A Memory of the River

Nathan Homestead, Manurewa, 11 August - 22 September 2018

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If you stand at the door the room to your left is partitioned by a row of saree sourced from various market shops along Dashashwamedh Road. The video work called From Assi to Brahma, 2018, was all filmed through the Rolliflex camera sitting on the windowsill. This is an attempt to record the various ghats (steps) that follow the west bank on the River Ganges. I say attempt, because as a stranger in a strange land I can only ever know a place from a distance.

This show is the culmination of my time spent on an Asia New Zealand Foundation artist residency in Varanasi, India, and as a collection of work it is a retrospective of failure. Failure, in the best possible way. In the show I do not attempt to seek enlightenment or push it on others, nor do I use the common tourist trope of photographing the more “colourful” locals of the river, projecting a kind of human zoo onto the ancient city.

I show you my various attempts of capturing the un-capturable in trying to contain the vast depths of story and history through a camera lens or at the end of a paint brush. All are genuine attempts of record, but all fall short. The dust does not get in your eyes as you travel the streets and alleyways in the photographs. The paining does not capture the smell of places moved through and around, and the video does not portray the feel of hot, dry wind wrapping around everything it touches.

It is perhaps the kaleidoscope work, sitting on the seat and named after the philosopher, speaker and writer, which best describes the visual sensation of life in Varanasi. Every time I went to the river I would buy a new beaded necklace. Haggling the price down from 300 rupee to a more respectable price, later realizing, with the exchange rate checked, I was haggling over a few cents. 

The painting A Memory of the River, 2018 was painted over two months and was added to daily. The dry heat evaporated the oil paint allowing for layers to be added more frequently without mixing with each other and so the colours, like that of the city, stand out against each other, fighting for attention while always moving in a blur. 

The watercolours were inspired by the brightly painted steps of the ghats. Lines of unnatural colour reflected in the river and are covered with thick mud during monsoon season only to be wash off and intermittently repainted. I only used water from the sacred river to make these paintings hoping again that this would somehow impart a holy resonance to the abstracted lines. The lock in the small room is gold leafed and hangs, holding on, prayed over and blessed by the man who sold it to me. He said to gold leaf it for more blessings. I tried to tell him I was an artist, but he didn’t seem to care. The small stool covered with bindi dots bought from a stall; in a jewellery section in a market where I was too often lost in, responds to the absurdity of the place. The collision of faith and commerce, beauty and poverty and industry and subsistence living, it is a contradiction, sacred and profane but holding meaning and space all the same.

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