Shilpa Gupta creates artworks that examine the place of subjectivity and human perception in relation to themes of desire, conflict, security, technology and censorship. Her work is multi-faceted, utilising sculpture and text, also displaying a mastery of audio and visual technologies. Considering technology as an extension of body and mind, Gupta possesses a sharp political consciousness towards the role, psychology and aesthetics of different media forms, particularly towards their complicity in the effects of fear. Though her works could be interpreted as being based on the social or political situation in particular cultural contexts, Gupta keeps their specificity decidedly open, allowing their themes to be interpreted differently wherever they are shown.
Singing Cloud is an installation that takes the form of a large amorphous shape constructed using 4000 microphones. The work considers the psychological impact of today’s highly mediated information landscape, where fear and suspicion are cultivated. Developed through a collaboration with Mahzarin Banaji, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, the work considers the power of media images as expressed by the behaviour of individuals. In particular, Banaji’s research considers the multi-layered alterations that take place in human perception following exposure to images when there is a drop in consciousness of one’s self, down to the level of our collective conscience. Gupta has subsequently interpreted and extended this research into a soundtrack made from hypnotic fragments of speech. The microphones have had their function reversed, so rather than being used to record sound, they emit this soundtrack, designed to ‘sing’ and ripple over its surface.
Produced at the same time as Singing Cloud, Untitled takes the form of a flap-board, used traditionally to announce arrivals and departures. The 29 characters of the board’s display generate a series of short lines that change every few seconds. The texts appear in an open and associative style, changing rhythmically rather than randomly. Written by the artist, the lines also reference readings and exchanges Gupta had with scientists, philosophers and historians on the divisive nature of information media.
At M HKA and the Permeke Library, De Coninckplein 25–26 (close to Antwerp Central station):
Someone Else is a work by Gupta that is presented in two parts, at M HKA and at the Permeke Library in Central Antwerp. The work is based around the idea of a library of 100 books that have been written either anonymously or under a pseudonym. The books have been selected from around the world and from across centuries, including books by Emily Brontë (who used the pseudonym Ellis Bell) and Herman Hesse (who used the pseudonym Emil Sinclair). The reasons for authors deciding to do this varies greatly, from “Fear of not having a Christian name positively masculine” to “fear of not being able to return home”, together offering an insight into the issue of censorship as well as social prejudices in different cultural contexts.
At M HKA, 100 metal surrogate book sculptures are presented on shelves. Each is etched with the title of a book as well as the reason for its author’s anonymity, and each is empty to signify the absence of the author’s real identity. At the Permeke Library, a selection of the books have been inserted into the shelves, including many new additions to this list originally written in Dutch, and are available to read or borrow. (NH)