Critics’ Picks

Desire Machine Collective, Invocation, 2015, silent video, color, 14 minutes 25 seconds.

Desire Machine Collective, Invocation, 2015, silent video, color, 14 minutes 25 seconds.


“Krishna in the Garden of Assam”

The British Museum
Great Russell Street
January 21–August 15, 2016

At the very end of a dimly lit room full of phantasmagoric antique textiles and artifacts from northeastern India is a video titled Invocation, 2015. It is trancelike and dreamily romantic; a subjective collection of images from the natural world imbued with ideas from the spiritual one, pieced together by an unreliable narrator behind a camera lens that occasionally blurs.

Invocation, which amplifies the numinous aspects of all the mysterious objects surrounding it, is given to us by Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya, aka Desire Machine Collective. This work evokes the spirit of Assam, India—from which the artists hail—through visions of the Brahmaputra River and the sundry myths that surround it. A roughly fourteen-minute montage, it blinks at you with a panoply of colors, symbols, and situations: a pulsating blue that suddenly transmogrifies into flashes of butterfly wings and fish scales, which then become a boat ride on light-dappled water, then lines on the palm of a hand, mustard fields, and slow-motion masked dancers in a forest. Time slips, lags. Though the piece is silent, you hear music, or birdsong, or just the quiet breath of your thoughts. The camera sways and disorients, leaving you lost at sea, hallucinating, longing for something beyond the horizon. So many of the things we witness in Invocation are steeped in animistic traditions. You become the camera, an outsider peering in, at the intersection of fiction, the occult, and the ethnographic. Nothing is linear—space expands and contracts. Invocation does what art should: It summons the faraway and demands that your critical voice hush or else dance along.