Praneet Soi: Hold Still

Installation view

Praneet Soi’s ongoing solo show Hold Still, at the Experimenter Gallery at Ballygunge Place, touches many chords from aural to the visual, but what it perhaps touches the most successfully is the semblance of an other life in our everyday.

As soon as one gets used to the long shot of a drill on the screen projection, with bundles of ropes, cutters and ply pieces, the view masks itself in digital black tar to project a sharp-cut silhouette of a falling body. The textures unbridle themselves beneath the manifold layers as Soi attempts an audio-visual deconstruction of his own artistic exercise – the making of which is perhaps as striking as the works. As one peeps through the human silhouette on the screen, one witnesses an immediate past of Soi’s present work, curating a multi-layered archive of visual vocabulary.

Installation view (Huisduiner Church, Two Architectures).

Titled after Sally Mann’s celebrated book, this exhibition invites the audience into a sort of visual memoir inextricably linked with the concerns of conflict, public memory and memorialisation. The curious politics behind how images are circulated differently across different, and already hierarchised geo-political zones influence the public memory of those very events, often successfully merging them into unilateral discourses of representation and remembrance. Soi’s work over the years have travelled from one zone of conflict to another, and have addressed the situational nuances from Kashmir to Afghanistan to the case of 9/11.

The brick-red installation of a figure blocks the spectator’s view – and they immediately scrutinise their own memory archive to confirm the familiar singularity of such a human silhouette. As the images refer to real-life events obliquely, the works create a palimpsest of memory in between the private and the public, between the individual spectator and them as political citizens. The Asiatic Garden, the keepsake from the Kochi-Muziris Biennale installation presumably expands the access of public memory of the falling human characters.

As the moving figures in Soi’s work cross their individual borders and run into the other’s frame, struggling to exist, the intimate sense of a perspective is often lost, demanding the spectator to excavate the multi-layered visual signifiers. The information boom in the digital age has initiated, if not developed, a polyphonic canvas where snippets of information undercut and veil one another. Soi unearths the chaotic optics from a not-so-distant past into our present, while subverting any linear idea of temporality itself, as memories of the past are recreated and reinterpreted in the present. The Falling Figure, Memento Mori, Twin Tours – all recall a past that is reified time and again in our dominant cultural memory, and yet, their curious treatment in Soi’s works invoke a loss beyond their presumed emotional certitude.

Piggyback | Acrylic paint and silverpoint on linen canvas, 2017.

Piggyback recalls a past from the ruins of our mythic memory – the contemporary visual tropes reify the ancient stories of our ancestors. The human body which is pivotal to the conceptual and visual arc of Soi’s work, manifest themselves in a sharply drawn, yet porously nondiscriminatory body-contours – one body merging into another. The photograph that finds its place in our everyday pamphlets with clear distinctions between truth and memory, here, gets recreated as it loses its vivacity, transforming itself into a symbolic visual beyond precision. His other architectural and figure drawings hint at a similar process as well.

October creates a labyrinth between the conflict zones of Kashmir, Syria and 9/11 as one’s visual patterns enter another’s architecture, and personal photographic memoirs enter the public repository. The use of acrylic and silver-point together in several of his images cultivate a sense of belonging to an artistic past which it has not quite lost touch with; at the same time perhaps, the images await that distant future in which the silverpoint would turn the canvas warm sepia. Soi utilises the silver point in his work October as well, as a conscious decision marking the connection between the visual practices of drawing and photography.

Mumbai Diptych, on the other hand, is Soi’s exercise into anamorphosis. The Barringtonia tree from Marina Drive speaks of an advent against the sharp urban silhouette of Bombay, as Soi narrates. The viewer’s gaze which is so intensely crucial to Soi’s praxis, gets manifested within the canvas itself, as the many angles insinuate many different pictures, while the half-disc aligns with the spatial schema. The structures within the black portion of the canvas tease out the onlooker as the patterns only make themselves apparent in a certain way of light.

As Praneet Soi reveals and veils, his work encapsulates the political and the visual in dynamic tension. The before and after of his works enact an incision and a resistance to the violence of the proliferating images our contemporary times have been engulfed in. Together with Soi’s keen mastery of his craft, the works create a chiaroscuro between revelation and inspiration, affect and violence, event and the everyday as they seek to imagine history and memory.

Hold Still continues till 2nd February at the Experimenter Gallery, Ballygunge Place.

Cover Image: Falling Figure | Coir, acrylic paint, UV matt varnish, plywood, metal, 2016.
All images used with permission.