In Talks with : Sumakshi Singh, Artist on her latest series, 'In The Garden'
Updated on: 30 Jun 2016
"Sometimes, when I enter a studio, I wonder if I am mad. I find myself making a hole in the wall, doing embroidery for 18 hours straight, and trying to draw a table in 3D space, and I stop and ask: 'For what?'" says artist Sumakshi Singh, with genuine disbelief.
"I start thinking I'm crazy because I never know what I'm going to do next. But then, there are people to indulge my craziness; galleries that say, 'We don't know what you are doing, we understand you don't know what you are doing, but we trust you to figure it out by the show date.' And, it is a privilege to work with people like that; I can't think of any other field that lets a person do that," says the artist, who has made it to almost all the top art venues in the world, including the Kochi-Muziris Biennale; Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon; and MAXXI Museum, Rome.
The list is commendable, given the artist is just 36. Sumakshi spent her teenage (Classes VII to XII) in Chennai, before leaving for Baroda to pursue her Bachelor's degree at Maharaja Sayajirao University, and later, Masters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 2001. She worked as an instructor in the same school for five years, gave lectures at the University of Oxford, Columbia University and The Chicago Humanities Festival, and mentored residencies for the Victoria and Albert Museum, The WhyNot Place in 2010 and 2011, and was a visiting artist advisor at KHOJ Delhi.
The opening of her show 'In The Garden' at Art Houz, Chennai, recently, was a throwback to the summer of '97. It turned into a mini get-together with her batchmates joining her for wine and cheese, she laughs. The series is a collection of fragile flowers made of thread, placed in glass bottles and mounted inside glass frames, and a huge animation projection of a colourful garden on thin white screens. Sumakshi tells us the story behind the project, which includes her mother's handwritten letters and a Swiss hermit, and what keeps her on the move for over nine months a year.
Excerpts from the interview:
You were part of the Kunsthaus Langenthal, Switzerland, last year, and Kochi Biennale and Vancouver Biennale in 2014. How much do you travel for your art projects?
Technically, I am based out of Delhi, but I live in India for not more than three months. The rest of the time, I am travelling across the world. Most of my work is site-specific installations — it takes me anytime between two weeks to a month-and-a-half to finish one piece. I usually have six shows a year — that means over six to seven months outside, plus the travelling. Things have been better since last year. I travel less. It is a conscious decision to stay put. It's very hard, though a lot of fun, to have a serious studio practice going on when you're shifting studios every month and starting from scratch. I did that for many years; now, I feel like staying grounded a bit.
Any favourites among the projects you have worked on?
The Kochi Biennale was one of the best I have ever seen, and I have been to most of them. The event encourages artists to push the envelope; it is gritty and grungy. You know that people are not trying to make neat pretty things; it's all about edgy creativity. For the biennale, I created an installation with projectors and 16 12-by-5 paintings in one month. I have no idea how I did that; I strongly suspect time is elastic.