The Laughter of Tears | 2021

Solo Exhibition at Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany 

When we are in the sonic range of the flightpaths of a flock of birds returning to a roosting site, we become intimate with their together-ness. When people are awestruck by wonder, or tickled into laughter, or moved to tears, they momentarily transmit to each other before, between, and beyond language. Such transmissions need no translation to be contagious. They glow, lit from within. A patchwork of shared fabric and feeling offers the outline of customary forms of illumination but fleeting epiphanies and crowded memories extend this patchwork to a flow between celebration and mourning. Within this coloured glow it is possible to admit that tears are now also extra-human. This illuminated suspension equally shelters and shadows a dissenter’s disobedience, parsed by the sovereign through accusations and bail orders, producing a halfway-life in limbo between coercion, surrender, defiance, and heresy.


An owl and a donkey interpolate themselves, indicating the simultaneity of leaving and returning. Tyll of Braunschweig teaches us the trick of being on both sides of a mirror at once, reflected and reflecting, and Nasreddin of Aksehir shows us how to face the future riding backwards on a gentle, fearless donkey. Disappearing ephemera, history unmade or in the making, the scene that unfolds in the corner of the eye: all these matter. And notes taken of pictures that whisper and speak in tongues can move us to tears sometimes. Meanwhile, humor is yet another beast in a bestiary.
A Gathering of Birds, Audio loop (3 Speakers):
In the sonic range of the flight-path of a gathering of birds, we momentarily transmit to each other. We surpass contours of containment, and need no translation to be contagious.
Ferment, Readymade canopy, embroidery (450 x 450 cm) 
Starlings speak in tongues. Starlings fall silent when guns start to speak. Starlings and their murmurations show up on radar, get told as the ghosts of the dead soldiers making their way home.
 – (extract from the spoken text of “Not Yet At Ease”, installation, 2018)
If the big, open sky is a canopy for the tumult of birds and angels, then under which roof does the flight of the ferment of our times soar?
Tent cities spring from the streets and in squares like so many umbrellas of refuge and rebellion. This can be a way to re-read the history of all cities. The ferment spreads. The tent becomes a stage, a school, a library, a playground, a feast, a salon, a rite of passage, and an embrace of ferments, a gathering of gatherings.

Ferment (shatter), Readymade canopy, silkscreen (450 x 450 cm)
A constitutional court in the heartland hears a proceeding against a comedian who hasn’t yet opened his mouth. Now you can be tried not for telling a joke, but merely, speculatively, for intending to do so. 
-(from a conversation on a news report held at home, 2020)
The sovereign, and its company, barks and marches into the ferment. Even silence is parsed through accusations, and arrests are made to push thought and people into a halfway-life. Ferment (shatter) lingers between coercion, surrender, heresy and defiance. 

Ferment (splinter), Readymade canopy, silkscreen (450 x 450 cm)
Life continuously contests its own memory work…
-(from ‘The Double Act of Flower Time’, essay, 2020)

A photograph of a children’s fancy dress party turns up. “Look at what I just found in an old photo album!” In the photograph stands a smiling Tyll – medieval jester, survivor of the thirty years war – surviving into a photograph, channeled by a twentieth century child in a double pointed fool’s cap, standing hand in hand between a Ladybug and a Cowboy, like an unexpected burst of laughter or a conjuror’s trick. -(from a private whatsapp exchange, 2021)

Ferment (splendour), Two Readymade canopies, embroidery (450 x 450 cm), Silk Fabric, embroidery (240 x 360 cm)
Ferment (splendour) is incandescent with its own glow. Within this splendour it is possible to admit to tears, and that tears are now also extra-human.

The Coarse Fabric of Being Human | 22 hand-tufted carpets 61 × 76 cm each:
There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. Standing on the square – we are seeing each other again for the first time. 

We saw each other, again, for the first time in Manesar
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Sidi Bouzid
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Tahrir
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Syntagma
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Zucotti Park
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Taksim Square,
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Alexanderplatz.
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Shaheen Bagh.
We saw each other, again, for the first time in Singhu Border.
We saw each other, again, for the first time.
-(Modified version of spoken text in “The Last International”, performance, 2013)

The only actually shared sensation is the present continuous tense. It reconstitutes, everyday, the coarse fabric of being human, rearranging the atoms of collective experience. Fleeting epiphanies crowd, asking – like auguries – to be read.

Chromachron | Paint, pantone colors of the years 2020 and 2021:

… every human, and every living being is a temporary defeat of the second law of thermodynamics, which would ordinarily have the universe, and all matter in it, fritter itself away perennially towards chaos as time passes. But the accident, or blueprint, of life, while it lasts, is a feature of biology outsmarting physics, one infinitesimal life at a time. We are as ephemeral and as strong as a thread in a spider’s web; gone in a breath, yet capable of enduring a storm. Everything else is ordinary. – (from “As if By Design”, essay, 2016)

Unexpected arrivals (of a virus in one year) and departures (of a species in another) transform the colour of time. Each year gets a colour signature: a chromachron. And a room gets filled with the colors of the years through which its walls stand, waiting. It becomes a roomful of time, in neutral shades, or in camouflage. 
Comic Contempt | Seven découpe text on leather, etching on acrylic (40 x 68cm each):

To: me
Cc: All
A chicken farm bites the edge of a forest. 
A factory worker buys duck soup. 
A nurse falls asleep after three continuous shifts. 
An elephant gets lost in a village. 
A pregnant migrant feels feverish. 
One gram of an un-living thing multiplies across thousands of bodies. 
-(from the text of the handwritten film, “31 Days”, 2020)

As time refracts, its shatter illuminates differing strands. A comic’s contempt, her whisper of laughter, threatens the consensus. The sovereign clocks itself at every chuckle that diminishes its force field. Bail conditions set narrow perimeters, and life is forced into constraints. Laughter remains a dangerous terrain.
The Sovereign, and its Company | Velvet, silkscreen (150 x 300 cm) & Wallpaper (560 x 375 cm):

A farmers’ vigil grows at the gate of the capital city. The vigil is cordoned off by the digging up of the highway and metal spikes are staked to impede movement. The farmers respond by planting flowers between the spikes. Shoots, leaves, blossoms appear. -(from the recounting of an eye-witness account, 2021)

The historical glory and moral authority of the sovereign, and its company, keeps melting away. Haunted by it’s own past, it deliquesces into shadowy incoherence. 

Do Harmonious Friends cause dissonance? | Blackboard paint, newspaper, chalk, text, silkscreen, glass eyes, six frames of 55 x 70 cm each:

Iridescent, incandescent artifacts of sleeplessness, unruly squiggles and short pyrotechnic bursts of color, ghosts of blood clots, memories and premonitions of optical tantrums – all rise behind each attempt at shuteye. If we are not asleep, we cannot call this dreaming. If we are not awake, we cannot call it reality.
(from “When Proust catches the glare”, film, 2021)

An owl and a donkey interpolate themselves, indicating the simultaneity of leaving and returning. Tyll of Braunschweig teaches us the trick of being on both sides of a mirror at once, and Nasreddin of Akşehir shows us how to face the future riding backwards on a gentle, fearless donkey. 

Time to pause. Time to ask, ‘Do harmonious friends cause dissonance?’ There is perhaps a new Jataka tale here to be read into the future. Let us wait for it.
The Ghost is Here Again, 2014 | Video wallpaper:

The ghost is here again.
To be neither witness, nor agent, not even provocateur, to be perhaps just a haunting laugh through time. To bundle sentience and turn on the electric wavelengths of interconnected metabolic surges coursing through the shared inhabitation of a wet planet wandering through a big, crowded sky: That is what the surge is.

Click here to watch the full video  (email us on studio@raqsmediacollective.net to request access)

Tears (are not only from weeping) | Video loop, LED panel:

Tears are not only for weeping, they lubricate the possibility of vision. Sometimes we see things better when we cry, cry out aloud, or laugh, till the tears come unbidden. 


Bestiary, 2021| Paper, digital drawings, photographic colour print, gold embossing (40 prints of 33 x 46 cm each):

A New Jataka Tale:
A Sumatran Rhinoceros, a Splendid Poison Frog, a Golden Bamboo Lemur loudly argue on the way to extinction. “Which form of life will persist”, they ask, “outlasting all others?” “How many will persist as ghosts in the textbooks of zoology?” 
The Homo Sapiens, out-of-turn, says that only he can claim the future. At this, the splendid frog, with no poison to dispense, retreats into shadow. The golden lemur, barely clinging to existence, chooses silence. Only the formerly magnificent rhinoceros, legendary for her patience speaks up.
“Nothing persists, friends, if it is not remembered. Dear biped, we are still in your remembered bestiary, and in your library. So we live, after a fashion, in your memory. But once you are done with us, what will be left for you to live with, and live on? And once you depart, who will remember you? The cockroaches, they do not like archives!” 

She attained Buddha-hood.
Three Shadows, 2018 | Video, loop:

We are now eating time, and time is eating us. We are eating the time that is eating us. And that is the news. It works on species at a rate much faster than evolution can cope with. Looking at the fossil record, we get a sense of what that natural extinction rate might be. And it works out to about one species per every one million species per year. Conservative estimates account for the existence of eight million species on the planet right now. Of which, about fifteen thousand are currently threatened. The accelerating extinction of life, particularly in the last hundred years, purely as a result of the presence of one species, that is, us, adds up to a rate of extinction that can vary between one thousand and ten thousand times what it would be if natural processes were to play out unhindered. 
(From ‘Artists in Presidents’ address, Speech, 2021)
But this is neither the beginning, nor the middle, nor the end of a story. 

We need some protection away from self-harm. Three shadows (of care, rage, and indifference) hover between occurrence and oblivion, not yet at ease. 
Not Yet at Ease, 2018 | Architectural forms 305 x 270 x 12 cm and Three Shadows, 2018 | Video, loop
The Blood of Stars 2017 | Film, 13 mins and Intimate Intimidation 2021 | Readymade canopy, biohazard signage and salt (240 x 240 cm)

‘All the other men’s letters say that this year famine has befallen.’ ‘If I come alive, when I come back to India, I will rehearse to you the whole story, from beginning to end. Like a book of the Arabian Nights.’
‘I cannot walk. I am taking nothing but a picture back to India.’
(Extracts from letters by Indian soldiers in the battlefields of Europe during the First World War intercepted by the Chief Censor of Indian Military Correspondence. ‘Not Yet At Ease’, archival trace in installation, 2018)

“Many of the men show a tendency to break into poetry which I am inclined to regard as a rather ominous sign of mental disquietude.”
(Taken from the January 1915 Report of Evelyn Berkeley Howell, Chief Censor of Indian Military Correspondence in France [Howell, 23 January 1915; Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, 1914–1915; Military Department Papers, Asia and Africa Collection, British Library, L/MIL/5/825, Part 1]. ‘Not Yet At Ease’, archival trace in installation, 2018)

There is a hint of extinction here, and the possibility of survival. Once unearthed, we turn into the exuberant regularity of a surge in the biome. We share the blood of stars. And extinction stands deferred, at least momentarily. But every willful misstep, every greedy grab, is an intimate intimidation to our own longer future. How do we stay together, in care of each other, when the fold of our collectivity is augured under the mark of contamination?

Click here to watch the full video (email us on studio@raqsmediacollective.net to request access)

Intimate Intimidation 2021 | Readymade canopy, biohazard signage and salt (240 x 240 cm)
“31 Days”, 2020 | Video, 17:45 mins
Ringing, 2017 | Video loop
Reindeer, 2017 | Video loop


Saara loha un logon ka
Apni keval dhaar
All the iron for them to mine
The razor’s edge alone is mine
-(Poem by Arun Kamal, recited in “The Blood of Stars”, film, 2017)

A ringing interrupts everything. A reindeer looks for its herd. A herd looks for a path. A path looks for the world to come walking.
Sometimes it takes just 31 days for the world to lose its way, or find a path through time. This time – of the now, of the dilated present – must be able to see us all together.

As jester and jest
As teller, as told
Of dreams and fears
In laughter and tears

This is how traditions of laughter and irreverence survive. 
This is how survival, survives. By passing through time like a cypher.
 
Humour is merely another beast in a bestiary. 

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