My mother in law asks me if the exhibition that I am about to go to contains paintings and when I say no, I don’t think so, she wants to know what then? Well, I tell her, Monali Meher is a performance artist, and with growing curiosity, I go to see ‘Falling Star’.
The ‘performances’ are to be experienced through a period of fifteen years in this solo exhibition in several rooms of the Claeys-Bouüaert castle in Ghent, Belgium, and include photos, wrapped objects, videos and drawings but do not remotely cover her entire oeuvre, which is much more exhaustive.
I stand before a video performance in which just her midriff is recorded, covered in a blue silk saree, her hands wrapping a knife in red wool. Observing the repetitive movement of the hands winding, winding, winding, one falls into a state of meditation, just as perhaps the artist did, while breathing in and breathing out.
This video work is entitled ‘Breathing’.
And breathing in and breathing out wordlessly is also what one observes people do in another video, recorded in Beijing. Visitors came to view her performance called ‘Old Fashioned’ in a room full of potatoes and are now a part of the performance space and the recording of it. The artist is seen standing in a corner of the frame peeling potatoes. The visitors have become participants in the peeling process, each finding an empty spot amongst the heaps of potatoes which have the words ‘anger’, ‘hate’, ‘crime’, violence’ ‘racism’, ‘war’ painted on them in black. They squat on the floor. They scrape and scrape the potatoes and the words as well, wordlessly, breathing in and out just as I, the viewer do, joining them in their meditative state.
Artist/performer, viewer/performer and viewer/observer now merge, as the space between us collapses and time as well. As geographies cease to matter, and all the rest of that which apparently separates us.
And then the image of soundless scraping of potatoes stops. The artist is seen boiling the potatoes and serving them to visitors.
Somewhere in a room nearby there are heaps of potato peels with words torn through and through – discarded letters – r and a, and s and h and e, and t and g, and m and n. Words than once rang of violence, now just scraps on a floor.
And before our eyes on the video screen, men and women and children eat the potatoes with a dash of sauce in full enjoyment somewhere in Beijing.
Link to Monali Meher’s website