Critics’ Picks

Left: Sahej Rahal, Walker I, 2013, wood, plastic, coated iron, polyester fur, condensed PVC, acrylic paint, 25 x 17 x 10”. Right: Sahej Rahal, Walker II, 2013, wood, plastic, coated iron, polyester fur, condensed PVC, acrylic paint, 17 x 16 x 11”.


Sahej Rahal

Chatterjee & Lal
Arthur Bunder Road, 1/18 Floor 1, Kamal Mansion
August 9 - September 28

The nearly twelve-minute video FORERUNNER (all works cited, 2013), the centerpiece of Sahej Rahal’s solo debut exhibition in India, features a blend of history, myth, and fiction. Viewers encounter a fourteenth-century observatory and hunting lodge in New Delhi, a legend about a sage who disappeared from its premises, and NASA footage of a shuttle launch taken from outer space. All of this appears while an unidentified narrator provides a voice-over about an empire whose cartographers once created a map as large as itself and whose stargazers spent eighteen years staring at the sky to set the clocks right. Clips from Rahal’s past performances make appearances in the video, as do fragments from two short stories by Jorge Luis Borges (“On Exactitude in Science” [1946] and “The Lottery in Babylon” [1941]).

Rahal’s previous performances, sculptures, and videos have been equally steeped in science fiction and myth; however, these earlier works relied more on enigma in their presentation. (Last year, Rahal wore a white robe and played a didgeridoo for over an hour while crossing an underpass in Mumbai for his performance Bhramana II. The character was supposed to be a warrior-messenger, but his actions appeared undecipherable.) While FORERUNNER encourages viewers to think of the rest of the works in the exhibition as relics from the fictitious empire mentioned in the video, its narrative does detract from the mystery of past works.

Three gooey and furry black beasts—Walker I, II, and III—appear to be descendants of the eponymous assault machines from Star Wars. The cringe-inducing creatures are constructed using found objects—a clothes hanger here, a table leg there—that poke out of their bodies. In the gold-colored sculptures Hammer and Clarion II, the lightweight appearance of the polyurethane foam applied over the found objects undermines their impact. The strength of these works, however, lies in their ambiguity. There is no indication of whether an evil or a good warrior might have used these weapons. Together, the sculptures look like remnants of a war. Undertones of violence are strong in Rahal’s works. His is a civilization resurrected from catastrophe.