Go Away Closer – Dayanita Singh – Hayward Gallery

12th December 2013

My first reaction on entering the rooms where the exhibition was hung was to enter the ‘Museums’ first, against the flow, so-to-speak, of all the other students who headed for some of the other images and the books.   Part of this was my normal perversity, but it was also that I’d really wanted to see this side of the exhibition more than anything else and as a result I had the ‘Museums’ virtually to myself, in fact there were only two other visitors in there and they left very shortly after I entered; wonder if there was a funny smell following me?

Having read the reviews that had been recommended as part of the pre-visit reading, I did stop and look at the two short, bookcases at the entrance to view them.  I found it interesting that one contained a number of books with the same title, ‘House of Love’ but in variously designed and coloured dust jackets, and the other entitled ‘Bookcart 2013’ had the same image from the ‘File Room’ collection with variously coloured surrounds.  Clearly the two cases were meant to complement each other but I have to say I wasn’t entirely sure what impression this was meant to impart to a visitor prior to entering the ‘Museums’, perhaps none, at least I couldn’t determine one anyway, although upon reflection the bookcases were made in a similar style to the display units in the room and maybe this was to provide a precursor to that.

The room was fairly dimly lit and as I progressed I found this difficult as it prevented me from examining the detail of some of the images, particularly if the image was in a shadowed corner.  Having said that I do feel it added to the ambience of the event and was entirely in keeping with the overall effect of the way the exhibition was laid out and displayed.

I became thoroughly intrigued with this exhibition and was so engrossed I spent the whole first hour going from one frame to the next and around again, initially trying to look at the images but failing to see them as my eye was forever flicking from one image to the next.  I eventually managed to get to grips with the looking and seeing and was particularly enthralled with the Museum of Chance’ where none of the images appear to have any set relevance to one another, it’s up to the visitor to make the narrative any which way they want, up, down sideways, diagonally whatever takes your eye.  This is a great way of looking at your image library and attempting to locate hidden narratives between seemingly unconnected material, although not many of us have an equal amount of room as Ms Singh seems to have in her home to be able to lay them out for long enough to make any connections.  I’m sure it could be done, but it would require images of  smaller dimensions than hers to get away with it in my flat, if I could at all.

I did look at all the work on display in all the rooms and found that the work she has undertaken in colour doesn’t hold the same appeal as her black and white work, she may also have this opinion as she doesn’t seem to make too much coloured material.  There were some other works I found that I was really impressed with, such as the Mona Ahmed work.  I found this extremely moving as he/she seemed to live a very tortured life and only appeared to be enlivened when in company, then the body language became very feminine, all the rest I thought showed loneliness and despair.  The rest of the halls were hung with various unconnected works which I found frustrating and couldn’t get to grips with enjoying them.

Overall I found her work very stimulating and some of it did remind me of the more standard perceptions of Indian work, particularly the ‘File Room’, where the Raj sprang to mind, that was really from the images of stacks of mouldering files and one of a cardboard box stencilled ‘Foreign Department’ and 1908, which could allude to an index number or the date the files relate to.  Other than that her work is non-Indian, although Indian people do appear in her images, they don’t try to portray their way of life as if appealing to a Western audience.

Her work isn’t restricted to photography as she calls herself a bookmaker.  I think this probably describes her very well as the books she has produced are numerous, well-edited and filled with her images.  I think her photography is an adjunct to her purpose of making books for personal reasons, philosophical reasons and for sharing her unique views on individuals and collectives .  Sophie Calle springs to mind as an artist with a similar pattern of image making, apparently random but with a purpose that only she knows until collated and presented, then it’s up to the viewer to either agree or make a new narrative entirely.

I finished my tour by watching what Dayanita calls ‘a moving still, how I would really like to have captured Mona’.   Apparently it was created by mistake when Ms Singh was experimenting with a new digital camera which she didn’t know how to operate, her normal medium being film, and she set the video recording in motion accidentally and made a three-minute video of Mona lying down listening to an Indian song.  His/Her lips move minutely to the words and his/her eyes move from side to side occasionally, otherwise the body remains still.  It’s quite soporific and I stood watching for two loops, unfortunately it was a section that was poorly attended, although it did allow individual freedom to participate in silence.  I was very taken in by it and got a glimpse of another side of Mona that the stills hadn’t revealed and was taken in and shared the tranquility he/she seemed to get from the moment.

I took away a feeling of exhilaration and many thoughts about how my work could be enhanced by this work.  I think I no longer have to strive to achieve a linked meaning in every image, that allows one to set aside all those images made like that and perhaps bring them together at some point and make a work from them.  If that doesn’t happen, then so what, at least a moment in time that inspired me has been captured forever and I may or may not appreciate it in the future, but that doesn’t matter as someone else in another time and place might.

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4 Responses to Go Away Closer – Dayanita Singh – Hayward Gallery

  1. Catherine says:

    I was sorry to have missed it. Great that you feel inspired.

  2. Eileen says:

    I also loved the film of Mona, and found the exhibition filled me with ideas and inspiration. I found it fascinating how she combined things that weren’t obviously related into sets that somehow worked together. I think that’s hugely more difficult than she made it look but it also interests me as a way to go.

    • Eddy Lerp says:

      Quite a few of the students who went there thought that her combinations in the ‘Museum of Chance’ were purely random, but I did find some patterns and that’s what made me realise they weren’t entirely random and that perhaps this was a way to engage viewers with an unknown and hidden narrative.

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