Gayatri Sinha: On my way here I was thinking that everything that you do is about balance. A lot of the sculptures for instance, or the work you’ve done earlier was about retrieval, the found, the old, the rejected by time, the dentures, the body parts, the skeletons…and even if the work didn’t have it you very often gave it the patina of age. Whereas the bindis, the newer works were all about freshness, the sensuality of felt-like surfaces, cutting, shaping, making and the promise of a new kind of growth. This seems like a binary, or perhaps, of seeking an area of balance between the works. The retrieval of the lost, the abandoned, and here the presentation of belief in something so, positive, new or idealistic.
Bharti Kher: Yes, I think I am constantly trying to establish a balance, if I am going to make something that’s difficult to express then I will look specifically for the right type of material. These materials have different properties and alchemies. The bindis are a new language so can be fresh and even innocent. And the “foils “if you want to call them so, are the sculptures that carry with them the history of human maelstrom. To arrive at this kind of gut-led emotion/image you wish to achieve/make, the material has to be fresh. So if you go for the “obvious”, somehow you must not be surprised to find yourself in a certain place that you had no intention of arriving at.
GS: Which is what you want?
BK: Which is always what I want.
GS: The surprise in the act of making?
BK: The surprise in the act of arriving or even thinking about something, just turning it around. So, I think the idea and the art is amongst other things the transformation of the material, so that the material does what it is not supposed to do; which is why you’ll see that thing about balance in my work. I present you objects that should be falling over when they are not, I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make something stand up when actually it should be falling over. And I think part of that is magic and alchemy. It’s also perhaps a little bit about power, to hold something that shouldn’t perhaps be held. This is an act of making and an act of folly.
GS: To challenge expectation…
BK: Yeah, to then look at all the things that you perhaps don’t know. I still find it extraordinary that the world just goes round. You know if you actually think about it, it’s kind of abstract that we actually go round all the time and the only thing keeping us here specifically is the gravitational force otherwise we could be flying off into dark matter. So there is this idea of the visually ridiculous, the magical, and then physics and,-the fact that something should fall over, fall out, fall off. There is this connection between what we see and what actually happens in our mind and how we manifest truth or faith. You know magicians, they’re not actually making connections with the unreal, and their magic is not real per se. I mean somebody like Houdini was the antithesis of his trade towards the end of his life, because he went into a space of physicality and mental maths, saying actually what I do is I’m playing visual tricks on you. This is not magic! He was an illusionist and that body allows you to dream and believe and the universe of this is within you and not outside of you. There was a whole generation of people who wanted to believe that he could move an elephant, because I think the idea with us human beings is that we want something that is bigger than us. I’m sure he never believed in god either. But the contradiction of us is that we so want what’s not real and to know the things we cannot hold. Love, desire, life, process, decay, time…
GS: Which is why we turn to art?
BK: Yeah, we want someone to tell us something about the truth, because we want to know that one fundamental truth that perhaps keeps us all here together, asking the same questions. Everybody, including me, wants to know something through art. So, when I make the work, I think that’s what I’m trying to do as well. I’m trying to know something, I’m trying to know the material, I’m trying to push the volume. Of course, I’m also very formal because of my background and training…I’m thinking about volume, I’m thinking about substance, I’m thinking about how my eye is moving, I’m thinking about the imperfect triangle. I’m dealing with composition, colour and form. How do I put two different materials together perhaps that instinctively don’t want to work together right now, how do you create a softness of concrete, how do you make wood look harder than the stand like you see in the balance pieces. Why is it now that the concrete looks soft and the hammer looks hard, where actually the materials say the opposite? How artists carved marble to fall like fabric is not the same thing in the Renaissance. We now push the wrong as well as the right. So, how can you make material be contradictory, like we are, emotionally and physically? I’m so contradictory, you’ll interview me today and tomorrow I’ll say completely the opposite things because it depends on the circumstances of the interview. And after all that, I want the work to tell me something that I didn’t know before.
GS: These words that you have been using about balance, truth and the unexpected is this what art is supposed to do, is it kind of deliverance from monotony, from the boredom of expectation? Does art then occupy a space which is outside religion and outside magic, is it a kind of third space where this possibility for invention, newness, freshness can be invested in. I’m thinking of Dali for instance.
BK: I think of a lot of artists, me I don’t know…I believe that all the art exists on another axis.
GS: Which is not what?
BK: Which is not your third or fourth or even fifth dimension… it’s like a sixth dimension. It’s all of them together; it’s about mixing it up. So, art’s not really about grand theories, it’s more like faltering little insights that we fall over or trip over and for us to have these extraordinary expectations from it actually talks more about us than the question. Because when I make art I’m not looking for truth, I’m asking many questions. My work is not only about me, my, mine...that would be so dull. Authors don’t write only about their own experiences. We are in some way sponges. I hear you…I feel you when you walk through my door, I feel people who visit and who I see and see me, I try to understand what my girlfriends do in their lives, I try to understand what my friends are like if I know them and if I choose to watch them because that’s what you do… I suppose as an artist, you watch people. I don’t think we’re looking for truth, I’m certainly not.
GS: It’s also a reflection of the times really…beauty, truth are questions for an earlier time when there was this grand intention.
BK: Also now, when everything is so uncertain then why are we looking forabsolutes?Dowereallyhaveto create this idea of the absolute anything? Because I really don’t think there is one. I mean I think the linear trajectory is only one line in the criss crossing and scribbling we leave behind as marks of our lives.
GS: You said that when you walk into the door, I feel you. I read an interview on my way here where you were talking about the sensorium, say the application of bindis which is an anticipation of another kind; it is almost like a skin. This sense of what the materiality of art can do, I think that is quite particular to your practice Bharti and it seems that you are really walking in that way and you are doing it in a way which is not an obvious kind of thing; it’s not a polemical part of your practice. But this marrying together of say concrete, wax and a photograph on one particular piece of work and the challenge that represents in terms of the reception, the expectation. How fraught is it to see a photograph embedded in this womb like, unfinished piece of wax which through the mould has three or four layers of colour and accretions, so there may be three or four skins around it. How has it been coming to you over a period of time, it seems to be very particular to the kind of practice you are engaging with now.
BK: I think that these works have been coming out of the studio for about a year and a half...covering and building up slowly as surface and layer after layer of accruement.
GS: Earlier, the sculpture there would be say a trident and a broom; those seemed like more separate categories coming together. Here the shifts or the distance between materials and their usage are more delicate. The distance between the accretions of materials has become more subtle.
BK: They’re fairly minimal as well, I think. I think that it’s the experience that its due to. I don’t need the noise, I don’t need as much noise. There is also less noise in my head now than there was when I was making the works where there was a lot. I think, in some ways you see there is a concealed reflection and there is a very strong sense that you only see what it is that you’re able to see or what I wish to reveal to you. You know, I think I have said it all. The works are quiet now. They are more simple.
GS: There are also read less symbolic in a certain sense. They are more formally realised. They seem to belong to another trajectory of art history than the sculptures of the women pieces did.
BK: There is an easier sense of abstraction. And I think, there is a part of me which is also doing this work that you are seeing here and then there’s these drawing/collages which are in the Freud Museum, which are also the part of the frenetic brain, which won’t be ignored. There is a part of me that can’t actually leave - the chattering monkey... which is what I call it. It’s that part of your brain that you actually are supposed probably to let go of, I personally need to befriend it more. But you also let it do its thing. Because, it’s also very creative. So I hold on to it: my devil and bad.
GS: Yes, maybe. I don’t know.
BK: It’s creative..trust me! These Freud collage pieces are very new for me. I mean new in a sense that they are what I have produced, these past six months. The balance pieces came out maybe last year as ideas and works in progress that sit around the studio.
GS: Do you think that these are an offshoot of what you are doing with the Impossible Triangle work that you showed in Kochi, which was about fragility and balance? That will respond to movements of air...
BK: Yes, absolutely. Impossible Triangle and then of course Three Decimal Points, the triangles and the kinetic pieces which were also about balance. I think they did a different thing in Kochi, they functioned quite differently. And I think that work could, actually look completely different in a different space without the specificities of the history of the place. Like in Zurich the single triangle became a location point for an imaginary arc that swept through the space and over to India. A space where sound and motion and mark met to connect the two places. Singular and definitive cutting through time and space, border and language to be the singular point of contact where axis is still and perfect equilibrium is activated. All is at rest.
GS: So if the temper of these works is balance, is that the connection that you will make with the paper works that are going to the Freud museum? These sculptures suggest physical formal balance, a degree of momentousness and also the symbolic overload of things like this hammer ,exerting itself onto a piece that is much smaller than itself and the extreme vulnerability that it suggests and the fact that it exists purely because of balance. But there is also the psychological balance suggested so casually, so disturbingly in the paper works on childhood. And the unbalance that it creates.
BK: Yeah absolutely. And of everybody else’s. They become the reciprocators of everything that goes around them. They are sponges in some way. This is what they learn. They move through the residue of us, picking up detritus and skills and hope that eventually they will reach somewhere clear. It’s like going down a river where you let the water take you and drop you. The water is still around you but you have stopped. That’s what the work does. At a certain point it stops even when there is noise around.
GS: This is what they know. So would you say that the ideal narrative is what you are overwriting in both these bodies of work is really something that you need to displace, need to question.
BK: I don’t think overwriting is the right word. No, having said that I am overwriting I suppose. But what I am doing also is leaving the spaces open where you can see how I have overwritten. I am not obliterating, so what I am trying to do with these pieces is to kind of to acknowledge the noises. To acknowledge that yes, all is there. The shit and its antithesis whatever that may be.
GS: A very critical admission. There is noise in the head. And this is perhaps one of the journeys through which one traces early childhood?
BK: And if you acknowledge it, it becomes your friend. And then it’s so much easier to befriend your demons. If you befriend your demons your monkey your devil, they call back to you and somehow dissipate.
GS: So what happens to the axis of the normal or the normative which is what everyday life is driven by? And the axis of the abnormal, the hysterical, the hyper-realised, the oversensitive, all of which is also the ground of art, which is where we come from?
BK: And the ground of femininity and its writing in some way, in many ways, no? Whilst researching for the history and to make work for the Freud Museum, I have read specifically not Freud but around Freud. The history of mental illness of women from around the 18th century, as a fallout of Victorian morals,subjectionoffemalesexualityand acontrolled role model of the idea of family. Amongst history and more…How women’s sexuality has as long as time been silenced in a cloud of fear and shame. I suppose I in the ideas of the body politic with power. It’s not rocket science. And I think when you go back to Freud, he was a huge part of the discourse that we now see as slightly dated but nevertheless essential to knowing that sexualisation is our mirror.
GS: That all sexualisation is a source of neurosis. Isn’t that a premise that needs to be challenged at some point? What about our adult lives which also have this side of neurosis, outside of sexuality?
BK: Strange that perhaps this is the only part of Freud that I kind of agree with. I think that sexual neurosis, phobias start, begin and we create these monsters in our own heads vis a vis not specifically our own bodies but the idea of what our bodies are possibly capable of doing with other people and how other people reflect our ideas about who we are. Because I think, it’s very complicated. The mirror…Where do you start looking, do you start 20th century or with the next generation of women who are like my daughter’s age…Generation Z. So how are they different? How is the role spoken of, how do we as feminists now negotiate the terrain that is? What is our journey now? How do I teach my daughter, what do I tell her?
GS: How old is she now?
GS: It’s a harder time. Because I don’t think one is completely ready.
BK: They are ready.
GS: But is the mother ready, that is the question.
BK: I am ready. They are ready before you, in fact the kind of information that they are able to access now is just so extraordinary. They have arrived before you have even left.
GS: So the mother perhaps acts as a filter for what is right or what is wrong, or a reinterpretor because she might have information from somewhere but she needs to sort it out in her head, and that’s where the mother can help her do.
BK: But the question is now: what is right? And what is wrong? Maybe the things that were right at my time, I have decided that they are not right anymore. And the things which are called wrong, who said that they are wrong? And is being wrong so awful? What is truth and there we are going back again to the question of where is the truth? And does it even matter? What I am trying to do in these pieces is actually to be very honest with myself and be very honest with the work and they are slightly awkward and almost a bit embarrassing, some of them. I feel like these works are like my diary. They could be your diary. But really they are mine.
GS: They are many women artists who tell the issue of childhood. I am of course thinking of Marlene Dumas, to a certain extent Mary Kelly, to some extant Arpita Singh about the awkwardness of childhood and its socialisation, its sexual - violation in a certain sense. I mean, these are areas that women have looked at and have needed to look at. It’s not that an artist like Marlene Dumas will make childhood comfortable. Why is it that women do it and men don’t?
BK: Maybe a weakness to reveal ourselves, maybe that’s what makes it so good.
GS: Because I think the girl is much more the object of prey but also of poetization, beauty, of exaggeration and idealisation. Think Balthus, who has inspired you in the past.
BK: Certainly, idealisation. And there is a kind of suppose a restriction on the body politic.
GS: The number of protocols that she has to negotiate into a healthy adulthood are named and difficult.
BK: Difficult and fraught.
GS: And as you said awkward. There is an awkwardness.
BK: I like the word awkward.
GS: So would you be comfortable with an awkward art production. Let’s look at this in the context of these extremely well finished beautiful Bindi pieces as well. They are constant and they are a part of your practice and they are there all the time.
BK: Yeah they bring me the constant. Like routine. I like routine, it makes me happy. I like doing the same thing every day. I feel through repeating myself, I’m here and I can see my shadow from yesterday.
GS: Do you ever completely remove them from your exhibitions?
BK: Yeah, I have started to. There have been exhibitions that have been purely sculpture. I think the Bindis come back. We have had this conversation before as well; how they function within the practice.
GS: You have used them in some very interesting ways, such as the Bride’s Chamber and the Staircase pieces. They are like the fly on the wall listening to her secrets or fears or whatever. And in that sense it assumes a sixth or seventh sense.
BK: They watch you, that’s what they are. Because it’s not that you are watching the work, the work is also watching you. They are like my eyes, in my space. I can watch you even when I’m not here.
GS: That’s interesting.
BK: Because everybody talks of them as a third eye. The third eye is only the one that you watch but that also means that you are also being watched. So then they are also animated at some level, these objects are also being given power to reflect. Once you decide to make art then you have given yourself license to activate objects right? Permission to empower the inanimate to become a carrier for you. So I can now travel with the work to your body and your city. I can stay in my studio all year and travel with the person who sees the work. Transference and exchange. It’s your consciousness, and mine. It’s about time and the way into the work is open. If you want to see pattern, that’s good too. Pattern is harmony, pattern is repetition, music, methodology, pattern is time, remembrance, code, alphabetical, pattern is sleeping, pattern is winter, pattern is menstruation, loving both microscopic and macroscopic…
GS: You mean that on the one hand it looks so beautiful, so seductive and so finished and to give it any kind of theoretical reading will be to alter the meaning?
BK: It doesn’t mean that at all. Because I think, for me the work cannot purely be the visual aesthetic. For me it’s not just sexy enough, it’s not just enough for the work. I know what it can do, I know I can make very beautiful things with the Bindis but it’s not enough for me. Conceptually they have to be grounded, otherwise I wouldn’t make them. They need a purpose. You know what they are: I have made a language. I have made my own language. I think that’s quite great actually in terms of possibility.
GS: Is that a zone of security, of safety or a sense of comfort?
BK: I have made my own code which means I can write what I like without anyone reading my diaries. So it’s like a secret language, it’s a language in a lot of pieces that I am making, they are letters to people that I know. They are landscapes.
GS: So is this a zone what we didn’t talk about, in all of this and that is love?
BK: Yes, perhaps. Love, desire, needs,wishes,sexuality...Idon’t wanttodefine lovereally..do you?
GS: And that is completely suggested by the works.
BK: Yeah. And I think the title’s too suggest where the works are at. None of them have ever been untitled. Some of them are random and you know, I make works that even I don’t like very much. That’s okay, that’s just a part of making art.
GS: Is that the Bindi works?
BK: All of the works.
GS: What happens? You finish a work and then you say, I don’t like it so much. Surely, liking is not the part of the whole process that you are talking of?
BK: For me it is. I know when a work is ready because I like it, or I have to connect with the work somehow. When I get to the point that something specific occurs and I keep turning it around, there is an awkwardness around it. There is a rupture somewhere in the material and the madness in how it is supposed to sit, when it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. If it doesn’t fit, sit, hang, and I perhaps don’t know what it is myself, then I just leave it and I know it’s ready. But I have to like it. It sounds so random and undefined but I just know and I cant explain that.
GS: I am thinking of the work, the way it has moved in the last three-four years at this extraordinary speed. I don’t know if we are even recognising that as we write about your practice but I am thinking of the saree works on the chairs, the staircases going to nowhere and the bindis, the Bride’s Chamber, and the hanging pieces like the Impossible Triangle. It’s a very rapid trajectory.
BK: Maybe that’s the stability. Maybe that’s the rock that’s spinning round and round that keeps it all going nevertheless, regardless.
GS: The speed, the output, the perpetual investigation in a certain sense.
BK: You have to find the centre. For me the centre is the studio. This house, this building, this structure is the centre. And within that everything moves and churns and I don’t think, now I am older now at 47 that I am going to be one of those artists who creates a single trajectory in their life and then runs with that.
GS: Is there a big work? Is there a single great work? One great Bharti Kher? I mean, is that also ever an intention or aspiration?
BK: No, I don’t think there has been one yet. I think, there’s been pivotal pieces… there’s been the Whale Heart, the Elephant, for a while. Sometimes these pivotal pieces what they do is that they disturb you quite a lot as well, because they don’t let you go. They don’t let you run away from them.
GS: Or they don’t let you take too many risks thereafter?
BK: Yeah, maybe you get stuck in their supposed greatness. Your ego gets stuck in their greatness, let’s put it that way. The Bridal Chamber piece was I felt another turning point. I don’t quite know where that turning point is but I don’t want to look behind my shoulder all the time or keep looking back and saying okay, what did that tell me about the next thing. I think you carry that information with you anyway...
GS: No, I think you are in running mode right now. I think this is going to be there for the next few years.
BK: I am completely charged, the studio is on fire. I am not going anywhere, I am staying right here because I am liking the works. This is what I want to do so I want to work right now and I feel like a lot of things are coming out in the studio just and when you push the material, you have to do it like the marker in your own space of wonder and confusion.
GS: What’s the process like? Is it like the language of investigating the material or the books that you read, or what are the other triggers? Are they in society, are they in politics, or are they in literature? Are they in your travel? What are the triggers for shifts, because there are many?
BK: You can’t say it’s one thing. That’s why it is difficult for even me sometimes to pin it down. It’s everything and nothing.
GS: And can they be found in some kind of form somewhere? Like the found lingam stones that you have used in the balance piece?
BK: That kind of things just lies in the studio for weeks and months and one day it will activate itself and it will say, I am ready for you, come on! And I use them in different ways, then I’ll keep thinking what do I have, what do I have? I need something to formally create that space between one, two and three. You see a lot of my objects are about threes because it’s left-right balance. Left-right, the third wheel. The thing that creates the third leg, you know, it’s like the thing that allows movement but at the same time trips you up. It hinders it, it slows it down, it’s slow time. It’s not about…., we slow everything down so how do I create that image that if you were to look at it, you can almost feel the movement. So there’s a lot of that in my work too. It’s like, how do I make you feel that movement, that great crushing of the lands? It’s like Thor and Armageddon, isn’t it, it’s an estranged moment of impact. It’s as if the hammer is going to hit the top of the mountain and then boom. Light and darkness at the same time.
GS: Yes, that also, but you desperately want it to be light so that it won’t destroy the little pin underneath and that it will maintain its balance. So in a way it is doing the obverse, instead of suggesting heaviness and power, the viewer is then put in a tense state hoping that it will be light and maintain its balance. That is the contradiction in the work and that is why it works for me. I look at that work where you have those two suspended bottles and I wonder how much time you take to find the two bottles of the right weight that would take that.
BK: But that is the beauty of the studio, that is a part of me that likes touching things, making things… So at some point, at the very beginning of creating for me is holding things and it’s really about knowing, holding and making, drawing, thinking, using my hands to make materials to create this alchemy of movement, balance, touch, and even perspective; how you move around the sculpture and how do you experience it through your own body. How do I create this experience? So sometimes I will say like this is the work and there can be a work that you want people to weep with you.
GS: Which would have been? As in?
BK: Possibly more people do it for The Heart of the Whale but I think for me it’s the Elephant. So sometimes I am wrong, I don’t get it right. I think sometimes if you over emphasise, if you try too hard to arrive somewhere, how do they describe it? What do they say the reverse psychology doing the opposite of what you wished to have done in the first place. So sometimes its transference, sometimes what happens is that the work gets transferred then to another piece. And you don’t actually notice it. This is the nature of the beast that if you push one thing too hard, you get up and the balance upsets itself. You find yourself toppling over there and you have towaittill it allends, sothisis what ishappening here as well. So, transference from an idea through to the materials, through an object doesn’t happen only through one thing. It’s not only about what I am reading today, it could be about what I read yesterday and I am not reading everything. I am a bit of a slutty reader, I read about 25 things at the same time.
GS: So are you a morning tea reader, go to sleep at night reader?
BK: I read so many books at the same time, whenever wherever. And nothing for ages.
GS: So that’s good, that adds to the noise. You have got 15 writers speaking in your head at the same time. So you can come back and pick up stuff.
BK: Some of this is research. A lot can be research based. The material is just curiosity. The curious mind is always the interested mind. The curious mind is always the one that wants to be, wants to understand. I want to know about properties. Now my new thing is, I want to know the properties and metaphors of wax, so I have to know everything that wax is about conceptually and practically. So I want to know everything that wax does,what chemicals I have to add to it, at what temperature I have to heat it, so it does not get too hard. I want to know how to get the white spots, how not to get the white spots…I look at the nature of known objects.. how else can you know something.
GS: How did you get to wax? What was so interesting about it? Have you used it before?
BK: I was reading about Descartes’ wax analogy. I liked the idea that it was possibly one of the only materials that retains its own property through transformation. It can take the form of two separate properties and yet be the same. No matter whether it is heated or it’s cool. And then I am thinking about the green tablet, the emerald tablet or the wax tablets that were used to send code. Code is also something that interests me, like how the Bindis function as language that I can use them as a secret language, a code. So what is to be embedded?
GS: Are they read or is it something that you embed?
BK: Both. Sometimes, I embed. Sometimes, I write.
GS: Are they read by others? The ones that it may be addressed to..?
BK: I don’t think it matters. Do you wish to be read? I don’t wish to be completely read. Do you want to be understood?
GS: The question is that you may be addressing one or two or three but you may be understood by five thousand…
BK: That’s rather terrifying actually but wonderful.
GS: I am actually more interested in your pieces which are a little more modest and they are a little more open ended; so for instance The Heart and the Elephant, you get it, there is no ambiguity. I like the more ambiguous pieces like these. I like the triangle and the saree pieces very much. The fact that they were like a petrification and abandonment of a desire and everything that goes with it - youthfulness, suggestibility, exhaustion in those pieces. I like those pieces because they didn’t have any grand gesture, and the fact that an artist is able to speak a language of desire but in this extremely oblique kind of way. It was so far removed and that the object world could do this, in this way without any reference to a narrative or bodies or location. In that sense they were so open, so easily appropriated and yet not fully understood.
BK: I think I was trying to work out how to go back….I think those works you seek negation. Negation is a powerful tool. Even, the Impossible Triangle, what the work is not showing. Impossibility of form and any completion. The saris have this movement of gesture and yet they freeze..unable to complete their cycle. I like freezing things.
GS: The tones of the work, other than the Bindis are very sombre. The stone colours, the metal colours, the colours of even the sarees. They are very saturated and deep sorts of colours. I am interested in that. I think all of this is another kind of language which perhaps stands in some contrast but also; the colours of the wax, the colours of the bindis are the same.
BK: Yeah, they are. I think the saree pieces, although I talk of them as portraiture, they are much more than portraiture.
GS: How do we read these trajectories and where do you place the language of abstraction? I think, Nasreen Mohamedi for instance is not about the line, she’s about the shadows. The shadows that are between the lines, it’s that shimmer of grey right through the work which is like shade in the bright sun or the unexpressed. There is this interesting concept that when you do a yagya, when you are throwing things into the fire, an agni and complete each gesture with swaha. Swaha is the goddess that is the smoke or the shadow or the coolness after the impact with the fire. It is the nebulous form that completes the gesture You have the difference between the masculine agni and swaha, the feminine, these are very interesting principles of abstraction which are philosophical and they are very wide, and if there is a bigger discourse in philosophy, I would look for that. Similarly, with the saree pieces, where would I locate these if there is a linearity or discussion around abstraction? Where would these fit? Because they seem to draw from the body but fit into the space of the abstract.
BK: So how do you define it, through absence maybe? That describes not only body but the space around and inside the body.
GS: Through absence. But it is also memory. It’s also loss. It’s all the abstract quantities that would be around the absence of the physical. And there are many, so that’s a rich mind field for a thinker or a writer.
BK: Someone interestingly wrote recently that the body pieces that I made specifically of the six women, that work was not actually about the body at all. The works were not specifically dealing with body casts. They were dealing with what was not or what was perhaps suggested through the casting of the skin through the memory of this tactility of plaster and how it impregnates the skin and somehow takes the essence through the pores. Yes, I think a lot of artists, we look for some essence. We are looking in the shadows to arrive and to perhaps distract you from the horror and the manifestation of this life in its most base or primal form… It’s almost as if you look away from somebody to understand, to hear them, to see them… You have to not just use the eyes to see, you have to also remember and also somehow bring together your experience and forgive.
GS: To realise somebody or to realise the moment…that is a moment of great enrichment.
BK: And the saree pieces, they are quite slow. Some of them I know are very tight and knotted and so they give a different kind of sensibility and some are more joyous and some of them almost unruly and unbalanced. One is even young and punky. There is a sense of movement but thereisa trappinginthework, a fixity andthat the pillar is the body that grounds the work because it holds it. The rest is my way through stuff and everything else.
GS: For the sarees, you use a chair or a pillar. I thought that it was very interesting to use the chair as a pedestal, because it immediately locates it to the domestic and the familial. But when you put it on a pedestal, then the feeling completely changes.
BK: It’s an entity. If it is a single entity then it becomes not so fixed, almost like it could walk or it could move away...
Gayatri Sinha: It then assumes the history of sculpture space. It’s got a lineage. It’s got a history. Then how do you place it?
Bharti Kher: I mean the thing is that we do play with the historicity of art, we do play with the act of making and then the past as well. And what are these plinths doing and there are a lot of plinths now in my work. Some are concrete, some of them are now wood. So why do I choose that some specifically are solid heavy bases while others are more like a vehicle to hone the object as opposed to being the object. I place these without too much specific thought as individual aspects. I see the whole thing as composite to the whole.
GS: Also the combination of the making a concrete solid piece as a pedestal and then were it to hold a found object. First of all, there is this immediate displacement of context. If you would have used a found pedestal it would have been like an act of accretion. But by putting it like this there is a deliberate sense of displacement from its original context, it’s no longer a part of some leftover of something that an unidentified sthapati had made. That aspect is completely removed.
BK: I think I go back again to the question of, what is this knowledge that we are asking from this object? Are we going back to say whatever thing you need to know is perhaps in here, and within you? So, these become like a body.
I want to take forward this idea that is to have a sense of information and knowing but nothing perhaps that you can hold on to. So I keep on thinking now about material or things that I could use that don’t have associations visually with anything that I’ve used before. It’s like a departure again. This is coming through in the wooden cabinet works and the wax pieces.
GS: Yes, that would be pretty true for a lot of work that you produced other than the photographs and caves. The wax pieces with the faces covered in wax are like caves or hibernating animals….
BK: Yeah, the caves have hiding places that we can rest in and sleep.