The Bindery Projects’ new exhibition, by New York City-based artist Sreshta Rit Premnath, is rooted in fundamental, literal questions about bodies in space: “Why am I here? What is this existence, this right to be, that precedes or exceeds property?”
“Plot” blends poetics, sculpture, moving and still images in wide-ranging rumination on issues of ownership, occupation and the related contingencies of property and value – as measured in land, but also in the relative worth of life and labor required to work in, on and with it.
The title piece, hanging in the main gallery, consists of ten columnar photographs, long sheets of vinyl printed with color images in UV ink stretching from high on the ceiling to the floor below. Each sheet bears the likeness of a folding ruler - a yellow, 72-inch, “imperial ruler” of the sort contractors use – embedded in a rectangular plot of sand. The folding rulers are shown in various, glyph-like configurations – they’re familiar somehow, like letters in a language whose sounds you recognize, rendered in unfamiliar script. The 10 images form a sequence, hung out of order: increasingly complex traces are left in the sand, a visible history of the same ruler’s various arrangements in the space.
Premnath’s accompanying text likens the folding ruler to a corpse in its burial plot: “The imperial ruler lies prone in its box, so used to measuring space that it continues to do so posthumously.” The folding ruler is “the body abstracted. A thumb, a foot, two yards – my height,” he writes.
Also in the main gallery are video works, a pair of moody black-and-white shorts on a loop showing sleeping stray dogs shrouded in fog, serene – for the moment anyway. According to Premnath’s poetics, they’re embodiments of “the volatile, vulnerable claim” inherent in occupation without ownership – “asleep, invisible until stepped upon,” always in danger of forcible removal, bereft of all but squatter’s rights.
In the front gallery are a trio of black vinyl sculptural forms – “&&&” – three ampersands formed by excision rather than addition, the letters’ loops incrementally and literally cut away from the larger vinyl sheet. A short video is projected on the facing wall, a kind of homespun animation. The artist captured some footage of a demolition project in progress in his hometown of Bangalore, India; he extracted the frames from a 10-second clip of the resulting video and reassembled them into a flip-book of images. As the pages are flipped, you see a worker, sledgehammer in hand, standing precariously atop a domed tower, already partially denuded of exterior panels. In stuttering motion, the worker swings, striking the remaining panels again and again.
When we talked at the exhibition opening, the artist said the image of never-ending demolition in the video, "I Will Die When I Stop Building," struck him as a perfect metaphor for "developing" countries. “The thing is, they're always developing, never developed,” he said – urged on to ceaseless tearing down and building up, the activity of ownership without the moral heft or personal satisfactions of secure residence.
“Plot” by Sreshta Rit Premanth may be viewed by appointment from March 14 through April 28 at The Bindery Projects, 708 Vandalia Ave., St. Paul. Get contact information to arrange a time to see the exhibition or find more details about the work, including the accompanying texts, on The Bindery Projects website.