The language in Reena Saini Kallat’s art is fluid, shifting, unstable. Text is written with salt on sand, only to disappear moments later. Her use of material is simultaneously timely and timeless. She connects politically divided terrain by interrogating various national identities and their symbols through sculpture, photography, drawing, and video. Kallat has had solo exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery in British Columbia, Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and Primo Marella Gallery in Milan. Here, Kallat talks about her current exhibition, “Porous Passages,” on view at Nature Morte in New Delhi through January 9, 2016.
“POROUS PASSAGES” REFLECTS ON DIFFERING WORLDVIEWS. For this exhibition, I brought together older works so that I could set them in dialogue with ideas that currently preoccupy me. I use text in a variety of ways throughout the exhibition. For instance, in Walls of the Womb, 2007, words from my mother’s recipe books become inscrutable as they are rendered in braille on hand-dyed saris, hung as scrolls. And my video Synapse, 2011, features the preamble of the Indian constitution. The constitution’s text, appearing on an eye chart, is being deciphered by the hesitant voices of patients in an optometrist’s clinic. It is an ironic play on legibility.
I’m interested in thinking of the thing I make as language itself—where meaning is lodged in the material. In Saline Notations (Echoes), 2015, the soliloquies inscribed on a beach using salt evaporate with the tides. For a moment an idea is made visible, then suddenly lost. My photographs remain as the only evidence of these salt stories before they dissolve. This piece came from researching tidal calendars and times of sunset. I often think of our relationship to the sea and the salinity levels of the body, and our evolution from the Precambrian seas.
Electrical cable is a primary motif and material within the exhibition. I would spend days weaving these conduits of contact that transmit ideas and information, bringing people together, across barbed wires and fences. Ruled Paper (red, blue, white), 2015, mimics the design of a school notebook by replacing the ink lines with cables, each sheet appearing like blank pages awaiting inscription.
At the center of the exhibition is Hyphenated Lives, 2013–15, which has a relationship to 2 degrees from 2010, a piece I made as part of the River Project at the Campbelltown Art Centre in Sydney. 2 degrees emerged out of my long-standing interest in the relationship between countries politically split but historically related. The use and ownership of natural resources is often the cause of conflict between these divided countries. I felt the need to think about how our planet is shared, and how the survival of one species is inextricably linked to another. Hyphenated Lives is an imagining of mutations within the natural world, where new hybridized species of birds, animals, trees, and flowers are made from the national symbols of politically divided countries. These made-up beings defy “nature,” specifically, man’s ingrained desire to fight, conquer, and divide. I envision these works as propositions for a future when this sort of hybridization, or reunification, might be possible.