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.

Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India


Sumakshi Singh’s interactive installations play with perspective to create ‘illusions’ that allow viewers to inhabit and alter her imagery through their movements. In, Between The Pages (2014) is an installation with references to history of Kerala, both as a protagonist in the maritime voyages of the 14-17 centuries, and as a vibrant centre where early astronomer-mathematicians were fiercely pursuing the problems of locating themselves and the earth within the cosmos.

Close to the entry to the gallery is a table where audiences get their first glimpse of the illusion: The projected view of two manuscript pages where the various elements – birds, whirling planets and viewers such as themselves – are in motion. Turning away from it, they enter a 70 feet-long maze made of hanging paper scrolls that align from one angle to form the elusive manuscript book. These scrolls feature paintings, delicate collages and projected animations that bring to life a range of narratives: The cosmology of Surya Siddhanta, a Sanskrit treatise to astronomy dates to as far back as 4CE;illustrations from the Hortus Malabaricus, a 17th century Dutch east India Company-initiated compendium on Kerala’s flora; and the mythology surrounding Vasco da Gama’s arrival in Callicut, poetically represented here by a star map of the sky as it appeared on the night he disembarked.

At the other end of the galaxy, a second projection ties together these fragments of history through yet another aligned view of the illusion where viewers find themselves reflected back as a part of the image, transformed into one of the characters in the pastiche manuscript.

According to Singh, she has always considered voyages in the external world to be reflections of the inner journeys through which we seek to locate ourselves in ‘space, time, cultural history and simply in our own stories.’

Art Summit, Delhi, India

Read press articles/ interviews related to this project

For Animated Suspension: Halfway Here, Singh generates a performance-based stop-motion animation where she first creates the drawn illusion of her bedroom with all its objects and then seems to move these (illusory) objects by drawing, erasing and redrawing them on the architecture and on her own body. The actual room with its maze of familiar yet elusive charcoal drawings splattered in fractured shapes over the architectural surfaces, devoid of perspectival unity was installed at the India Art Summit 2011. Viewers in the corridors approached what looked like a projected black and white drawing (8ft X 6ft) of the artist’s bedroom. Then suddenly people were seen walking in and out of the drawing, sometimes disconcertingly cutting through a picture frame, a table or walking through the middle of a laptop. Further investigation revealed the room behind the projection; the 3 dimensional arena generating the 2 dimensional image. Viewers entered and began walking through a zig-zag of spaces with skewed lines and tones, turning a corner to see themselves on screen (the back of the projection they had seen from the outside corridor) and find themselves located in the artist’s bedroom. People stayed in there for long periods of time, familiarizing themselves with the new laws of this mico-universe: watching themselves in 2 dimensional “there” (onscreen) and while simultaneously locating themselves in the 3 dimensional “here”, investigating what implications their actions in this space would have on the other.

The artist says “This ability to be in multiple spaces at once is pretty commonly understood through Facebook, Skype and Second Life. Our “everyday” is quite extraordinary as our experiences of immediacy can now be accessed in simultaneity. Often we even locate our direct experiences through the mediated. I have also been generating performance-based stop motion animations where I question these phenomena through attempts to interact with these virtual objects on a physical plane. I move around the physical room seeming to re-arrange/ re-locate the already drawn objects, attempting to hold, push, lift or pull them, as if they were real. This is done by erasing and re-rendering the drawn objects on the various surfaces and planes of the room, shifting the drawings inch by inch, leaving behind a William-Kentridge-like animated trace of their trajectory through 3 dimensional objects and space. Part of this investigation has sprung up from the reading of Yogic texts that claim material form is an illusionary construct (maya) that we give reality to. The animations become a way of asking myself “well, how much effort does it take to constantly interact with things that aren’t real?”


Art Hong Kong, China

In “Backstage: Onscreen” viewers walk through a constructed studio space of objects and architecture, painted white to become ghostlike versions of their physical selves. Painted upon them, one encounters strange geometric shapes, gestural marks and skewed bits of representational painting. Viewers suddenly look up to see themselves in a live video projection where they appear to be walking through a completely different studio space, made up by the alignment (from one vantage point) of all these strange painted forms around them. The real objects turn invisible through camouflage while the lined up illusory image takes dominance as the “reality” onscreen. Here viewers turn to watch their virtual selves moving though black and white paintings like a living character, walking through solid seeming furniture, unbound by laws of physics, sitting on a drawn stool or disappearing into a painted easel! The image depicts a colorful studio within which is a monochromatic painting (of the studio), within which is also a painting (of the same studio) suggesting an infinity loop where image reflects environment. Viewers are allowed to walk through not just the “backstage” arena of the studio where the painting rests before its “onstage” appearance at fairs, museum and galleries, but also in a literal way into the messy, tangible 3 dimensional construction of the elegant 2 dimensional “painted” image, appearing onscreen.
In negotiating this bizzare micro-universe of onscreen/off-screen the artist asks viewers to reconsider notions of the real and represented, object and image, knowledge and perception, fact and illusion, actual and virtual, exposing the fragile set of givens upon which meaning is constructed.

Camargo Foundation, France


I lived in several places but returned year after year to my grandfather’s home in New Delhi, where he has lived since 1948. After he died in 2006, walking through the spaces this missing person occupied, filled with the lifetime of carefully collected objects, I was left with a strong sense of the uncanny. Each object in the room had a story I was familiar with. They had been there as long as I could remember – in the same place, pretty much frozen in time. With the referent gone a re-negotiation of my relationships to the once familiar objects left behind had to take place. Familiarity seemed located only in the mediated world of photographs. The latter eventually gained precedence over both: current space (where I was having a hard time locating myself) and time (memory).

An analogy to this experience, I mapped the illusion of my grandfather’s living room by drawing on top of the pre-existing objects in my studio, in dry pastels. From the entrance these perceptual, historic objects just about cover the actual, contemporary ones. As viewers step away from the specified viewing position and enter the installation, the objects break into strange shapes, stubbornly fighting the architecture and retaining angles of a now-inaccurate perspective, generating a space- time hiccup where they are free to move but their earlier perception is not. Both form and material turn fickle as straight lines turn into curves mapped on a rounded chair leg and the fabric on a sofa plainly starts displaying the hand’s gestures in chalk pastel. The backs of the real chairs, tables, trash cans, jars, exposed bits of the floor, walls, shelves and columns begin to unabashedly reveal themselves and a contradictory co-existence of the real and virtual begins.

Meanwhile, in a real-time video feed projected onto a screen across the room, viewers/ participants watch themselves moving through the perfectly lined up fictional space. While the direct phenomenological experience of their own frozen vision often turns abstract and hard to negotiate, this mediated, one-point view (the projection) lets them watch themselves simultaneously moving through the convincing illusionist space offering a more graspable solution. From time to time, even this solution turns unpredictable as viewers see themselves or another walking through what seemed like a concrete object: disconcertingly challenging the boundaries of form and matter! Participants are confronted with awkwardly trying to locate themselves in the multiple spaces set up – the fractured “here”, the mediated (in space) “there” and the memory of the space (mediated in time) they are supposed to be in.

Further, the relationship between these spaces start getting more complex as the image on screen responds to their movements not like the virtual image of a familiar mirror, but rather the opposite. Bodies slow down, movements gets amplified as the participants start concentrating on re-familiarizing themselves with their own bodies and trying to understand what the implications of a movement in this space will have on the others.

Using the disconcerting tension between the perceptual and phenomenological experience, these projects ask questions about permanence and transience, object and image, fact and illusion, mapping and displacement, perception and knowledge, often exposing the fragile set of givens upon which meaning is constructed. For me this project was a personal investigation asking- “What do these signifiers mean once the signified is gone? What is it that we actually own? What does it means to make a space “ours” in a way that outlives us? What is permanent and unchanging? What is real and how do we recognize it?

Sculpture Space, Utica, USA

Mapping the Studio, Sculpture Space, Utica, NY, 2008.
This project involved drawing out and partly assembling an illusion of the studio space and its objects onto other pre-existing objects in the space. For example an illusion of a chair in the studio was created partly on the real chair, partly on 2 walls and the floor. As viewers walk in, the objects begin to distort and break free into strange shapes stubbornly fighting the architecture and retaining the angles of a now-inaccurate perspective. This creates a sort of space- time hiccup where we are free to move but our earlier perception is not.

A video is generated during the creation of this fictional space around me. In the mapping process, a video camera looks through the drawing of the illusory space on glass into the actual space with me in it. I co-relate my drawing on the floor, walls and other pre-existing furniture in the space to the image seen by the camera via an enlarged projection of it. I continually watch myself in the projection as I map out a version of perception that is not true to my current place in space-time (but I momentarily subscribe to) as attested by another video camera placed elsewhere revealing the absurdity of this one point view and my awkward attempts at trying to match it.

Sketches in Space

Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, USA