Critics’ Picks

Dayanita Singh, Book Museum, 2014, mixed media. Installation view.

Dayanita Singh, Book Museum, 2014, mixed media. Installation view.

New Delhi

Dayanita Singh

National Museum Janpath | New Delhi
March 10–May 10, 2014

The compartments and departments into which we segment the world is a testament to how we read it: in fragments and chapters, with imposed order. Dayanita Singh’s Book Museum, 2014, is a portable collection of books with photographs from her series “File Room,” 2013, and from her mother’s series “Nony Singh: The Archivist,” 2013, affixed onto each of the book’s covers. The former’s images record piles of paper, columns of cabinets, and repositories of registers in damp basements, while the latter documents the melancholy of living between generations.

The books, which contain full-page black-and-white photographs from both series, are placed into a grid on a bookcase that folds and reopens into a set of predestined permutations and combinations. Compositionally, the photographs begin to map upon each other: files of folders seem to mirror a line of ladies, which mirrors a scaffolding of picture frames or a chorus of chairs. The individual books, which can be bought and may be cut up, are—as is Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise(Box in a Suitcase), 1935–41—both serial copies and artisanal objects. Even as the contractible bookcase records the reproducibility and anonymity of an industrial age, it stands renewed, every cover a variant, and every locus of display conditional.

This particular installation is self-reflexive at multiple levels: First, it is a museum within a museum, standing amid sculptures from ancient India on the second floor of New Delhi’s National Museum; second, it is an archive of archives; third, the structure folds open just as the individual books fold open. These layers only continue to appear as the images stack upon each other and the metaphors repeat themselves. You, the viewer or the protagonist, must find a formula—a Choose Your Own Adventure—in order to navigate the mischievous mathematics of stories made by chance and manifold.