STIR: Neha Choksi’s ‘Urgency and Longing’: impressions of touch during the pandemic

Posted On: Thursday, January 13th, 2022 | by project88pressadmin

by Vidur Sethi

In between you, the reader, and me, the writer, this screen – carrying words, images, thin sheets of glass. In between your opaque body and its reflection in a mirror, a transparent glass – forming different perceptions of viewing the self. In between two bodies, a cohabitation with an invisible-to-the-naked-eye virus – birthing the lack of touch. In this lack, an urgency and longing… If we were to really reach out to each other, when must touching through the glass become our only way to establish a moment of contact?

Earlier this year, Neha Choksi was invited to create a solo exhibition in Galerie Barbara Thumm’s experimental platform of New Viewings #37 curated by David Thorp. Incorporating a video and a series of finger paintings on glass, her work titled Urgency and Longing explores traces of connectivity that touch has to offer. In an interview with STIR, Choksi points that “the works for Urgency and Longing were made specifically for an online experimental exhibition platform that was erected for our time of continual COVID. Since I thrive on connections and interactions and friendships and hugs and grazing my eye and hand on everything illuminated by the sun, I had to absorb the fact that laptop and phone screens would be the interface for any online audience.”

Neha Choksi reaching out to an ironwood tree in ‘Urgency and Longing' | Neha Choksi | STIRworld

The titular 10-minute video sutures—with the help of a soundscape engineered by Justin Bates—recent video recordings of Choksi and her travelling lover to camera work by Hiroo Keswani that documents Choksi interacting with an ironwood tree and a sheet of glass, a live performance titled On the Other Side at Gallery Project 88, Mumbai, in 2016. In this and her finger paintings, Choksi uses glass as an intermediate material between her, her artworks and the viewers, and shares that it assumes manifold roles, becoming “a portal, window, barrier, connector.” Featuring her Whatsapp video chat interaction with Claire Anne Baker—recording the two phone’s screen using an iPad and a laptop—the video begins with fingers from both ends attempting to reach out and touch each other. The shifting sound of breath pulsates and times the interaction between two lovers, infusing the edited video with a presence that turns the audience’s attention toward an ineffable exchange. The fingers slide, trace, stroke, and then curl up to become a peephole through which Baker’s eye attempts to behold Choksi’s shadowy fingers (present on the other side of the phone screen) that attempt, in turn, to behold the eye, only to suffer a poor connection. Consequentially, the ‘video is paused’.

Looking and Touching through the screen in ‘Urgency and Longing’| Urgency and Longing | Neha Choksi | STIRworld

The breathing slowly blends with the rustling sound of leaves and the breathing pattern changes once one hears a hard surface being tapped. Choksi—feeling, caressing, banging on a sheet of glass interposed between her and a potted ironwood tree—is performing On the Other Side. The glass sheet becomes an intermediary interlocutor, allowing and segregating touch, acted upon by the performer who slides and slews it along the floor. On her relationship with the sounds present within the work, Choksi says, “My breathing changed when my lover started enchanting me with her dancing fingers. I remember being in a spell, immobilised, eyes glued to her—or more accurately to the framed screen—her prestidigitation taking away my breath. The breathing of longing and the breathing of the labouring body that is straining to connect to the tree, they became a sort of plimsoll line maintaining a balance between conjuring and labouring. With the soundscape of Urgency and Longing I was responding to, including, and heightening both the perceptible and imperceptible phatic and haptic communication along with the attention to the metalinguistic material allowing all this, the effective presence of the glass.”

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