Circumferences Reforming: Peel till they Bloom

Buena Vista BuildingUnit 222
180 NE 39th Street
Design District, Miami

By Veeranganakumari Solanki


The illusions of permanence, fixity and the constant are within the knowledge of the seen and the acknowledgments of the unnoticed. They pair with the comfort of the known to manifest into an ephemeral space of shifting visions and vantage points in Sumakshi Singh’s “Circumferences Reforming: Peel till they Bloom”. In this series, the artist creates a merger of tangents from “Circumferences Forming”, “Peel till they Bloom”, her micro-interventions, perceptual mappings of illusionary spaces upon physical spaces and layered paper drawings. These surfaces expand and merge into new languages, which challenge each other to create unique and invented junctures of interaction and relationship with the viewers, the space and other works in the exhibition. The frames spill into the undefined and hidden unknown spaces, to question the known constantly. Skewed geometric angles align themselves with unidentified starting points from the interiors of another place, to challenge the viewer’s perception of defined spaces physically inhabited with their bodies. The images move behind hidden layers of the wall, only to reappear in another section of the space to converse with another visitor; and indefinite sculptural blobs become beautiful micro-worlds on close inspection.

A large archway is a window to the past, where there is still a lurking animated movement, which creates a sense of the unknown. From a distance, one peers into a familiar imagery of a well known Renaissance depiction of an annunciation scene. This merges into an obscure European church with similar architecture within this arched window at Bueno Vista in Miami. Here, in Singh’s renewed vision, the frescoes flake and begin to move and merge into drawn images; thereby taking on subjective meaning and forms of knowledge and vision, in the viewer’s mind. The passage of the animation follows a shaft of sunlight as it traverses the church and fades back into the fourteenth century frescoes.  The elusive knowledge that one has of the past begins to peel away in a manner similar to this work. It partially reveals buried facts that will not allow the viewer to grasp it in its entirety. Singh constantly refers the virtual and multiple reality of her work to Maya; saying that it “traverses the lines between Metaphor, Reality and Illusion”.

This stirring notion takes on another metaphor in the artist’s watercolours and the layered drawings. One encounters a tangible aspect of the moving images behind this tinted skin into which Singh breathes in her micro-interventions. Etched graffiti traced from the ancient walls of Mughal monuments are embedded within this contemporary space on multiple layers of painted paper; and patterns play with the malleable mind. These create new perceptions and renewed visions of the past, of the details in nature and the ongoing personal contemporary phenomena. Curious layers peel away to create an imagined awareness of the sense of movement within these references of history and details that are to follow. There is a reflection of microcosmic elements that derive their silhouettes from organic forms in nature.

These appearances explode into the stretch of Singh’s Peel Till They Bloom, as they break the boundaries of a framed work to re-form circumferences from other elements in the exhibition, while also creating a new version of trained seeing and looking for the viewer. The work questions the notion of territory, by demanding attention of vision from the viewer, to embed into their minds, micro-interventions of thought processes. The outburst gradually becomes subtle into the artist’s “contained pockets of activity” in the “living membranes” of animation embedded in the wall.

Describing these micro-interventions, Singh addresses the acceptance of flaws (by creating beautiful fractured wall) for appreciation of nature outside of the realm of urban perfection, while providing the suggestion of a “space-time hiccup”. There is a universal understanding and translation of the Tower of Babel with the willingness to discover and participate. However, the artist accurately mentions that these micro-interventions “resist efficiency in viewing, decoding and digesting, as it becomes impossible to decide what is the art and what isn’t.”

Singh constantly involves the viewers’ gaze in the space, as she  progressively begins to disperse the micro-interventions into niches and places below or above eye-level. This translates into an anti-thesis of the otherwise granted ease of life, gaining, viewing and comfort.

Just as one gets accustomed to this “peripheral vision” of mushrooming blooms of micro-interventions, they find that the frescoes of the European church from the window have migrated into a projection, which they find themselves a part of, along with borrowed visions from other outside elements. This work binds the exhibition together, creating a full circle, where tangents are never constant. The sensations of consciousness and unconsciousness become blurred while trying to create an understanding of the free movement of images below the skin of the wall; and then eventually between the outside and the inside; the real-space and the mind-space. As one tries to seize the dialogue of the reality of illusions within the shedding nature of these stitched walls, there is a realisation of conscious awareness and personal space.

By creating several centres, Singh ensures that there is a constantly shifting point of focus and vision. The changing view and landscape of the works activate themselves into a space that silently transforms the inside to the outside and vice versa. One grapples with a realisation of the importance of minute details, when the most indefinite and abstract shapes appear beautiful, as they peel to bloom. The artist also subtly plays with the fragility of phenomena, perceptions and personal that is experienced through her works. Addressing her primary concerns of this body of work, Singh refers to is as “an investigation through the non-linear filter of art making of: What is permanent and unchanging? What is real and how do we recognize it? History is no longer seen as a recounting of fact. It is increasingly hard to locate the ‘real’, the ‘fixed’ and the ‘certain’.”

From tiny fractures in the wall, to peeling layers of wall surfaces, these amoeboid, amorphous and occasionally fractured, rectilinear shapes shed away all pre-conceived notions to bloom into a new world of reformed circumferences that leave centres everywhere.

MAC museum, Lyon, France

MAXXI museum, Rome, Italy

Illinois State Museum and others, USA

Tiny in form, these meticulously constructed pieces magnanimously seem to expand upon closer inspection. These micro-interventions accompanied by miniscule scars and amplified flaws, convert the sterile surfaces into saturated membranes that resist efficiency in viewing, decoding and digesting as it becomes impossible to decide what is the art and what isn’t. Tension is created between the Cultural idea of the gallery space (as a neutral ground) and its Physical Reality as a space with specific qualities. Almost never located at eye level, they often reveal themselves first through peripheral vision. The viewing asks for a de-bracketing of visual attention like infants that are often to close or too far to place a frame on what they “should be” seeing. Objects and materials that have both a contractual realtionship with the space (sculpture/ paintings etc.) as well as intrinsic/ often found (cracks, holes, spider webs etc) realtionship. This enables viewers to often carry this way of looking out of the gallery to regard a weed in the sidewalk or other little fractures in a cultural movement toward control and efficiency. This starts to blur the boundaries between a space set aside for witnessing intellectual cultural activity/ and the outside world.

Galerie Kashya Hildebrand, Zurich, Switzerland

Van Harrison Gallery, New York, USA

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA

Gallery 400, Chicago, USA

Catalogue Essay

Sumakshi Singh “Void”

By John Corbett, 10/6/03

Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno recalls a profound revelation he once had during a performance in the Japanese countryside. Dancing half-submerged in a pond, he looked down at a mirror held in his hands. Algae and bits of dirt kicked up from the pond’s floor floated over the surface of the mirror; past these driftworks, he could see the reflection of blue sky and clouds. In a revelatory flash, he says, he beheld the tiny next to the enormous, the trivial alongside the majestic, the microcosm in its proper kinship with the macrocosm. A shattering sense of the unity of the cosmos hit Ohno hard, shook him to the core. The vertiginous swoop back and forth from the mighty to the miniscule.

It is such a sensibility that Sumakshi Singh brings to her Gallery 400 installation. On one hand: the trivial, accidental, cast-off, neglected, broken, overlooked, small, putrescent, finite. On the other hand: the macro, unending, cosmic, beloved, immaculate, grand, infinite. Take, for instance, a single “piece” from her show: whatever it is, it has no clear boundaries, there’s no way to say where it starts and stops, what keeps it from migrating into other “pieces.” (Her show, conceptually, does not stop at the front door of the gallery; look for her “pieces” in your own home.) The tidepool in the center of the floor, which collects water and also collects the attention of viewers (the only piece dedicated to this focal task in the show) seems to continue underneath the floor, like an ice-fishing hole or the opening to a geyser. Where does it end? It doesn’t; it continues as far as we can imagine it. The mirrors on either side of a ripped wall create a mise-en-abyme structure, pictures of infinity mapped onto the broken triviality of a crumbling piece of plasterboard.

Singh’s wallworks could be taken for mistakes, smudgy fingerprints left by a careless gallery worker, or what she describes as “histories of previous installations.” That is, the marks left on a gallery by activity therein, the inscription of art of the place it inhabits. The “foundness” of these relics, however, is often mythological, producing an unsettling ambiguity: what’s her work and what are the idiosyncracies of the existing space? Singh’s “natural” environs – which evoke walks in the woods and the thrill of discovering whole worlds in the trunk of a dead tree – are constructed, sometimes even designed to lure the audience into a false sense that the means-of-production have been revealed. Take the wall at the front of the gallery, the back of a piece of drywall, which has a casual unfinished and broken appearance that Singh calls “makeshift honesty,” as if you’ve accidentally entered from the rear door of a diorama at the Field Museum and seen the constructed environment as a jerry-rigged construction of two-by-fours and plastiform molding. Is the moth on the wall Singh’s or a “real” moth? Are the fungi in crevices “real” or Singh’s? No matter: they’re both both. Note how she’s painted in the shadows for many of the little outcroppings. Makeshift honesty. Perhaps the ideal mode of interpretation of Singh’s installation would be criminalistics, the “application of scientific techniques in collecting and analyzing physical evidence.” Fibres left on a wall corner, a crime scene begging reconstruction of a fictitious event. What microcopic calamity could have happened here to produce this? And who’s to blame?

These miniscule artworks are the breaking out of the gallery’s lillywhitewashed skin. If they’re playing at the edges of what makes a gallery show possible, at the vanishing point of the gallery (what happens when the work becomes so diffused and spread out that it’s not possible to localize it as “pieces” anymore?), then they’re also like the art that grows in as a scab on the perfect surface of the gallery walls after they’re nicked or cut. Sometimes bright, fluorescent, wired, even containing a miniature little design, Singh’s microworlds represent the psychedelic regeneration of the gallery whitewalls, a Tuatura’s tail grown back in technicolor. There’s a hallucinatory aspect to her bright effluvia – the fact that they’re everywhere (or are they nowhere?), that they beg the question of whether they’re intended or just the scars of some accident, that it’s so hard to tell for sure what is and isn’t part of the installation. They require an obsessive attention to detail, indeed they make the viewer into a temporary obsessive, simply in order to see them. An elaborate hide-and-seek, Easter-egg hunt, the tiny artworks are portals into a terrifying situation in which nothing is clearly distinguished from anything else, the possibilities for categorization are momentarily nullified, and the viewer is left with few options but to scrutinize and contemplate any discontinuity in the pores of the walls. The small becomes giant, the huge space of Gallery 400 is Shrinky-Dinked down to a molecule. We might be forgiven for expecting to see Alice peering back at us from inside one of the little Duchamp-like portals, one wonderland opening onto another.

Singh provides a new context for Ohno’s revelation, but one that is meticulously constructed, hidden and revealed in the same gesture. A crime scene awaiting any number of different detectives. But these private investigators can only work inductively, from the particular to the general, not the other way around. The process starts with the detail, the microcosmic, which then is seen as part of the macrocosmic. The heavens reflected in an upturned mirror. A mirror with some strange, colorful swirling fungus growing on it. Infinity discovered on a slice of rotting passionfruit.

John Corbett is Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He writes about music and art and he curates music and art events, most recently a first retrospective of Chicago artist Tristan Meinecke at 1926 Exhibition Space. In 2002, Corbett was appointed Artistic Director of the Berlin JazzFest. His forthcoming book is titled Microgroove: Further Forays into Other Music (Duke University Press).


Sumakshi Singh at Gallery 400

By Polly Ullrich

“Void,” an aptly-named exhibition by Sumakshi Singh at Gallery 400, is an attempt to suggest the breadth of the cosmos through a sharp attentiveness toward its slightest details. A brisk glance at the show by a careless viewer gives the impression of emptiness, that there is nothing there to see, except for dinged-up white walls, a cement floor and a stained ceiling in the gallery. Yet—look closer: see the tattered butterfly wing whirling on the sprayed yellow cobweb at the edge of a sunny window; see the tiny, clay lichens and mushrooms painted and then settled into nooks and crannies by the artist; see the finger smudges, the pokes, the dents, the hairline cracks on walls–all teased out of and carefully expanded from the leavings of other exhibitions. Singh’s “art”—such as it is—has an insignificance that suddenly turns on its head and resounds with the infinite.

This is art that is almost invisible, forcing the viewer to wonder, where is it, exactly? Is it the tiny lichens, is it the wall cracks, is it that fluff of dust in the corner? From this point of view, the sprinkler system on the ceiling begins to look interesting. There’s a huge crack on a gallery wall with mirrors propped on each end, producing an infinite regression of cracks and imperfections. With these tiny, minimalist and compressed gestures, Singh means us to lose our bearings—we are made to search concertedly for art, any art, within the eccentric leftovers of past activities and empty rooms, and suddenly everything seems potentially to be art. The boundaries and categories that have pinned art to certain media and practices are toppled, and the rest of the world suddenly expands, seems ripe for aesthetic content and teleological meaning.

“Void” is part of a wider effort in other ways as well. It is the third in a six-part series of locally-produced exhibitions titled “At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago” at Gallery 400, all of which will be specifically created for the Gallery 400 space. This is the second year of the project, which is scheduled to run for at least three years.