“The personal is the political”: Indian artist Prajakta Potnis at Mumbai’s Project 88

Indian artist Prajakta Potnis’ solo exhibition “When the wind blows” runs until 27 February 2016 at Mumbai-based commercial space Project 88.

Mumbai artist Prajakta Potnis explores trajectories connecting intimate and public worlds, and sketches those topographies influencing relationships in global politics and economics.

Prajakta Potnis, '4:54', 2015, Acrylic emulsion, pencil, water colour on archival paper, framed, 25 x 33.5 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, ‘4:54’, 2015, acrylic emulsion, pencil, watercolour on archival paper, framed, 25 x 33.5 in. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis’ (1980, Thane, India) body of work explores the relationship between visible and invisible, private and public and the inner and outer worlds. Her research spans painting, site-specific scuptural installations and public art interventions investigating the impact of politics on individuals’ lives and vice versa, somehow recalling Scottish philosopher Adam Smith’s theory of “the invisible hand” in economics. Her exhibition “When the wind blows” at Mumbai’s Project 88 comprises some of her most recent works in drawing, photography, sculpture and installation.

Prajakta Potnis, '6:02', 2016, Acrylicmulsion, pencil, water colour on archival paper, framed, 25 x 33.5 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, ‘6:02’, 2016, acrylic mulsion, pencil, watercolour on archival paper, framed, 25 x 33.5 in. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

The correspondence between the private and the public is at stake in Potnis’ research. The investigation of said relation has changed its angle over time, proposing a path from the outside inward, rather than the opposite, which characterised her early works. For instance, the installation Holes (1999) and the diptych Behind My Back (2001) underline her interest in the idea of leak, in what flows out from the viscera and manifests in the outer world.

Specifically, she intends the body, be it living or inanimate, as a membrane that protects an inner content, as a filter that hides imperfections. However, what remains invisible – the viscera – still constitutes this body and completes it. Potnis’ vision of the body leaking and producing from the inside out, with eerie presences attached to it delivers an understanding of this as a wall separating the external from the inside, witnessing history and “that has traces of inhabitance embedded within”.

Prajakta Potnis, from "The Kitchen Debate", 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

Prajakta Potnis, from “The Kitchen Debate”, 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

This notion of the body carrying the traces of time is evident in works like Porous Walls (2008) and the photographic series “Still Life” (2009). The latter anticipated the artist’s interest in the gastronomical theme, which is further developed in the show at Project 88. Objects like bulbs,  toothbrushes and hairbrushes used in Porous Walls and the vegetables in “Still Life” see the impending passage of time as something negative, to be feared, bringing the body to deformation and putrefaction, leaving mankind incapable to resist.

Accordingly, the impetus to the creation of controlled spaces, like the refrigerator and all the domestic appliances conceived for human use, “reveals an underlying, corresponding sense of hidden fear, and a terror of things getting out of control”, as Delhi-based scholar, independent critic and curator Maya Kóvskaya writes in a critical essay about Potnis’ research. She continues stating:

Thus the refrigerator functions as a symbolic setting where the global reach of public policies and corporate machinations are grounded in the everyday—manifested not only in the private, intimate space of one’s own fridge, but by implication, invisibly too, perhaps, in our own corporeal beings, should these genetic interventions prompt our own cells to proliferate and mutate secretly in our bodies.

Prajakta Potnis, from "The Kitchen Debate", 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

Prajakta Potnis, from “The Kitchen Debate”, 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

“When the wind blows” builds upon the project “The Kitchen Debate” that Prajakta Potnis presented in 2014, at the end of her residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. The two solo exhibitions are inscribed within the artist’s interest in the gastronomical and the consequences of World War II. The use of food and food-related environments – such as the refrigerator, the blender, the washing machine and the kitchen as a whole – alongside the observation of the edibles’ change of status and form, function as elements for Potnis’ reflection on progress and decay in our globalised society.

Unfolding the concept behind “The Kitchen Debate” is fundamental to the comprehension of the artist’s current show in Mumbai. The Berlin exhibition drew its title from a series of improvised quips exchanged between USA Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on 24 July 1959, on the occasion of a joint visit to the American National Exhibition in Moscow. Taking place in the heat of the Cold War, the encounter of the two most powerful politicians at the time brought the monumental fight between the capitalist USA and the communist USSR in the space of a make-believe kitchen, where the two ended up to satirically discuss the benefits of their own economic systems.

Prajakta Potnis, from "The Kitchen Debate", 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

Prajakta Potnis, from “The Kitchen Debate”, 2014, installation view at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin. Image courtesy the artist.

Referring to “The Kitchen Debate” in a text about the project shared with Art Radar, the artist describes the role of “the kitchen” in her work thus:

I am trying to look at the kitchen as a site of investigation where one negotiates various issues from world food prices to the genetically engineered food to how policies made by policy makers finally affects an individual on a day-to-day basis. The constant tussle between modern and traditional ways of living within a household somehow also boils down within a kitchen space. How the digestive track and the gut remains vulnerable to all these shifts.

Prajakta Potnis, 'Chopped II', 2016, Chopping board, surgical gloves, fiberglass, led lights in acrylic box. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, ‘Chopped II’, 2016, chopping board, surgical gloves, fibreglass, led lights in acrylic box. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, 'Circulation | Digestion | Toxcity', 2016, slide projector with 81 slides along with wall drawing and foam sheet. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, ‘Circulation | Digestion | Toxcity’, 2016, slide projector with 81 slides along with wall drawing and foam sheet. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

San Francisco- and Berlin-based art historian and critic Atreyee Gupta further explains the relationship between the macro- and micro-dimension in her text accompanying the exhibition at Project 88:

In sifting through the archives of such historical intersections between the political and the domestic, Prajakta simultaneously opens up porous passages between contemporary constructions of interiority and new fictions of exteriority.

Prajakta Potnis, 'Capsule 309', 2015, Digital print on Archival photo rag paper, Framed, 42 x 61.5 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, ‘Capsule 309’, 2015, digital print on archival photo rag paper, framed, 42 x 61.5 in. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, "When the Wind Blows", 2016, Installation view at Project 88. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, “When the Wind Blows”, 2016, installation view at Project 88. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

The artist’s interest in the aftermath of World War II connects the exhibition “When the wind blows” with the eponymous 1982 graphic novel by British artist Raymond Briggs. The narrative depicts the experience of an impending nuclear attack on Great Britain by the Soviet Union as recounted from the point of view of a retired couple, which resolutely confide in what the government recommends. The apocalyptic scenario of the atomic bomb that massively impacts people’s everyday lives explains the recurring presence of appliances in Prajakta Potnis’ work, especially in the two series Capsule (2012 and 2015).

Both versions of the work consist of photographs of objects, like a light bulb holder, a gas lighter and parts of dismembered appliances taken within a refrigerator cavity. Their presence is hyper-realistically emphasised. Their dimension is larger than life. The hue turns to cold sterile shades and these objects are decontextualised within the iced space, almost conveying that something unpleasant we cannot foresee. Through the artist’s eyes, the viewer learns the uncanny truth: all of the equipment designed to process and cook food is the result of the application in the domestic realm of the engineering originally implemented for war purposes.

Prajakta Potnis, 'Capsule 504', 2015, Digital print on Archival photo rag paper, framed, 42 x 61.5 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, ‘Capsule 504’, 2015, digital print on archival photo rag paper, framed, 42 x 61.5 in. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, 'Capsule 603', 2015, Digital print on Archival photo rag paper, framed, 42 x 61.5 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, ‘Capsule 603’, 2015, digital print on archival photo rag paper, framed, 42 x 61.5 in. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

As Gupta further explains,

Steadily and insidiously, military expertise seeped into the space of the modern home through the invention of kitchen appliances such as the microwave oven, an appliance whose technology derived from radar experimentation during the Second World War. The Second World War’s radar experimentation, of course, can be most readily associated with the ability of bomber airplanes to annihilate civilian populations with precision. The disturbing intimacy between annihilation and ingestion implicit here are explored in Prajakta’s work, as are the nebulous demarcations between the internal and the external, the private and public.

Prajakta Potnis, "When the Wind Blows", 2016, Installation view at Project 88. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

Prajakta Potnis, “When the Wind Blows”, 2016, installation view at Project 88. Image courtesy the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.

In the show, Potnis merges her focus on the notion of body and her interest in history, attempting to draw semantic trajectories that connect historical episodes with individuals’ private moments. Her investigation into the intimate and public dimensions of people’s lives through the use of domestic everyday objects – the origins of most derive from war engineering – proposes a personal understanding of the notion of ‘body politics’.

Loosely and latently quoting the 1970s feminist slogan “the personal is the political”, the image of the body – not just the female one – leaking, spurting and reacting to stimuli, expresses such close bonds in Potnis’ work between the outer world of society exerting powers, regulating and influencing the individual human body.

Carmen Stolfi

1045

Related topics: Indian artists, time, drawing, photography, installation, gallery shows, events in Mumbai

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