1.-13. October 2020
Cable Factory
Opening on Thursday, 1. October, 6 – 8 p.m.
Opening Hours:
12 – 6 p.m. (every day)

Vidha Saumya

A quick Google search for the meaning of the word power reveals that it is mainly a noun but sometimes it is a verb. The sentences give examples of how power means ‘control’, ‘strength’, ‘official right’, ‘electricity’, ‘ability’, ‘natural ability’, ‘person with control’, ‘nation’, and ‘mathematics’. A footnote here would be to also consider the meaning of power in physics

 

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Anne Bradstreet (1612-72), America’s first published female poet, wrote these lines below in 1650, as part of the Prologue to her volume The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. [1]

 

[1] Cultural Weekly, ‘Anne Bradstreet: Who Says My Hand a Needle Better Fits?’, Cultural Weekly, November 3, 2011,  https://www.culturalweekly.com/who-says-my-hand-a-needle-better-fits/

 

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue,

Who says my hand a needle better fits;

A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong,

For such despite they cast on female wits;

If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,

They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance. [2]

 

[2] Kamala Das, Selected Poems, (Haryana: Penguin Random House India Private Limited, 2014), xi.

 

The force in the above lines summon an empowered future of agency and authorship. 

This poem by Anne Bradstreet serves as the Introduction to Selected Poems by Kamala Das. I can well imagine why a poem like this speaks for Kamala Das’s journey as a major poet in English — a journey of being accepted, acknowledged and celebrated into the literary circles. In her poems, love and betrayal offer a unified perspective on female sexuality and desire. Kamala Das was born in 1937, her teenage years running parallel to the early post-independence years in a new India. I was born in 1984 and my teenage years belong in the 90s. I also grew up in a home environment where reading, writing and expressing creativity were acknowledged and encouraged. So, when my mother, a fierce feminist suggested I learn how to embroider, sew and stitch, it struck me as a gendered imposition. Put off by the idea of stitching, I squirmed even at the thought of touching the needle. I did learn how to sew a button, hem ‘kurtas’ and do basic clothes repair to take care of myself. Nothing beyond their functionality appealed to me. Then, last September (2019), I attended my first Radical Cross-stitch Workshop at the Museum of Impossible Forms in Kontula, Helsinki, hosted by Marianne Savalampi and Linnea Saarits. Their method of introducing cross-stitching washed away my bias and contempt. Since then, across months of working in this medium, I have found ways in which cross-stitching compliments my visual arts practice and adds to the vocabulary for my poems. Anne Bradstreet’s poem, quoted above, works as the edge from where I start forming the works presented in the Catalysti exhibition, 2084, curated by Anne Klontz. In conjunction with the exhibition, I was offered a proposition to research the PUBLICS library archive and make a selection of titles based on power, which is at the core of the curatorial vision of this exhibition that derives its title from George Orwell’s book 1984.

………… 

 

I could select any five books in relation to power. To print itself is power. The publishing industry whether through printing machines or in their selection of what to print run on power and power relations respectively. These relations fuel the power dynamics between scripts, languages, and the availability of resources in a manner that mirrors the hegemonic structure of society. Since the library was closed in the holiday month of July, the time during which I carried out this research, I decided to select those books from the PUBLICS library that I owned too.

 

To perform this informal research, I helped myself with two exercises.

Exercise 1: Companionate a book with a poem

Exercise 2: Select an excerpt and replace the primary subject of the excerpt with the ‘power’ and write again. 

 

Book 1

body luggage_migration of gestures (Bessora et al., co-edited by Zasha Colah)

 

I often return to body luggage_migration of gestures when contemplating movement and migration as cultural gestures as frames of reference through which I question of the body, what it holds as knowledge and in what forms does the body bring this knowledge to a new space. 

 

Companioning this book with a vākh from the book I, Lalla: Poems of Lal Ded translated by Ranjit Hoskote, I am thinking of the body as a tool and carrier of power as well as a transmitter of knowledge in the way that I think of power as something that can be offered forward to help another body. Furthermore, I select a translated text because it is through translation that I make contact with new knowledge. In that sense, I also assign power to be synonymous to translation. 

 

Don’t torture this body with thirst and hunger

Give it a hand when in stumbles and falls

To hell with all your vows and prayers

Just help others through life, there’s no truer worship [3]

 

[3] Lal Ded, I Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded, Translated by Ranjit Hoskote, (Delhi: Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd), 141.

 

“The essence of written language could have its nemesis in the bureaucratic, exacting writing of the law, where everything must be recorded and articulated in order that it may be considerable within its framework.” [4]

 

The essence of power could have its nemesis in the bureaucratic, exacting writing of the law, where everything must be recorded and articulated in order that it may be considerable within its framework. 

 

[4] Zasha Colah, ‘Gaidinliu’s Script’ body luggage edited by steirischer herbst and Zasha Colah, (Berlin: Archive Books, 2016.) 



Book 2

Social Practices (Chris Kraus)

 

Before moving to Helsinki (in 2016) I had worked for 7 years at an art gallery in Mumbai. The full-time job at an art gallery offered a punctilious vantage point from where to see the art world. The undivided care towards the work left me insufficient time and space to reflect on my own situatedness. Although I was simultaneously making work in my home studio and holding exhibitions, there was a constant crisis regarding how I was doing in this situation. Moving to Helsinki allowed me space and time to dislodge this embeddedness. Unlearning does not mean forgetting but an opportunity pause and reflect on reciprocal behaviors and form new understandings. Reading Chris Kraus’s Social Practices two years after having moved to Helsinki helped me articulate these new understandings. Understanding is power. The Prisoner by Kamala Das brings me closer to understanding the trappings of the art world following which an excerpt from Social Practices sums up the desire for that ‘something’ that validates my presence at the ‘Art’ site. The meaning of desire changes as one gains more experience or finds new words to define what I am seeking. The seeking of something is power.

 

The Prisoner

 

As the convict studies

his prison’s geography

I study the trappings

of your body, dear love

for I must some day find

an escape from its snare [5]

 

[5] Kamala Das, Selected Poems, (Haryana: Penguin Random House India Private Limited, 2014), 77.

 

“During the past several years I’ve noticed the evaporation of the fierce desire that once preempted rational choice. Slightly confused, I concluded that the best course to follow was: if I don’t actively want something and someone else does, just let them have it.” [6]

 

During the past several years I’ve noticed the evaporation of the fierce desire that once preempted rational choice. Slightly confused, I concluded that the best course to follow was: if I don’t actively want power and someone else does, just let them have it.

 

[6] Chris Kraus, ‘Resistance’, Social Practices, California: Semiotext(e), 281.




Book 3

Art Workers: Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice

(Edited by Minna Henriksson, Erik Krikortz, Airi Trisberg) 

 

Art Workers: Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice is the first book that I read after beginning my studies at Aalto University, Helsinki. The Introduction pages were in the Dropbox of a reading list offered in the curriculum. Later, I acquired a copy and read other parts of the book.

I have excerpted two sentences from Minna Henriksson’s contribution Gallery Rent Model: Owner-Tenant Relations in Exhibiting where she talks about the problematics of high gallery rent expected by art galleries in Finland — a rent model that originated as a way to democratize the art scene but more recently has manifested into the institutionalization of counter-institutional art spaces usually in the gentrified central areas on the city. On a more hopeful note, she covers galleries and organizations that have continued to function with zero or affordable rents. Overall, the book closely examines and argues for artists’ work to be considered ‘work’ and advocates the work’s legitimacy from the point of view of ‘basic income’ and ‘contracts’ in the quest for fair art practices. Untitled love in Meena Kandasamy’s book Ms Militancy conveys the poetics of the dual invisible work that artists do: one that they do in their studio and the second is the juggling through multiple jobs ‘they have to do’ in order to pay rent, food and travel, buy materials, afford a studio, and if that’s not all also pay to show their work. But to talk about this is often a taboo because capitalist society shoulders its benevolence and openness to art on the idea that art is what an artist loves to do and not work for which they deserve contracts, competent fee and acknowledgement. Looking at my own situation, this dual identity gets a double edge, for example, if I only do ‘jobs’, then I have little to show as a ‘successful’ art worker to the migration department and if I only do artwork then I cannot prove my reason to stay as someone who works as an artist and gets paid for it. Whether artists like me advance the cultural discourse of the city is neither the migration department’s concern nor a rent expecting gallery. Note: This statement is not to deny the presence of grants and/or artist-run spaces but a footnote to draw attention to the interconnectedness of visibility and work. 

 

 

Untitled love

 

and perhaps,

 

because we only met in secret,

shielded by darkness,

 

he hesitates – whenever i ask him

to bring our love to light [7]



[7] Meena Kandaswamy, Ms Militancy, (New Delhi: Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2010), 59.

 

“It is a paradox that it is the rent cost which is supposedly guaranteeing the democracy, as in fact some have more resources than others.” [8]

 

It is a paradox that it is power which is supposedly guaranteeing the democracy, as in fact some have more resources than others

 

[8] Minna Henriksson, ‘Gallery Rent Model: Owner-Tenant Relations in Exhibiting’, Art Workers: Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice, Edited by Erik Krikortz, Airi Trisberg, Minna Henriksson, Tartu: Nordic-Baltic Art Workers’ Network for Fair Pay. Supported by Kultukontakt Nord, Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse, Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, 2015, 53.




Book 4

A Lover’s Discourse (Roland Barthes)

 

Love and its messiness are inextricably connected to what I do in my art practice, namely: monumental drawings, intimate mark-makings, murals, books, poems, sculptures, embroidered textiles, food art, videos, and digital artifacts. Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse ranges over an entire gamut of love and beyond, including jealousy, waiting, letters, being in love, and love which I companionate this selection with Green Parrot a poem by the Slovenian poet Srečko Kosovel. This poem is a playful resistance to binaries. Binaries and dichotomies prominently present in Eurocentric societies cause disbelief in someone else’s story. Like the seagulls in the project Monumentless Moments: the Utopia of Figureless Plinths the Green Parrot speaks what it sees. To speak what you see is to defy outmoded assumptions and multiply new meanings. Multiplicity is power.

 

Green Parrot

 

Hey, green parrot !

Tell us how it is in Europe !

The Green Parrot replies:

Man is not symmetrical [9]

 

[9] Srečko Kosovel, The Golden Boat: Selected poems of Srečko Kosovel, (Norfolk: Salt Publishing, 2011), 130.

 

“As a jealous man, I suffer four times over: because I am jealous because I blame myself for being so, because I fear my jealousy will wound the other, because I allow myself to be subject to banality: I suffer from being excluded, from being aggressive, from being crazy, and from being common.” [10]

 

As a powerful man, I suffer four times over: because I am powerful because I blame myself for being so, because I fear my power will wound the other, because I allow myself to be subject to banality: I suffer from being excluded, from being aggressive, from being crazy, and from being common.

 

[10] Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, ‘Jealousy’, (London: Vintage, 2002), 146.



Book 5

Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition (B.R. Ambedkar)

 

In many ways, the power I hold is an experience that comes situated in a certain caste-based identity which has allowed me easier access to education and a safer social environment growing up in India. Unfortunately, this is not true for all people from the same country. Caste-based oppression in India is older than slavery and prevalent in shockingly perverse and dehumanizing ways in contemporary times — a dreadful revelation of how the Secular Democratic Republic of India has failed its citizens. My parents, an inter-caste couple, moved from their respective hometowns in Bihar to metropolitan cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, creating for me a natural environment of convenience, exposure, safety and education, which composited into a comfortable sense of freeness and independence. The social temperature changed when I moved to Helsinki and faced situations where my identity began to at once be defined by others. This jolted me out of clutches of my own ignorance. Annihilation of Caste should be made fundamental to all education and educational fields. Power resides in ‘Education, Organization and Agitation’— a call made by B.R. Ambedkar to uplift societies that were deeply oppressed in a majoritarian Hindu country, India. Intervening any text to Annihilation of Caste is like showing a lamp to the sun. Still, to complete the exercise, I bring to it Federico García Lorca’s poem, Apothecary. Through a series of rhetorical questions, this poem pleads for a potion that could bring life to a dead person. 

 

Apothecary

 

Are those poisons

from India?

 

Those perfumes from Arabia?

 

(The apothecary sobbing

beside his dead son.)

 

Does that poison heal

the wounds of love?

 

And that rose-coloured water

the wounds of youth?

 

(The apothecary bending

above his dead son.)

 

Tell me: which rose holds

the terrible poison?

 

And what does this vial hold?

Do you see how it’s shaking?

 

………… 

 

(Between sobs

comes a beating of wings

from his flasks.)

10.3  [11]

 

[11] Federico García Lorca, Collected Poems, ‘Apothecary’, (New York: FSG Books, 2011)

 

“Unlike a club, the membership of a caste is not open to all and sundry. The law of caste confines its members to persons born in the caste. Castes are autonomous, and there is no authority anywhere to compel a caste to admit a new-comer to its social life.” [12]

 

Unlike a club, the membership of power is not open to all and sundry. The law of power confines its members to persons born in power. Power is autonomous, and there is no authority anywhere to compel the power to admit a new-comer to its social life.

 

[12] B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition, ‘Annihilation of Caste: An Undelivered Speech, 1936’, (New Delhi: Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd), 254.

 

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I have to believe that smoke that is rising from the burning mangroves in Mumbai which I can see only through online images is reaching me here. When I see fluffy white clouds against a clear blue sky, I have to remember that this sky also holds the scorching heat and charred smells of the burning land. The sky becomes the powerful messenger — transgressing borders — country to country, speaking of the burning land.