Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tales of the unexpected

One of the eleven ‘adventures’ in Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves is that of a photographer. This is a man who realizes very quickly that what lurks in his “black instrument” is nothing but a kind of madness. And this madness is a forking path. One path beckons outwards, towards the doomed and impossible desire to document everything that exists and happens before it is lost forever.

The camera must record all reality, all history; only then would it start making some sort of crazy sense. The other one leads inexorably within, into the labyrinths out of which the eyes, windows of the soul, look at the world outside. Yet, in his studio, as he focuses the camera on his model, her body forced into a sequence of grotesque poses, the two roads, inner and outer, seem to cross again “in the glass rectangle”. It is “like a dream, when a presence coming from the depth of memory advances, is recognized, and then suddenly is transformed into something unexpected, something that even before the transformation is already frightening, because there’s no telling what it might be transformed into”.

Dayanita Singh’s Dream Villa opens, and then closes, the gates to such a realm of the unexpected. To those who are familiar with her earlier, black-and-white work (books as well as shows) — the exquisiteness of Go Away Closer (2007), the intimacy of Sent a Letter (2007), the elegiac humour of Privacy (2003) and Ladies of Calcutta (2008) — the elusive menace of Dream Villa, moving unpredictably from the tender to the lurid, moonscape indistinguishable from mindscape, will come as a shock. The desolate expanses of light turning into colour in Blue Book (2009), her first body of colour work, have intensified, in Dream Villa, into a world of the night whose denizens become something other than human in the uncanny light of a radically estranging gaze. The unexpected is part of this book in a material sense as well.

The use of daylight film after dark, long exposures, and the refusal to go digital mean relinquishing control over the relationship between vision and image. So, as in Blue Book, the accidents of how different kinds of light react with the chemicals in the film begin to determine the nature of the image on the page. This creates a language of colour, darkness and light that is disturbingly at odds with one’s normal, waking memories of the night. Madness, as Calvino knew, lurks in the by-lanes of the photographer’s art because the mind is a blacker instrument than the camera. Dream Villa risks this lunacy as it records, with a relentlessness that dispenses with comfort, how the modern moon quietly withdraws the tenderness of her protection from the brilliant cruelties of artificial light.

Full report here Telegraph

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