In her latest solo show at Project 88, If Nothing Else, Just a Smile, Neha Choksi presents a new series of large-format color photographs.
The photographs serialize a tour through a single cemetery approached as an altered garden in the tradition of nature-morte. In addition to selecting amputated trees, Choksi has cropped them and made the view partial, and then she has effaced them even further by drawing over them. This point of erasure--the place where absence is memorialized, i.e. headstone, cemetery, chopped tree limb node--is exactly where the drawing emerges. The site of loss is scratched with drawings of happy faces.
Why happy face? Any drawing of the face is representational, but what exactly does it represent? The first smile a child remembers is her mother's. But to draw that smile requires violent actions. Scratch, etch, remove, tear, in order to create, in this instance, macabre graffiti in a melancholy setting. The smile is a locus of substitution for what is lost, whatever it is that creates melancholy.
The work does not confer life to the lifeless. The trees are alive, if truncated. As are photographs, truncated in time. Choksi uses the photograph as a toy to tear, mend, restore, scratch, discard, reflect on. This is not merely an exploration of primitive mark making. That has another history that leads to abstraction; but as Lacan reminds us "there is nothing missing in the Real."
As we know there is no absence in the Real only because we cannot access the Real; we simply cannot represent it. So Choksi seeks a fresh beginning - with the cemetery as an end point and a tabula rasa -- just like a kindergartner on the first day of school facing a blank wall with a crayon, with the memory of her mother?s smile. Just seeking flat ground.
In addition to still images, the exhibition includes a related video and sculptures. Vases of deadheaded flowers rest atop tree stumps, and slumping mattresses are kept aloft by glass vases, as offerings that struggle against gravity and decay. Video footage takes us from inside the hollow of a tree, out into the cemetery environs, and back again into the site of bodily loss. The eye cannot but settle, unsettle, and rest again.