Porous Walls - A solo project

23 September - 11 October, 2008

18 - 3 November, 2008


Porous Walls- A solo project

Prajakta Potnis

The Guild Art Gallery is pleased to present Prajakta Potnis’s latest oeuvre of works, a combination of sculptural installations and paintings. She has received her graduate and postgraduate degree from Sir J.J. School of Arts and is a recipient of several awards and scholarships. Potnis is a growing name in the Indian and International art scene and has been a participant at the Contemporary Istanbul art Fair 2007. Early this year she had her second solo show titled “membranes and margins” in Seoul, Korea.

 “The area of my work breeds between the intimate world of an individual and the world outside, which is separated only by a wall. The recent body of work resides within the four walls of a household where life grows / decays, wherein the “still” walls transform as a veil and also as organic separations between the inside and the outside world. The images try to echo a certain kind of numbness experienced in everyday living.” – Prajakta Potnis

Even though Potnis’ works evolve on appreciation of the private space, like the interior of a middle- class house where ‘feminine’ colours and objects embellish the interior-spaces, it remains a starting point for more complex observations. Like that of the fast paced city where the streets often epitomize a kind of foray as opposed to the interiors often wrapped up in isolation, or the life in a small town that indicates decay, her works create a paradox around human habitation.

Walls perform as a significant analogy in her works. For example it is a metaphor of the chosen human territories through which a city designates order and planning and at the same time it is an organic substance like a visceral membrane. A rational mind views each like a screen that divides space, yet there is an element of unpredictability attached- in the osmotic exchanges and growth possible in each. Through and within these walls she creates notations of the fragility and disregard observed in everyday situations.

While Potnis configures this unpredictable transformations of the walls (like the fungus growing) and objects as a part of human habitation, she desires her paintings and objects to be part of these interiors. Thus, her works oscillate between ornamentation and aggravation. One may say that her work process echoes a pursuit which may deceptively invade the human psyche that eludes margins of recreation and passivity.

The artist currently lives and works in Mumbai. 

Conceptual Humidity  

Nancy Adajania 

All the world’s a skin, for Prajakta Potnis Ponmany. A skin that could be the body’s wall against the world, threatened by sudden inflammation; or the epidermis of a room, flaking by degrees and punctured to let hidden electricity spark through. And then there is the skin of delicate conception that turns into the carapace of an apparatus and is subverted by the imperceptible challenges of pearl-like fungus and fizzy bacteria: witness the hard edges of man-made tools and objects that get mossed over by irrepressible, uncontrollable growths in Potnis’ accounts of a process of decay that is also a strange new beginning. 

Potnis’ recent works – an ensemble of paintings, sculpture-installation and photographs – variously suggest the theatre, the kitchen and the laboratory. Her pale acrylic paintings, marked with dry pastel, are domestic interiors in which the walls are drafted like backcloths. She focuses, not on the objects and appointments of the room, but on the demarcation that constitutes the interior into an interior, and chooses to render this as an unstable boundary condition rather than as a fixture. Potnis elaborates for us an architecture of indeterminacy in which walls, windows and valances are the conspiratorial protagonists. 

Potnis’ backcloths, therefore, do not simply form the ground for a play. Rather, they are themselves the locus of the action. In tracing their crimps, creases and folds, we are obliged to re-fabricate our conventional spatial concepts of enclosure, security and solidity. The permeability of the wall is staged in successive frames: in one, a wall equipped with a switchboard tremors slightly as it wrinkles slowly into cloth. In another, the heavy drape of a gently billowing full-length curtain is punctuated with a socket. In yet another, the curtain fits into a miniature window inset into a wall that is more cardboard than concrete. 

Some discreet probing into the artist’s childhood releases a memory of the colourful embroidered theatre curtain at the Gadkari Rangayatan in Thane, where she regularly saw plays embodying the Marathi natak tradition with her family. The curtain had stood the ravages of time, standing there in solitary splendour for forty years. Here again, it was not the plays but the cardboard sets with their clumsy windows and the backstage whispers of the actors that piqued the artist’s imagination. Thus, in Potnis’ paintings and site-specific installations, the domestic interior edges towards the off-stage drama, through porous walls that provide endless potential for voyeurism, gossip and insight. But most importantly, her work constantly unravels the perplexity of theatrical experience: Is reality perforated by illusion or illusion perforated by reality? I would contend that much of her practice is propelled by the metaphorical search for the fourth wall that always changes address and contour. 

The fourth wall is the key device of bourgeois theatre: it is the imaginary wall of a box set – a set made of flats representing a back wall, side walls and a ceiling, all painted to represent the interior of a house – and separates the actors from the audience. It is the fiction that allows us, as a public, to spy and eavesdrop on the dramas of private life.  

The wall that reverberates as a membrane and flutters like a cloth is a preoccupation that goes back to the site-specific installation which the artist made during a workshop at Khoj Vasind (‘Curtain’, 2005). In this work, she glued a running frill along the dado line of the whitewashed walls of a guesthouse, shifting the emphasis from a macho factory site into a feminine skirting. Even when the curtain is an asbestos sheet that has gate-crashed into a calm domestic interior, its rock-solid presence is softened with scalloped gathers that seem to have been squeezed out of a tube of creamy strawberry icing (‘Hard Curtain’, 2006). Potnis transforms the limitations of dull sedentary everyday objects into pulsating, living forms by deploying the hallucinatory techniques of a low-key surrealism. I would suggest that her work is not activated by the forces of causality but by a preoccupation with pausality, which I read as the sudden cessation of the narrative of causation and the holding of the experiencer at a threshold when unexpected redemptive insights become possible. 

Potnis’ work is suffused with the indication of presence and passage. The processes of nature reclaim the work of human beings. Still life tableaux of fruits and flowers are interrupted by a disruptive growth that is splashy, granular and bacteroid. [1] Often the signs of decay and death do not manifest themselves immediately, but grow on you. For instance, at the entrance to her studio, the artist has tied a web of electric wires that hang low from the ceiling. Since they are not connected, they are ‘dead’, so to speak, but their real function is to grow like a garden of creepers. Electricity is the invisible flow that galvanises her work. In an early work, ‘Porous Wall’ 1999, Potnis indicated the formative presence of electricity by marking its flow with fertility symbols, bindis pouring from a socket. 

The hole as socket, as key hole and as pore, is a recurring motif in Potnis’ works. We often receive an uncanny sense of something flowing, leaking and spurting in her art. Everything is body in Potnis’ art, especially the experience of inhabiting a woman’s body, the occasions of penetration, menstrual flow (‘Porous Wall’, 1999), stretch marks (‘Couch Potato’, 2006) and acne (Untitled 2007). Last year, Potnis created an eerie environment, a room covered with a wall-paper displaying in extreme close-up her own acne-ridden face. When every pore and pustule of the skin is magnified in this manner, it seems like we are running our eyes over a patch of slash-and-burn cultivation. To heighten the impact, Potnis made the work in two versions, once as a room with a walk-in entrance and another time as an enclosure that was accessible only by means of voyeuristic peep-holes placed strategically on its outside walls (recalling Mona Hatoum’s experiments in invasive medical body imaging). Not only does this work shatter the beauty myth that feeds the global cosmetic industry, but it also turns ugliness into a virtue of contemplation and voyeurism into a pathology of self-reflection. 

I would see her current sculptures of telephone chargers, bulb holders, locks, door bolts, combs, bowls, spatulas and taps decorated with mustard seeds and fake pearls, as a woman’s reclamation of domestic materials, her enterprise of blunting the edges of masculine technology. These objects are placed on low-relief bases modelled on the ubiquitous L-shaped kitchen platform, with the light impress of a gas stove burner and sink. Are these objects meant to simulate an abandoned kitchen from a future archaeological dig? Or did a witch conduct a séance with Meret Openheim to craft these fantastic objects that bewitch but also repulse us: brushes with pearly bubbles, combs with the grainy sediment of neglect, taps that grow into nauseous phalluses and bulbs that flower pearls? Born in an atmosphere of conceptual humidity, all object-mouths germinate or decay, choke or throw-up grit, fungus and dust. This nightmare of ugliness, a kind of sadism attacking the everyday textures of life, suddenly begins to become enjoyable. 

But this macabre bewitchment is held in check by a photographic installation where these seductive objects are inserted into their real environments: bathrooms, living rooms and kitchens. No longer objects of a disgusting beauty, they beckon our attention quietly, sombrely, but no less ominously. We transit from an aestheticised encounter to the guerrilla action of the real. 

We leave the gallery with an image of a wall-peel that resembles a cloud. Pausing in our tracks, we contemplate the friction of concrete skin brushed by the invisible hand of moisture.


1. Nancy Adajania, ‘The Spell of Objects’, catalogue essay for Prajakta Potnis Ponmany’s exhibition ‘Porous Walls’ held at The Guild Art Gallery, Bombay, 2006.  



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