Simryn Gill, Naga Doodles #31–1, 2017, ink on paper, 29 1⁄2 × 55". From the series “Naga Doodles,” 2017.

Simryn Gill, Naga Doodles #31–1, 2017, ink on paper, 29 1⁄2 × 55". From the series “Naga Doodles,” 2017.

Simryn Gill

Simryn Gill’s recent exhibition “Soft Tissue” continued the artist’s long-standing meditation on habitation, belonging, and undesired elements. The detritus used to create the three works in the show—run-over snakes, the insides of fruits, and weeds—acted as metaphors for our relationship to land, movement, and migration.

“Naga Doodles,” 2017, is a group of seventy-six unique, unframed, ink-on-paper relief prints made from the carcasses of snakes. At Jhaveri Contemporary, the artist presented a selection of twenty-seven of these works of various dimensions (the largest being more than ten feet long). The word naga, Sanskrit for snake, calls to mind the namesake race of serpent beings from Indian mythology, who were victims of displacement and persecution. It may also allude to the stone nagas that stand guard at Cambodia’s Angkor temples; Gill named a 2007–2009 work after the complex. Those stone serpents, like the “Naga Doodles,” simultaneously embody the organic and inorganic, the natural and the man-made.

In a booklet for the exhibition “The Opening Up of the World” at Sweden’s Lunds Konsthall in 2017, Gill—the artist, who is of Indian descent, was born in Singapore and splits her time between Sydney and Port Dickson, Malaysia, the town where she grew up—recounts how the “Naga Doodles” began. While driving with a friend to a farm where she was going to make prints from a palm tree, Gill saw someone on a motorcycle in front of them run over a cobra. Gill and her friend, who was “knowledgeable about snakes,” picked up the serpent and placed it in the trunk of their car. Back at her studio, Gill, who was at the time doing a lot of printing, thought to use the snake’s skin for that purpose, “remembering how some years ago she had made similar prints of fish she had bought in the market, with water colors and India ink.” Gill subsequently went on to scavenge for more vehicle-flattened snakes, which had started to seem like found drawings, she says. She made the works in “Soft Tissue” over two months by applying etching inks to these carcasses with rollers and making prints by pressing them directly onto paper, sometimes even letting the animal’s blood and other bodily fluids enter the impressions.

The show also included sculpture and photographs. “Punch Drunk,” 2018–, comprised eighteen intricate plaster casts made from the interiors of various fruits. To create this work, Gill poured casting plaster into pumpkins, melons, and papayas. Before removing any remaining organic material herself, she left the resulting objects out for birds and insects to take off the seeds and flesh. The sculptures reveal the fruits’ inner structures and could be seen as calcified voids—nothingness turned into something palpable. Their lumpy forms and cavity-riddled textures give them the appearance of volcanic rocks or calcareous coral skeletons. Arranged on a table whose surface has been coated with blackboard paint, the sculptures, with their white color and pitted surfaces, immediately call to mind chalk. These gobs of chalk, the exhibition text suggests, “might teach the attentive viewer the inner workings of vegetables, and the methods of human-animal-microbe-plant collaborations.”

Finally, Weeds of my parents’ garden, 2018, documented wild plants growing in the garden of Gill’s childhood home. The eight C-prints and four gelatin silver photographs are close-ups of the plant life with soft-focus backgrounds. The care and attention afforded these new inhabitants of the soil made the viewer wonder about their classification as unwanted things.