Pooja Savansukh November 26th, 2019
In their ongoing show, The Shape of The Tortoise, Goutam Ghosh, Susanne Winterling, and Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay banded through the Kalpana Group to simulate the histories and landscapes of the Kutch. The show is a part of the group’s larger project that involves extensive research in Kutch and Arizona to connect imaginaries of geological, mythological and science fictional times through the speculative landscape of a desert.
The Rann of Kutch is a wetland that submerges during the monsoon and is a saline desert the rest of the year. In Sanskrit, Kutch also means tortoise, an animal that symbolises cosmic creation, preservation, destruction, and rebirth across diverse mythologies.
Says Winterling via email, “The Rann is the location of one of the cities of the Indus Valley, one of the South Asian cradles of civilisation. The site has come to accrue layers of intertwined geological, cultural and mythopoeic activity, whose inscriptions are borne in everything from fossil records to an undeciphered language, but also in the vibrant cultural confluence of religious exchange in sites injected with deep mythological significance, revered by Sufis, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists.”
Entering the space, one experiences a sense of stillness and alienation, amplified by the grey flooring and absence of natural light.
Outlandish installations and abstract two-dimensional works induce an estrangement that parallels one’s encounter with a sparse desert. A wall-based print on silk entitled ‘Planetary repercussions proton collider is the desert accelerator’ grabs attention through its brightly-coloured depiction of a large proton imposed upon an image of cables from the Adani Windmill Project in Kutch. The work highlights the presence of energy and motion in all matter. In the desert, every grain of salt, sand, or rock is effectively rendered animate, collapsing the dichotomy between life and non-life.
A photograph, ‘Saltine, Eastwind on the desert’ depicts the horizon at Khadir island, Dholawira — it takes an acute eye to notice the subtle line between the seemingly never-ending desert and sky. In a walkthrough, Ghosh shared “Kutch has little human settlement because of its terrain; yet the mindset of the organisms that survive here suggests that it is habitable if one adapts.” For Winterling, microscopic activity in the desert proposes possibilities of “transformation and terraforming.” This idea is explored in the video installation ‘Cruel twist of air current metallic to titan, guided by shimmering shapes’ that features a monitor placed on the floor with a metal rod looped around it. In the video, a dog morphs into other creatures, conveying Chattopadhyay’s understanding of life as a continuous process of evolution. The irregular shape of the rod symbolises the ever-shifting desert landscape while serving as a marker of our perceptual boundaries, suggests Ghosh.
The Shape of The Tortoise is ongoing until November 30 at Project 88, Colaba