Yardena Kurulkar, Synonym, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes 50 seconds.

Yardena Kurulkar, Synonym, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes 50 seconds.

Yardena Kurulkar

Yardena Kurulkar, Synonym, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes 50 seconds.

“The Terror of Death,” the second chapter in Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Denial of Death (1973), opens with Sigmund Freud’s question “Would it not be better to give death the place in actuality and in our thoughts which properly belongs to it, and to yield a little more prominence to that unconscious attitude towards death which we have hitherto so carefully suppressed?” Both Freud’s quote and Becker’s book argue for a revision of our cultural beliefs about the end of life. While Freud asks us to “reform and give truth its due,” Becker adds that the fear of death is one “from which no one is immune” and ascribes that fear’s disappearance to the repression of our “consciousness of its truth.”

Yardena Kurulkar’s recent exhibition “So It Goes” seemed to mani-fest this terror of death, which for most of us stays cautiously ignored, its affect constantly curbed. Physical, intellectual, and emotional worlds collided in these works—rooted in human anatomy, pathology, and thanatology—which found the artist using 3-D imaging and printing to deal with concepts such as transience, the passing of time, and mortality. For instance, Fall of the Buckler, 2017, is a series of images created using a 3-D digital model of the artist’s heart. After cutting this digital model horizontally into 5-millimeter-thick slices, the artist made top-view images of the cross sections. These images were then screen-printed on paper made from pulp that had been mixed with a bottle of the artist’s blood. In A Premature Burial, 2018, sutured pieces of unfired terra-cotta clay wrapped in gauze lay in enamel surgical trays, alluding to a postmortem examination. The pieces come from a single lump of clay equal in weight to the artist’s body. Kurulkar says the work portrays “the inner struggles of one coming face-to-face with the idea of death. A bit like seeing death in the face of life and vice versa.”

Because Kurulkar confronted death early on as a child of eight when her father passed away, she may experience the psychological phenomenon of annihilation anxiety in a particularly intense way. The self-preservation instinct of the dwindling numbers of the people she belongs to, the Indian-Jewish community known as the Bene Israel, perhaps also expresses itself as a death fear.

In Earworm, 2018, twelve photographs portrayed wave patterns on the surface of water that had been poured into an inverted 3-D model of the artist’s skull. Kurulkar created these waves by subjecting the water to vibrations in the form of cello music—a tune that had been stuck in her mind and that turned out to be a song sung at Bene Israeli funerals. To create So It Goes, 2018, Kurulkar first generated a plaster mold from a 3-D-printed replica of her uterus. Next, she used this mold to make 382 models, each press-molded using fine porcelain clay, then shrouded in a thin sheet of the same kind of clay and left to dry before being fired. Finally, she placed these uteri in individual glass beakers arrayed on fifteen floating shelves. They represent the menstrual cycles the artist has experienced so far in her life—a figure she was able to estimate based on a casual journal entry made by her mother many years ago.

In the video work Synonym, 2017, the artist subjected her own body to processes similar to those through which the clay goes in her works. These involve spinning around on a stool and enduring blasts of air, heat from a fire, and a bath of water. Kurulkar says, “In an attempt to reach a stage of acceptance and surrender, I put forward my fear to the world, which I acknowledge through my works. I make my body a transient medium in the hope that this fear will someday disappear.” The bath she takes in Synonym also links to something Becker refers to in his book, namely, cults of death and resurrection, which through their celebration of the divine hero strive to attain an immunity bath from “the greatest evil: death and the dread of it.”