Time and place intersect in the work of Jayashree Chakravarty’s new work - a series of paintings and painted constructions that are covered with ambiguous, poetic imagery that teem with details and particularities but constantly gesture towards change and passing of time. The literature around her work often locates her referencing of time as something located in the past - whether through her use of personal memories or through her referencing of mythology. This is certainly a key component of Chakravarty’s work and she has talked on a number of occasions of the importance of particular images that she has drawn from personal experiences and memories - for example she has stated: “I tap into memories and dreams as the source of imagery. Memory world brings something towards me, and I try to understand why that particular thing.”
However, in her new body of work, I would suggest that Chakravarty is not only looking backwards; in response to the quickening changes in the physical environment around her, Chakravarty is also looking forwards. She has described the changes she has witnessed in the area of Salt Lake City in Kolkata where she lives, an area developed from the late 1950’s on a swampy stretch of land at the eastern edge of the main city: “We capture natural space and then we conquer space, and then we build houses. They start of as small structures and then they become a forest of bricks and mortar. Within that we create parks and comfortable zones and in those we perform our daily exercises.” If earlier works by Chakravarty suggest that our being in the world is the result of a steady accumulation of memories and past events, then this body of work takes this further to explore how the past and the present combine into what we are in the cusp of becoming, and also where that ‘becoming’ takes place and how that in turn changes.
Geography has also played an important role in Chakravarty’s oeuvre to date. Semi-rendered townscapes and buildings are overlaid with imagery that seem culled from maps, jostling with other imagery drawn from botanical and zoological sources. The combination of the geographical with organic change might suggest the process of entropy - a term co-opted from scientific discourse by the American Land artist Robert Smithson to conceptualise what he saw as the degradation of matter and energy in order to conceptualise an ultimate state of inertness. However in this body of work Chakravarty articulates a much more dramatic form of destruction than Smithson’s notion of gradual dispersal. When talking about her recent body of work Chakravarty recalls a tornado that took hold in autumn of 2008 that “swallowed almost everything”. In her work the tornado appears as a central motif in as concentric white rings that contain a mass of densely worked black and white lines. Within it are what seems the outlines of buildings and houses picked up and tossed carelessly to destruction. Insects fly around the tornado, as big as the buildings being destroyed by the whirlwind; order has been dramatically inverted.
The outsize bodies of the insects suggests some sort of monstrous prehistoric return of creatures that once roamed the world; after all, 300 million years ago, dragonflies could grow to the size of hawks and bugs reached six foot in length (it has been postulated that this gigantism was linked to higher concentration of oxygen in the air. This body of works then, seemingly point forward to a future where natural disaster reverts the current order throwing up returns of the past. And yet paradoxically, ignoring the subject matter, these works are not apocalyptical in any sort of formal sense; the wings of the giant insects are rendered rather intricately and beautifully, the buildings tossed up in the sky are delicate outlines, the whirlwind sometimes disseminates into gentle spirals. Step backwards away from the details of the works and they become visually pleasing abstract forms. Yet if seemingly destructive transformation is not a malign force, what exactly is going on?
To try and answer this it is worth re-focussing on the generative force of metamorphosis. Chakravarty’s description of the changes in Salt Lake City are not necessarily negative; after the development takes place, inhabitants then crate parks and then take exercise. Perverse pes - to take nature, develop it, and add a designated piece of man-made ‘nature’ into it in the form of a park and take exercise on it - but not necessarily negative. Instead it’s worth bearing in mind an earlier statement by Chakravarty; “Transformation is the nature of the universe, from a house full of family and friends, to my neighbourhood, to the global village, to a global map, then a universal map.” Chakravarty conceptualises transformation as spatial and temporal - with the click of a mouse on an internet map you zoom away from the particularities of a local situation to something more indistinct and distant; moment zooms out to an eternity. The scale of Chakravarty’s works are worth thinking about here; the works range upwards to huge canvases and large constructions yet imagery is densely woven on surfaces - a constant push and pull for the viewer towards the surface of the works to understand them, but away from the works in order to take the works as whole in completely.
The surfaces of Chakravarty’s works seem themselves in a permanent state of flux, through the intricate layering of lines and imagery in order to produce what might be described as a state of contingency. We are looking at a static image, but one that seems to blur and fade, zoom in and out, where half rendered images appear and disappear into the surface. The very locality of where we live and work is never still, changing every moment, leaving constant palimpsests of what’s been left behind, constantly gesturing towards the future. It is worth drawing on Jacques Lacan’s now well-known formulation from the Ecrits of the process of subjectivity that is always in flux: “What is realized in my history is not the past definite of what was, since it is no more, or even the present perfect of what has been in what I am but the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.” Lacan’s formulation articulates an ongoing process that can only be understood retrospectively at some point in the future. It neatly dovetails with Chakravarty’s use of memory, stories and myth in her construction of an artistic subjectivity but it is also a way of understanding her treatment of place, which like identity, is also in the process of becoming something that can only be understood when considered retrospectively in the future. It is within this intersection of subjectivity and place, both in an ongoing state of flux, both of which will only be able to fully understood at some unspecified point in the near distant future, that Chakravarty’s current practice lies.