New Delhi

“Ada or Ardor”

The seven Indian and American artists (all women) whose work was included in “Ada or Ardor” tend to organize relics of family, love, and travel into large, systems-based works composed of small units. Each artist displaces or fetishizes humble or hidden objects, which range from train timetables and household cookie-cutters to soft-core porn. What links Jennifer Bolande’s psychedelic, digitized Iris prints of votive forest shrines, Chrysanne Stathacos’ daguerreotype erotica transferred onto rose petals, Judy Blum’s 108 names of the Ganges (e.g., “melodious or noisy” or “white as milk”) entered on old ledger pages, Zarina Hashmi’s anthropomorphic assemblages of tiny metal shapes, and Rummana Hussain’s collections of rusty old scissors, knives, and spoons, is that the works are organized into lists. The objects the artists gather and recast tend to be materials that often show signs of considerable wear and tear or have been subjected to processes that inflict enormous stress.

Their works therefore trace memory, capturing it in casts, catching it on cloth, trapping it on walls, and patiently recording it in account books. The artists’ archives are, equally, flypapers that index economies of love and responsibility rather than pleasure and sex, and describe habitations in which portability and movement are implicit. The individual items with which each artist works—from Stathacos’ rose petals to Hashmi’s tin stencils—are either aggrandized in clusters into overarching schemes or simply isolated, copied, and enlarged. Stathacos stained a large rectangle of shimmering cotton with a delicate rose mark which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a face that the artist has enlarged from her miniature photographs. In doing so, she also feminizes the dhoti, a cloth with which Indian men wrap themselves.

The works in “Ada or Ardor” represent a tendency in contemporary art toward classification. They more or less openly acknowledge their resemblance to Minimal installations and archival presentations. This tendency intersects in a particularly poignant and complicated way with the present moment in contemporary Indian art. Rapid flux and internationalization—of which this gallery is itself a symptom—are contradicted by most local artists’ fetishization of individual subjectivity, the result of a historical need to demarcate art from non-art, specifically from a staggeringly rich craft tradition. The cool documentary potential of reproductive media (which is offered even by traditional crafts) and a strategic renunciation of the expressive hand—all foregrounded in this show—are at odds with the unresolved relationship many artists have to these issues. Rummana Hussain is one exception among the younger generation of emerging artists; installation artist Vivan Sundaram (who appeared in this gallery’s last exhibition), and N.N. Rimzon (seen in last year’s “Traditions/Tensions” show at the Asia Society in New York) are equally unusual. Under the shelter of a generally favorable critical climate, the idea of avant-garde critique and historicization is resented by artists even as it is intensely desired. When systems-based artists in the early ’70s (Alighiero e Boetti, for example) assembled long lists, Indian artists also did so—as do the contributors to “Ada or Ardor”—not so much to rediscover the persistence of signature style as to uncover the order in disorder and the disorder in order.

Charles Green