Blog / Art & Fashion

Between Image & Object: A Conversation with Pallavi Paul


SIMRAT [S]:   Why don’t you begin by introducing yourself?

PALLAVI [P]:  My name is Pallavi.

S:   That’s it? (laughs) I guess that is introducing yourself!

P:  (laughs) No, no. I am a student at JNU in the department of Cinema Studies. I have been trained in film. Up until now, I’ve worked with video. I’ve done three films, all 20 min short films. Off late I’ve been getting interested in material and particularly in the ways in which images and material can speak together. What I am particularly influenced by is the idea of aesthetics, in all its connotations.

S:   Decoding aesthetics?

P:  Well, not necessarily decoding. I want to work with the idea of the relationship of aesthetics to the larger world that we occupy, material or otherwise. And then through that enter questions of politics, of ethics, of visualities, of affect, of feeling, emotion. For me, aesthetics is a very exciting entry point into all of these complex domains.

S:   Alright. Why don’t you we segue that by speaking about what you wanted to do when you came to the residency and then talk about what you’ve ended up doing in the last four weeks.

P:  My proposal was titled The Post Humans Were Here, which continues to be the title that I’m working with but, of course, a lot has changed since the proposal. I would attribute this to conversations I’ve had during the residency, with other artists in the residency, with you and with other friends who are both working in visual arts and also outside of it. When I had originally sent in my proposal, I would say that I was still thinking only at the level of the image, although I was primarily interested in how the fashion image is seen in relationship to the fashion object. So, I was looking at the work of designers who you would call cutting edge, who were working with all kinds of material like Titanium extensions, prosthesis, metal skeletons, skins and all of that. I found that while the fashion object was constantly trying to transcend its purpose or its utility, somehow that expectation was not so palpable in the fashion image. Because the image was still trying to represent the fashion object or showcase it in a way that would very superficially try to re-constitute it but still only represent it.

S:   What do you mean when you say that? Just off the top of your head, could you give us an example of what a possible re-constitution of the object via the image could be?

P:  I was thinking of the way, for instance, digital interventions–especially in the post-digital world–work, even basic software or techniques by which the image is literally re-constituted outside of the camera or the point at which it was captured. So while the image was constantly re-constituting the object it was sort of representing, representation was still at the core of the fashion image. Why I would say that is, for instance, if you look at the way objects were being shot a large part of the mechanics were still obscured. So while you would see a really futuristic fashion object, you would not in the image really see things like the mechanics by which an object is put together. So you will not see, for instance, where the stitches are or where the screws are and so the image would create an aura around the fashion object.
For me, this dichotomy became very, very interesting at the level of the project and I wanted to investigate it further. So the initial idea was to erase a series of fashion objects from fashion images of the 60s and work with the resulting empty landscapes to tease out stories. That’s actually something I would still want to do but when I came to the residency I realized that the proposition that I want to make has a chance of being lost in the absence of material. So, that pushed me to think about material.
Also important in this regard, are the conversations I have with a fellow artist, who is also my partner– Sahej–and his primary practice is sculpture. He and I started to have conversations about the idea of representation and simulation, in the ways that a sculptor or a person working with material would actually use. And I realized that while I am interested in simulation, a more interesting entry point for my project is the idea of the prosthetic.

S:   Right. Although that was something you were interested in right from when you submitted your proposal?

P:  Yes but for me that was always something I was increasingly fascinated by. When I did manage to procure limbs, I realized that they are somehow a challenge to teleology. A prosthetic limb that bears the signs of a passage of time is a teleologically absurd object because  while it is subject to the forces of wear and tear, at the core of it is an impulse which is to do with transcending time. Since it is not a real limb it won’t  wrinkle, it won’t go through the process of aging in the way that we know, and yet there is another regime of time [its own wear and tear]. So for me this collision became very interesting and I wanted to tease it out further.
Then, of course, came the idea of animating these objects and working with kinetics. So I worked on these other pieces. Like this hand which works with similar movement to a real hand, so in that sculpture the prosthetic is no longer just material. It transcends that and goes into movement — so what do we understand when we say prosthetic movement?  It all became this kind of game to push the idea of prosthetics and play with movement, with wear and tear. There’s this other sculpture, the bugs, it’s probably going to die out during the show.

S:   Yeah, it has a shelf life which is its battery life.

P:  Correct, so it’s going to go from a moving thing that is capable of creating a kinetic proposition to something that has a limited capability of living out its proposition. For me, that will actually mean that the final stopping of that object will accelerate it further rather than actually bringing it to a stop.

S:   And this is the first time you’ve worked with sculpture, the first time you’ve actually made a physical object. Was that a fun process for you?

P:  Oh, I think it’s woken up some sleeping demon in me! Now I’m ready to raid dumpsters of all kinds. But yes, this was the first time that I could work with my hands and see an object emerge out of that experience. That was amazing for me to do.

Detail from Pallavi's Installation

Detail from Pallavi’s Installation

S:   Ok, and so now the last question because we’ve already been speaking for nine minutes: can you tease out briefly the role of the video? I know it’s a short video and, of course, you’ve talked about object, representation, simulation and image, but do you want to speak a little about the content of it or its positioning in the installation? Anything about the video.

P:  The content of the video is that there is a person in the video and, using Chroma, I’ve moulded the body of the person into a video glitch.

S:   It’s not a digital glitch, is it? It’s an analogue glitch, right?

P:  It’s actually both: I’ve used two kinds of glitches. So there’s those longer analogue bars and also those digital glitches.

S:   The ones which are scattered across the image?

P:  Yes, I’ve scattered the digital glitches across the entire image, so it’s like the entire image is glitching but in a way that looks like the glitches are flying off the wall. So, in many ways I’ve tried to create an architectural proposition inside the video and even outside it. I feel that the video now works as a spatial punctuation because outside of a spatial arrangement, I’m not sure what the video would do or say. But inside of this space, what is happening–because of the way that I think the objects are now placed–is that the entire world of the material object is actually literally going into the video. So, you know, there is the breaking of the neat distinction between an object and its image. That’s what I’m trying to arrive at and this larger forest in which there are shadows, there are actual objects, there are images, there are remnants of some kind of digital images, there’s references to early cinema–which is very important because that is where I’m coming from. It’s basically an aesthetic proposition to ask you about simple teleological flows of time and the neat distinctions between images and objects.
So I’m really interested in the in-between zones: the reflected images of the boxes that reflect on the video, which are not really shadows. They’re not only shadows because you can actually see the X-Rays.  They are also not projections. So what are they? They are these in-between things, between the image and its shadow.

S:   And they’re creating new and unexpected relationships.

P: Yeah. They’re surprising me, and that’s always good.

Conversation has always been one of the most central outputs of the residency process. Often, artist works and trajectories are deeply influenced and shaped by conversations that residents have with each other, with the Khoj staff and with the many other visitors that stop by Khoj Studios. While it is sadly not possible to reproduce all the informal conversations that happen over tea, during cigarette breaks, across the dinner table and in the resident’s studios,  we still think it valuable to attempt to bring some of the residency discussions out of the Khoj building and into a more public domain. So, I sat down for formal one-on-ones with each artist and will reproduce shortened renderings of some of the things we talked about in a series of blog posts. In doing so, we hope to provide some context for the works you will see on the residency’s Open Day.