Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Artist of the Week 05/31/05

My most vivid memory of an installation by Rina Banerjee was the one I helped her install at the ARCO art fair in Madrid a few years back. In a sense, like seeing behind the scenes at a movie, this very practical experience removed some of the magic from the final product (all her found objects were revealed for the mundane things they really are). Still, nothing at the "Greater New York" exhibition at PS1-MoMA caught me by surprise or delighted me as much as Rina's new piece there. I could only find a very small image of it online, but you really have to see it in person anyway.

Born in Calcutta, raised in Britain, and educated at Yale, Rina now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter and is represented in New York by Suite 106 gallery. The colors, shapes, textures, and political complications of her previous and current homes combine in her installations, drawings, and video works. Rina's work is difficult for me, I must admit. It takes time to look at her work, and even then you're never quite sure there's not criticism of you in it (but usually there is). Take for example this pink Taj Mahal installation. It's wonderous and colorful and certainly well made enough. It's titled Take Me, Take Me, Take Me . . . To the Palace of Love (lifted from a kitschy Hindi movie of the mid-fifties) and according the website of Mass MoCA (where it was exhibited), it "addresses both the absurdity and charm of the western infatuation with this cultural landmark as a romantic fantasy." In other words, Rina's work deals head on with the way "exoticized elements of a colonized culture often become fashionable in the culture of the colonizer." And in case it's still not obvious, on one level at least, to her that's an insult.

I find work like this difficult because I'm not sure where I'm supposed to position myself in relation to it. As someone of Anglo-Saxon descent, my ancestors are certainly among the fools who decorated their homes with the cutesified paisley shawls, Indian furniture, and other decorative items meant to domesticate the exotic far-off lands and make them less threatening. Am I supposed to apologize for this past when faced with Rina's work? Am I supposed to attone? Consider this other piece from her Mass MoCA exhibition:

Notice the hierachy of objects on the back wall: A dollhouse, then a bird cage, then a pair of plastic lotus lights, then a group of portraits, followed up by a pair of baby buggies topped with pink onion domes, and finally above everything else Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington (a copy). Rina supplemented this installation with the following text:

The world of possessions requires the world of make-believe; the domestication of empire is rehearsed through ceaseless ordering and reordering of its proxies. The altar shrinks global objects to a miniaturized, portable dimension. This endearing shift in scale piques our sense of wonder and channels our desire to control, inviting playful wandering. The world out there is brought back to the world inside; the dollhouse souvenir invokes its translocation.
On a purely logical level, I think Rina mixes here criticism of British colonialism with a critique of America's imperialist attitude, if not outright conquests. Perhaps for her, colonialism is colonialism and if you're not with those opposed to it, you're against them (I'll ask her next time I see her). I do admire her way of putting it all out there though. Life, with all its messiness and little miracles, is celebrated in everything she makes, even when she's criticizing. Consider this next piece, titled With tinsel and teeth, gem and germ ...get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged:

You want to like this exotic creation with its absurd feathers and shiny globes, but the clawed table legs and fallen plastic (perhaps pricked globes) at the base stand as a warning to get back...this thing can hurt you.


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Anonymous hozzy said...

so cool, i wish i had that

4/27/2008 07:56:00 AM  

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