Paris

Prajakta Potnis, room full of rooms, 2013, slide projection, photographs, drawings, lace, embroidery, dimensions variable. From “L’exigence de la saudade.”

Prajakta Potnis, room full of rooms, 2013, slide projection, photographs, drawings, lace, embroidery, dimensions variable. From “L’exigence de la saudade.”

“L’exigence de la saudade”

KADIST - Paris

Prajakta Potnis, room full of rooms, 2013, slide projection, photographs, drawings, lace, embroidery, dimensions variable. From “L’exigence de la saudade.”

Halfway up one of Montmartre’s many slopes is a quiet courtyard—flanked by old peeling walls, in one of which there is a gap, revealing a sprouting plant—where a single glass door leads to the Kadist Art Foundation. This sense of an inner life growing out of or into a material structure leaks, like the sunlight, onto the exhibition inside. “L’exigence de la saudade,” indicating a demand for nostalgia, was the culmination of a three-month residency by Mumbai’s Clark House Initiative, a curatorial collaboration between Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma. The diverse work by twenty artists on view included a performance on video by contemporary dancer Padmini Chettur, who appropriated traditional forms of classical Bharatnatyam into a composition of conceptual movement, abstractly annotated by the composer Martin Visser; and the textiles of a weaver, Zamthingla Ruivah, who sewed, on shawls, coded geometric symbols that depict the struggles of living amid the tensions of northeast India without revealing herself to the same forces that she condemns in her cloth. Then, encased in a nook, was a resin sculpture of protesters from Indian modernist Krishna Reddy’s time in Paris in 1968, found by the curators on eBay and restored; and a lost drawing by Tyeb Mehta discovered in the personal archives of the French artist Jean Bhownagary, with whom the former sustained a lifelong friendship. Others left “cues” in the form of books, journals, and artifacts that represent a collective memory of the diverse histories that compose India and France. Of these, Nalini Malani’s papier-mâché head For the Dispossessed, made from the pages of Le Nouvel Observateur during the Vietnam War protests in Paris in 1971, animated the larger curatorial construct of how an object or place of the past can be reawakened so that it begins to live again.

This exploration of the inner life of space was most intriguing in the three site-specific works, which rendered the concept in three dimensions. Prajakta Potnis’s installation room full of rooms, 2013, inspired by six weeks in France, ruminates on the desire to reach through the cracks of walls into the houses of strangers. Potnis’s signature lace frills, machine-made in Paris and Mumbai, appear as fissures in the wall, symbolizing those who live on the fringe, as if waiting for the fault lines to give way. Photographs were projected via four slide carousels in various sizes and at different levels in the four corners of the room. On one corner of the ceiling was an image of a piece of worn ceiling. On two adjacent sides appeared small images from inside empty houses in Paris—bedrooms with crumpled sheets, fans, radiators, a kettle, bookshelves, curios. On another wall a slide was projected of a table beside a window, with a view of an evening sky and the lines of apartment buildings, looking out at the outer lives of others.

Back in the courtyard, the walls of a tiny storage room under a staircase—which could easily be a home to some in Mumbai—were scrawled with charcoal. Prabhakar Pachpute’s Marchand de sommeil (Merchant of Sleep), 2013, consists of drawings of pipelines that extended along the sides of real pipelines; a flashlight (like the one held by the viewer) that hung midwall; and depictions of ants crawling along the beams and a pile of people sleeping in a corner. Here, the space began to live again via the fiction of the artist’s imagination.

Extending further outward was Justin Ponmany’s public intervention Disappearing Residencies, 2013, which confuses space with haunting absurdity. By chaining the gallery building to a parking sign on the street, in the way that one would a bike or scooter, Ponmany told the story of those who are constantly being displaced and misplaced. Like the works by Potnis and Pachpute, this piece conflates an objective environment with the inner life of its inhabitants, blurring the boundaries between the place and its persona. Spaces themselves began to fade and renew with time, making room for what is to come.

Himali Singh Soin