The only things we perceive are our perceptions.
Robert Lanza, in his work on Biocentrism, a concept he developed around 2007, proposes Biology as a central science in understanding our universe and our part in it. One of seven principles in Biocentrism, speaks to the way we perceive reality as “a process that involves our consciousness.”1 Consciousness, this state of awareness and knowing at the literal cognitive level, has been at the core of human curiosity in explaining higher ideals - primarily through the most simple and yet elusive question - Who are we?
From Descartes, Locke and Lanza to the Upanishad’s, Consciousness is the aspect, a means so to speak, that is simultaneously form and nothingness. Lanza explains how in the Quantum world, “particles become something when observed and something else when not.”2
‘In The Garden’ brings together a new body of work by Sumakshi Singh that continues an exploration of similar ideas situated in the way we experience reality and consciousness in their varied relations within both the impalpable and observable worlds. Singh creates immersive mixed media installations using embroidered fabric and stop motion animation, layered lace drawings and paintings as possible axiomatic 'portals' that allow us to understand our physical body and its psychological and existential interdependence on cognitive limitations. In particular Singh focuses on the garden as one such gateway. The garden through history, mythology, pietism and philosophy has given us ways to understand our own inner literal and metaphysical truths. Singh uses the many forms of the garden, within the space of art, as a means of discovery for herself and her viewers.
The exploration of these ideas is not a new one for Singh. In earlier bodies of work like in her ‘Micro-Interventions’, the artist focuses on the microcosm as a way to open up something that is larger and vast in the scope of time and space. The movement of one’s body through the built space must twist and shift and suddenly, by way of perhaps conjecture or imagination, one’s entirety is transported to a different ‘dimension’ - the mind primarily, where you ‘imagine’ what must lie beyond or within these small gaps and crevices on the walls and floors. You enter this ‘dimension’ even though you’re not physically there. In it you shrink in a way that is not immediately perceptible, navigating it in your own way within a space-time hiccup. The ‘Micro-Interventions’ in and of themselves are not the actual piece. Instead the action/space between the works is what matters. Looking at the wall as much as the piece because you can’t make out the difference between the two becomes pertinent. Perception here could be intentional or accidental, so that the spaces in between rather than the things themselves hold the meaning. The transitions are the invisible threads where either other kinds of stories or no story at all has happened. It becomes the glue that holds things together. It’s the same with Time. The truth is never in the fact of the things.
Without consciousness, "matter" dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state.3
‘In The Garden’ comes from personal mythologies and experiences, constantly expanding and re-negotiating the questions Singh ponders. Having spent time in a particular garden in Dehradun, Singh experienced a certain kind of ‘shift’ - an experience of a particular kind of light and energy within the garden that was distinct from the chaos and circus of the world immediately outside it. The light in particular was relevant and saw the artist segue from the materiality of the ‘Micro - Interventions’ and towards exploring ways of capturing the particles that illuminated the trees, birds and plants. In that process, Singh transfers it into her own experiential space. A way to capture that light has been the primary idea within the new body of work. What is this light? And is it a way to transcend our limited perception of perception itself? Is it of this world?
In ‘Light Threads’, three large panels in raw silk have embroidered in them this garden. Singh uses stop motion animation as a means to access the metaphorical ‘flickering’ of light. This flicker, a concept rooted in the work of physicist Nassim Haramein, and his core ideology around phenomenon, is essential to the work. The layering of transient light across the fixed form of the thread re-iterates his theory - which is that all matter appears in its solidity by way of vibration and spin.4
The garden itself is loaded with symbolic references alluding to the relationship between our inner and outer selves. The Persians order their gardens in the form of mandalas, Hindu mythology talks of the Tree of Life that reflects the human anatomy by way of the spine (the trunk) and the brain (the branches). The garden is as much a site of spiritual conjoining as it is a reminder of Man’s failure of it as mythologized through Christianity’s Garden of Eden.
This aesthetic and conceptual use of the layer is seen in smaller framed embroidery work. Patterns of leaves and flowers are woven in like traces, incomplete and yet potent, on varied tones of delicate fabric. A couple of them are stretched taut, while others flow lucidly, all placed one behind the other, so that the forms coalesce depending on where you stand to view them. Singh again finds a discerning way to negotiate and explore the basic components rooted in the grander narrative of Consciousness, being proposed by biologists and physicists. What is fascinating is that both scientist and artist, be it Lanza, Haramein or Singh, are seeking to re-imagine that very question we started this essay with - the quintessential human need to know - the who, what, why and how of our very being.
The density of form in ‘Light Threads’ that comes from its conceptual underpinning belies the delicateness of embroidered silk while re-iterating that very aspect in this body of monochromatic lace work. From a life-size tree to fragile specimens of flora, Singh has created a vast lexicon with the acumen of a scientist and the reckless abandonment of an artist. Particularly she expands the idea of vibration and layering through the play of shadow - not as antithetical, instead as analogous to the way she considers light.
The fragile form of flora is simultaneously a meticulous process of archiving memory as seen in their display in Singh’s ‘lab’ (within glass vitrines or as singular framed specimens), as well as organic spontaneous appearances in the space. Singh therefore speaks to this idea of constantly being born anew; that we are being constantly “created”.
Making art is a means of discovery. A self that’s not known by the mind but is instead a part that is subtle enough to be aside/ hide from the mind and finds other ways to come out/leak out in behavior or art making. Behavior however is reaction. In art making its response and this response can be fine-tuned. The piece is therefore making you - both artist and viewer. The process is invisible and yet palpable.
Forms are an excuse in Singh’s practice. She is not attached to them. Rather they are incidental decoys. Throughout her oeuvre, the same work never gets created twice. Instead, the elements and the core philosophy remain the driving force, the primal motive. Her work, these forms, are a screen for her to project onto and refine something else that’s occurring for which time, space and our relationship to it and perception of it remains undetermined.
NotesRobert Lanza, Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, 2009
As quoted in Russell Brand’s Revolution, 2014
Robert Lanza, Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, 2009
Nassim Haramein, http://resonance.is/explore/nassim-haramein/, accessed Jan 20th 2016