Critics’ Picks

View of “The Sovereign Forest,” 2013–14.


Amar Kanwar

TBA21 - Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary
Scherzergasse 1A Atelier Augarten
November 23 - March 23

Amar Kanwar’s ongoing project The Sovereign Forest captures the changes and destruction caused over the past decade by the severe industrial interference caused by mining in the traditionally agrarian state of Odisha, India, and it also tracks resistance among the state’s communities. Since its inception, the piece has grown into a multimedia research platform in which Kanwar displays found and collected images and legal records. He does this not in an evidentiary way, but by creating fictitious archival constructions that are rooted in poetry, consequently forming an artificial memory. Rejecting individual authority, Kanwar turns his voice into many, allowing the audience to participate and contribute to his political and perceptive output.

Occupying all of TBA21’s exhibition spaces, this multisensory exhibition (which shares the title of the project) features two films, an installation of rice seed samples, three videos projected on large handmade books, and a documentary archive of previously suppressed evidence and factual and fictional records of the conflict—contributed and supplemented by visitors. The archive is presented in an “evidence room,” within which visitors are allowed to bring, research, and discuss materials about violent interventions in their daily lives and environment. All of the works come together to create multiple ways of understanding and illuminating the depths of this modern war without using the formal information provided through journalism and forensic research. Rather than taking a documentary, informative, and testimonial look at the crime as it is actually happening, Kanwar orchestrates traces by interweaving his own texts and poetry through the work, instilling a sense of collective belonging to this particular history. The show queries conventional distinctions between fact and fiction by asking how a story—in particular one characterized as traumatic—gains potency through the efficacy of poetry.