18 Allegories of the Self

18 Allegories of the Self
Single channel HD video projection on painted canvas
32 x 57 in. (81.3 x 144.8 cm.)
Executed in 2011; number four from a series of six unique variations
Volte Gallery, Mumbai
New Delhi, Saffronart and Volte Gallery, Fables, December 2011-January 2012 (another from the edition)
Cheonan, Arario Gallery, Ranbir Kaleka: Solo Exhibition, July-August 2012 (another from the edition)
Sale room notice
Please note that this lot is number four from a series of six unique variations.

Lot Essay

"I am afraid to fix meanings. I am very comfortable with uncertainty and have found a place of comfort in it. It is not as if I am not trying to find clarity. I am always trying to do that but I don't want to fix meaning to anything. This is the state of mind I work in. If something is discordant it just feels right. If the incomprehension is comfortably complete but at that point it begins to generate meaning as it were and is no longer incomprehension, it's a way towards comprehending." (Artist Statement, Meera Menezes, 'Video Allows you the Possibility of Producing New Kinds of Images', ArtIndia, Volume X, Issue I, 2005)

Born in Patiala in 1953, Ranbir Singh Kaleka studied painting at the College of Art, Punjab University. Kaleka's artworks, whether canvases or mixed media installations, have an essential surrealistic quality that is at once restrained yet powerful. His interest in cinema led to the conception of his video art, where he experiments with the effects of combining and juxtaposing a painted image with a series of moving images heightened by carefully composed audio. "The result is a 'sort of hyperimage', which achieves an intensity and subtlety of colour, and imbues the static with a sense of movement through the superimposition of sound and movement. The artist's movement into video art has been an essential endevour for his further exploration of the 'psychological event', an event that can only take place outside the physical confines of the frame of the painting, through the usage of light to create the image and the subsequent aura of the image." (Fables, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2011-2012, unpaginated)

18 Allegories of the Self is an exemplary instance of the complex mélange of realities that Kaleka weaves into a narrative that transcends the perceived static boundaries of the physical. A painted image of eighteen candles, recalling a Giorgio Morandi still life, forms the screen onto which a video is projected, melding the two realities of time and space into a third, alternate realm. Speaking of the cross-cultural symbolism of the number eighteen, Kaleka notes its importance in Jewish mysticism where it represents life, in the epic Mahabharata, which has eighteen sections, involves eighteen armies and is about a war fought over eighteen days, and also in Chinese tradition, where it is synonymous with prosperity.

As the video proceeds, the candles appear to be lit in turns and then all together. The soundtrack by Satya Hinduja heightens the lyricism of work, along with the ebb and flow of wave-like patterns of water in which the candles stand. After a short burst of what appears to be rain, the candles are finally extinguished and fade out completely. The intangible quality of the video acts as a powerful catalyst that amplifies the fleeting fragility of the image of the candles, thus accomplishing a metamorphosis of the primary image into a sensory experience that intrigues and beguiles the viewer.

"Kaleka has orchestrated a number of arrangements of the painted image and the projected image, arranged so as to cohabit in the same space. However, he does not embrace the simple juxtaposition, superimposition or mixed use of media to achieve a pluralising effect. On the contrary, he produces a meticulously calibrated adjacency of media, with which to disrupt the civilities of the layered image. Kaleka's images are only apparently simultaneous and palimpsestual. In experienced actuality, they are asynchronous: they lag behind one another, snag at one another, hold together in a spectral shimmer only to split apart in brief bursts before regaining a deceptive stability. In the subtle gap between the manifestations of these images, Kaleka breaks open a difference of spatiality, temporality, sensation and significance, making us intensely alive to the condition of viewerly reception." (Ranjit Hoskote, Sweet Unease, exhibition catalogue, Mumbai, 2010)

Kaleka, one of the most respected video artists in India, has shown his multimedia works at the Busan Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Cultural Institute and Spertus Museum in Chicago, the Newark Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. His seminal multi-channel video work, Crossings, is part of the permanent collection of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi.

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