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Art review: 'India in Focus: Plus One' at Space

| Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Katie Krulock
'Light Threads' by Sumakshi Singh
'In the Upper Room' by Avinash Veeraraghavan
Video detail of Surabhi Saraf's 'Fold'
Katie Krulock
'24:00:01' by Shilpa Gupta
Katie Krulock
'Home Sweet Home' by Avinash Veeraraghavan
'Home Sweet Home' by Avinash Veeraraghavan

Artists often employ repetition, rhythm and pattern in the creation of their work, especially with abstract works. Think of it as something to hang your mental hat on, whether artist or viewer. After all, the recognition of pattern in all things is very much at the core of rational thought, the thing that separates humans from other animals.

At the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Space gallery, Downtown, “India in Focus: Plus One” presents artworks concerned with patterns. It is part of the Cultural Trust's monthlong celebration of India.

“The show is about artists who use repetition and pattern in their work, which is a tradition in ancient Indian art,” says Pittsburgh Cultural Trust curator Murray Horne.

For example, Mumbai-based artist Shilpa Gupta's “24:00:01” utilizes a flap-board, the kind found in train stations, to create repetitive words and patterns that turn language back onto itself.

“The 29 characters that surface on the face of the one-and-a-half-meter-long signage board, letters and numbers, are perpetually changing, but not randomly,” she writes on her website. “It is an associative pattern where every line occurs for a few seconds, before slipping away into another.”

Surabhi Saraf of San Francisco shows two video installations, “Tablets” and “Fold,” which relate to repetition and pattern in her life — past and present.

“Tablets,” which is part of her “Remedies Series,” is about growing up around her family's pharmaceutical factory in Indore, India, where 70 people, using quasi-archaic machinery, produce tablets, capsules and syrups.

“When I was a little girl, I remember wandering around in the factory going from one machine room to another, being completely mesmerized watching the raw powder getting pressed into tablets and capsules. I loved watching this mechanical loop and, even more, talking to the workers,” Saraf says.

“In 2012, while visiting our factory after many years, I was pleasantly surprised to see many of those machines still in order, with their aged, organic and loud sounds and their juxtaposition with newer, more precise and quiet equipment. I somehow wanted to capture all these elements — my memories, the machines, the workers and this long time span of 30 years — and the machine sounds was a great place to start.”

“Fold” is about something repetitive we nearly all do, which is fold laundry. Here, Saraf shows herself folding laundry in 96 repetitive sequences all at once, but choreographed so that color and movement flow through the piece like a giant wave.

“It didn't matter what part of the world you lived in,” she says, “you could relate to folding a shirt. So, one day, I took all my laundry out and started folding it in front of the camera. Over the next few months, I started to edit the clothes out, recording myself many, many times and, eventually, I came up with the exact sequence of the clothes that perfectly fit in my time frame based on their color, sound, shape, how they effect my movement and fill the frame.”

Avinash Veeraraghavan of Bangalore, India, has two pieces in the show: a large wallpaper piece, “In the Upper Room,” and the two-part video, “Home Sweet Home,” which features video of a waterfall and two eyes shown opposite each other.

Veeraraghavan says both are about “my own psychological states. ... I think coming from a culture where watching one's mind is given a great deal of importance, I've been honestly quite influenced by it.

“The older video with the waterfall (‘Home Sweet Home') shows me watching my own incessant thoughts, constantly flowing in an unbroken chain and transforming one into the other like the clouds.”

The soundtrack to this piece is called “Wonderful Waves of Pure White Noise” and is supposed to be played at bedtime to induce better sleep. Added to this state of watching is an elevated sense of paranoia with a second person's eye being witness to the same scene.

Finally, Sumakshi Singh of Gurgaon (a suburb of New Delhi), India, shows “Light Threads,” which was inspired by the garden of an 87-year-old Swiss hermit who lives in the Himalayas.

“I have a fascination for portals — places where the laws of physics seem to change — like when you're looking intently at a microcosm and there's such a complete little world in there that you find yourself shrinking in scale and wandering through it,” Singh says.

“The moment you cross the threshold into his garden,” she says, “you can feel some magical invisible world is hidden within it; anything seems possible here — the trees, birds and flowers are all illuminated by a different kind of light.”

The garden inspired the embroidered backdrop of the piece, which is a triptych filled with embroidered birds, flowers and other plants. It is sequentially spot-lit to highlight certain areas at different times.

“The other thing I have been thinking about,” Singh says, “is a theory put forward by scientist Nassim Haramein that we don't exist the way we think we do but actually flash in and out of existence at the speed of light — and like in a stop-motion animation composed of many individual images run in a quick sequence — we appear to have moved.”

Singh says this stop-motion idea is what inspired her to place light upon the “stuck” embroidered images, which she says, “are also perhaps flickering in and out of existence at the speed of light.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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