Tejal Shah @ Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2019


Emoji summary: 💡💿 🍃

So you’ve seen our vlog of the Biennale, you’ve read Gab’s text on Temsüyanger Longkumer. It is time to get in to some hardcore affect. I think the room Tejal Shah occupied in the Kochi Biennale was my favourite. I will tell you why.

I think I just really liked the entire lighting / ambience / mood of Coir Godown in Aspinwall House. That was the building with the ring-light for a gallery, and the entire space was lit a kind of warm light brown beige. Under a thatched roof / against the imperfectly plastered walls / across a kinda dusty brown floor. The space was already grounded, in that it felt like I wasn’t really inside - truly. The works were sparse, some prints, 3 projections, a short bench in the middle.

This work was good, small, subtle, an unassuming scale, but in its smallness there wasn’t a shrinkage. It left space for me, for my body, and for me to remember my body. For me to feel its entire exterior as the clammy air of the midday heat rubbed against the surface of my skin, clinging to arm hairs on the way. This work felt like a body centered within it, but opaque and distant; body as an underbelly rather than a foreground. It was powerful, I think, I felt the space between me and the work concertina up and fold closer, collapsing in, a palpable proximity. I Felt: it was the affectation that you only get from an artist who’s bothered to consider already what their work ~feels~ like rather than just how it reads intellectually. Like breath on ur neck, ~earthy crunchy, a brittle snap into atmosphere.

The biggest work was one massive print (from Hijra Fantasy Series) of a tableau that felt semi-pseudo-religious. Two figures poised but not stiff, an intimacy in their closeness; in the red henna tipped fingers. To the red silk sari draped plump on shoulder >> to bangle stack >> the back of the pallo is a shimmering bright gold, cast in shadow >> pointing finger, fleshy pad of the tip turned up to the sky >> distance, sky >> a fat, glowing moon.

On the other side of the room, a low mounted screen with a slow moving film: black and white, where the mountains have met the sea. The only thing moving was the waves as they shimmered against the rocks.

To the right, a film projected, not quite as big as the wall, but nearly! Grainy black and white footage of waterlogged mud / a field with a masked figure / hands holding a mirror the shape of a crescent moon from afar, they tilt the mirror back and forth and the light from the sun reflects back into the lens, flaring glare. (the same crescent moon mirror is in a projection on the wall opposite, resting in the sand, shape curving upwards like a U, the tips of the crescent are burning with an orange smoke. Like incense or smudge stick. The shape of the projections is a romantic blurred oval. The mirror burns from the tips inwards and the orange flames consume it.) I am glad for the soundtrack on this film, it cuts over the visuals with a throbbing kind of tension. Where (in the video) you can hear us say the work matches our jet lag, I think the soundtrack stopped the work from slipping into something soothing. It was tense, not in an ominous or foreboding way, but in a way that meant there was an implied toughness. It felt like something was building, but we never reached, it never arrived. The tension just hummed away - and I felt It rattling through the space like how you can always feel bass in your collarbone.

I liked this room in the same way I like the aesthetic feeling of Dubai (rather than the politics or actual existence); they say there are shopping malls with marble floors, and the courtyards outside them go for a few hundred meters, but there is a point at which the marble stops and the sand reclaims the edges. You can’t see that from Google satellite, or from the top floor of the Burj al-Arab, but I imagine if you walked all the way up to the edge of that courtyard, you’d see a hot wind blowing sand across the marble floor, sand creeping over the edge. How do I describe that deep and whole pleasure of an aesthetic that just ~is a perfect embodiment of liminality? I never can, I never have the words, I can never be bothered. I wish you were there to feel it vibrate from within ur chest like bass. I think that is a kind of powerful aesthetic moment. I think art is well placed here to be felt, affect feels amplified under a boiling hot sun, the clammy air of midday heat.

a woman and a child stand looking at a projection in black and white of a white triangular shape against rocks
a brown woman and her child sit looking and pointing up at the moon in a staged portrait
black rocks against a flat white sky
a spotlight projection shows a tiny crescent rusty shape