gun, the killer turning – two days ago, a lifetime ago – perhaps they were friends.
Time hinges on the moment of death – everything before is evidence, everything after is solution. But as death soaks every instance of existence each moment calls up its own archive. A pregnant expectation culling memories, reordering narrative. Each moment until the final moment when the collapsing body releases pure intention – a pure past with no future.
But even this finite arc is subdivided into an infinite sequence, as Zeno said, X = 1/2X + 1/4X + 1/8X + 1/16X + 1/32 X… and so on, leading up to the impossible zero, indefinitely postponed, a concept, pure intention.