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Karthik Pandian: betonsalon - centre for art and research.

In life after life 1 (all works 2014), a silent, color 16-mm film that is Karthik Pandian's first collaboration with Paige K. Johnston, fair-skinned arms hold a series of fruits and vegetables before the camera: cucumber, eggplant, mango, pineapple, tomato, walnut, and so on. While some are simply proffered for observation, others appear to be tested: squeezed or snapped, to bend or break. Still others, previously vivisected, are opened; our linger on the innards. The setting is nondescript, a seemingly neutral studio space, with light entering from the right. The film oscillates between beauty verging on preciousness and violence, inflicted on strange surrogates for human organs, digits, or heads.

In his show "Confessions," Pandian juxtaposes these alluring filmed objects with solidly material ones. In the center of the gallery stands A cherry table with a walnut brain, a table custom-made from cherry-wood. Its length is Pandian's exact height and its color reminiscent of his skin tone, with a life-size model of the artist's brain, carved from walnut after a 3-D scan, affixed underneath. Every night, the table is turned upside-down, leaving the brain sticking up and conspicuously visible--a representation of the unconscious, perhaps, or of an informal economy: "under the table," as it were. Pandian had unblocked the gallery's windows, allowing increased light to enter the space. This turned the table in to a quasi product in a not-for-profit storefront. Closer to the gallery entrance is Untitled (Wide Brim Hat), a near-invisible cleft in the floor in the shape of a fedora. This barely perceptible void, etched into the literal ground of the exhibition space, serves as a counterpoint to the table-body and its bulging brain.

In keeping with the exhibition's theme, the table's materials make reference to two confessions of boyhood mischief, one American and one French: George Washington's felling of his father's cherry tree (and noble admission thereafter), and jean-Jacques Rousseau's recounting, in Book I of the Confessions, published in 1782, of an aqueduct experiment that diverted water from his guardian's prized walnut tree. Reported by a neighbor in 1809, ten years after Washington's death, the cherry-tree myth testifies to infallible honesty, while Rousseau's yarn has a different purpose, demonstrating his Enlightenment-era ingenuity even at a tender age. Fittingly, Pandian hung his own contribution to the genre on the gallery's back wall, in the form of Confessions (The incident of the Bushwick haymaker), a narrative handwritten in white script on seven glass panels. The text recalls an experience from 2001 in which the artist and a friend were mugged in Brooklyn after a night at the infamous bar Kokie's (shamelessly accurate in name). The "confession" in question has something to do with gentrification: "Do gentrifiers, first wave or otherwise ... deserve to be mugged, punched and left bleeding in the street? Surely not. But are we asking for it when we roam out onto their streets, their unintegrated communities whose very isolation is a testament to our collective refusal to tend to historical wounds, traumas, forced migrations, enslavements?" In this case, the confessor is not permitted a formation myth wholly his own; Pandian's youthful adventure turns out to be a mere symptom of a larger social dynamic that connects him to historical and contemporary networks of money and power. This begs a reconsideration of life after life i's seductive images of fruit, held and manipulated by white hands. The produce on view was bought in local markets, having arrived there via global trade--how do mangoes and pineapples, after all, end up in Paris? What histories, what violence do their surfaces obfuscate? An "inward turn" opening out onto discomfiting problematics of race and capital, "Confessions" makes for a convincingly ecological reinvention of self-portraiture.
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Author:Quiles, Daniel
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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