Italo Calvino, writing about the impossible love of Lieutenant Fenimore for Ursula H’x , narrates the tale of the two protagonists falling endlessly through space. The solidity of earth is absent, there is no above or below, nor even any concept of time. The mise-en-scene in the short story is imaged as a perfect void.

To fall in the void as I fell…simple fell, indefinitely, for an indefinite length of time…Since there were no reference points, I had no idea whether my fall was fast or slow… there weren’t even any proofs that I was really falling: perhaps I had always remained immobile in the same place, or I was moving in an upward direction; since there was no above or below, these were only nominal questions and so I might just as well go on thinking I was falling, as I was naturally led to think.” [1]

Looking upon Tanmoy Samanta’s body of work, the viewer experiences a similar sense of dislocation. That which one thought familiar, objects that were recognised at once by their contours, are rendered incomprehensible; the form and function no longer conforming to the expectations of habit and memory. Tanmoy plays with ideas of learning, remembering and forgetting; the act of naming things, transforming objects and things into mnemonic devices that allow us to recall immediately their associative usage, and then cleverly subverting any easy meaning-making through the erasure of context and location.

Tanmoy uses fragile rice paper and gouache, materials that bear traces of their history in Santiniketan and in the work of Abanindranath Tagore. However, Tanmoy uses pigment instinctively and for its potential to render visual poetry. Working on more than one painting at a time, he creates layers of colour. One could view the compositions in terms of negative and positive spaces; areas that occupy and others that contain. However, every part of the image, these ‘backdrops’ as it were, are as integral a part of the imagery as the objects that are composed within them.

Tanmoy buys old keys that open no locks, locks that are no longer capable of securing anything, watches that keep no time, old books that have spent the knowledge contained in them, in flea markets and street shops in lost alleyways. These objects are transformed into motifs that appear often in his work. While it may be that Tanmoy attempts to evict ritualised meaning from objects, it is through the interplay of simultaneous remembering and forgetting that these images confound and seduce the viewer. Contradiction and confusion are used for their potential to generate a multitude of speculations. Titles are used as a tactic to assign meaning through identification; however identification that is at odds with what is expected of the image. For instance, ‘Man Holding Void’ guides us into seeing a sitting figure in the green shape holding something. But it is the same title that confounds us; who is this creature from whose neck the matter of a brain sprouts; why is this egg-shaped void being held while the other ‘hand’ holds a line? The titles may refer to the past of the moment which we see in Tanmoy’s paintings, but for the viewer the present image becomes the story. Time and space collapse in the absence of a defined location and in the presence of these purposefully amorphous creatures.

Tanmoy recalls the remains of a fighter plane that had crashed on the seashore of his hometown; in ‘Still Life’ it is contained within a cabinet that also houses what could be a miniaturised industrial building or a fragment of an undecipherable implement. In ‘A Chair for Nobody’, the velvety red seat is occupied by nothing; no-thing-- an amorphous, translucent, void that is visible in the worlds that Tanmoy posits. This notion of the shape and volume of a void underlies much of his work, in which objects are rendered as volume, rather than as things to be used in the same way each time. The shape of furniture designed by Rabindranath Tagore also makes its way into the imagery, but reduced to a mere shape. The shape of the volume that it delineates, of the colour it holds within as well as the volume that it defines as surrounding it. Tanmoy vacates his objects and his method of history.

Tanmoy’s new body of work includes three-dimensional books. He uses old books gluing the pages together, layering it with rice paper, excavating shapes out of the paper, adding objects until the final object is a book only in that the covers are opened to reveal another universe held within them. ‘Cartographer’s Paradox-I and II’ speak of Tanmoy’s love of reading travelogues and his fascination with maps. He recalls hours spent poring over travel accounts, maps and globes, tracing countries and continents, wondering what the smells and tastes of each place would be like. In Cartographer’s Paradox-I, all the continents are brought together, an amalgam of Gondwana and Laurasia, a reimagining of Pangaea. The lines dividing continents and countries are rendered invisible. Tanmoy sees himself as a mapmaker, one who makes map without lines and borders. How does a cartographer make a map in flux, a map that is flexible, one in which the shapes of continents morph and move, much like clouds and their shadows that fall upon an unstable earth? Tanmoy proposes the paradox of a map that does not behave, a map that does not perform its assumed function.

‘Timekeeper’s Manual’ and ‘The Time Hive’ similarly celebrate the contradiction inherent in concepts of time and space, and the tools that are constructed to create frameworks through which we can make sense of our spatial and temporal universes. No longer being marked into hours, minutes and seconds is time standing still, waiting for the static dials to start moving again?

“It wasn’t clear whether there were a number of universes scattered through space or whether it is was always the same universe we kept passing, revolving in a mysterious trajectory, or whether there was no universe at all and what we thought we saw was the mirage of a universe which perhaps had once existed and whose image continued to rebound from the walls of space like the rebounding of an echo.”


[1] Italo Calvino, ‘The Form of Space’, Cosmicomics, 1965 From the exhibition catalogue published by Gallery Espace (2013).
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