In the Absence of Writing by Astha Butail at 24 Jor Bagh reconnects viewers to a world of co-existence
The Gujral Foundation opened its first exhibition of the year this week with Astha Butail titled In the Absence of Writing at 24 Jor Bagh in New Delhi, an experimental space that offers artists the opportunity to create site-specific projects and a unique environment for the public to experience art.
This exhibition includes new works, as interventions in the space at 24 Jor Bagh, commissioned by The Gujral Foundation.
It is a culmination of a year-long journey the artist undertook in researching living traditions that are passed on to generations through teaching and oral poetry. Her research is focused on the Indian Vedic traditions, Zoroastrian Avesta, and Jewish Oral Torah including their respective linguistic families Sanskrit, Avestan, and Hebrew.
Butail travelled to Varanasi, several towns in South India, Yazd (Iran), Jerusalem (Israel), and London, where she observed and recorded different memory techniques, as well as interviewed scholars, students and practitioners of each tradition. She received the BMW’s Art Journey award for this research in 2017-2018.
In oral traditions, sound and pronunciation are key, and knowledge is often memorised and transferred using mathematical patterns. Butail’s work subtly incorporates these algorithms by using geometry and exploring how different composite elements of an entity relate to its whole.
In the Absence of Writing is a suite of works whose titles are fragments of hymns from the Rig Veda.
She uses a range of media to offer glimpses into the architecture of collective memory using video, sound, sculpture and interactive installations – to respond to the notions of space and time, values and culture, history and identity. Her multi-dimensional approach interweaves the five elements of nature with the five senses, making the artworks interactive and experiential.
In an age where access to information is quick and devoid of human contact, In the Absence of Writing reconnects us to a world where knowledge is shared and created anew through a deep and sustained process of interaction.
“Unlike a gallery or a museum, 24 Jor Bagh is an unconventional space that provides an artist with the platform to create experimental and site-specific projects that respond to the spaces within the house as well as its architecture. At the same time, it creates an unusual environment for viewers to experience art.” - Reha Sodhi, Curator.
Born in 1977 in Amritsar, India, Butail’s recent solo exhibitions include Locus of Being (2017) and Manifested Ratios (2014) at GallerySKE, Bangalore.
Group exhibitions include Unearth: Matter, Time, Process (2017) at Exhibit320, New Delhi; Raster: Emerging from the Grid (2016) at Experimenter, Kolkata; Codes of Culture (2015) at GallerySKE, New Delhi; Make/Do (2014) at GallerySKE, New Delhi; Fracture: Indian Textiles, New Conversations (2015) and Sarai 09: The Exhibition (2013) at Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon.
The artist lives and works in Gurgaon, India, and is represented in India by GallerySKE.
The Gujral Foundation is a non-profit trust set up in 2008 to nurture talent in the arts, architecture and design in India. Founded by Mohit and Feroze Gujral – the son and daughter-in-law of the renowned Indian modern artist Satish Gujral- it has been recognised as one of India’s leading art foundations.
A Trustee and Co-founder of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Founder Director of Outset India, Feroze Gujral was previously on the boards of the IGNCA in New Delhi, the Serpentine Galleries in London and the Guggenheim Museum.
Prominent initiatives supported by the Gujral Foundation include the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (as Venue Patron for Aspinwall House and Cabral Yard), My East is Your West - a collateral event at the 56th Venice Biennale, Contour Biennale 8, the 11th Shanghai Biennale, the 8th Berlin Biennale and the contemporary artists Desire Machine Collective at The British Museum.
Concept note: In the Absence of Writing
Astha Butail’s solo exhibition In the Absence of Writing is a site-specific experimental project that is presented at the Gujral Foundation until February 28, 2019.
Enamoured by living oral traditions and poetry, in 2009, Butail started studying Sanskrit, an ancient root language, in pursuit to understand the Rig Veda and the chants that accompany it. In 2017, the artist won the BMW Art Journey award which enabled her to travel and observe the oldest living traditions alive from 6500-3000 BC.
She travelled to Iran, Israel and within India, her home country. During her research, she focussed on the Indian Vedas, Zoroastrian Avesta and Jewish Oral Torah in their respective languages of Sanskrit, Avestan and Hebrew.
Whilst Butail was unable to visit Palestine, she found an opportunity to interact with teachers and students from there. In addition to experiences and interviews, she also documented impromptu performances and collected recitations from these three traditions on the subjects of water, fire, earth, air and space.
Through her first-hand experiences and conversations she explored, observed and recorded the diverse and complex memory techniques used in these ancient philosophies.
Butail uses a range of media to offer glimpses of these collective performances using video, sound, sculpture and interactive installations. She subtly interweaves the five elements of nature through a formal geometry of rhythms, patterns and repetition.
In her work, she attempts to question new formats of learning, preserving and recording history. For instance, by freeing her video installation of sound, she alludes to the vacuum we live in which is devoid of connections with ancient languages and cultures.
Through her work, Butail explores the common subsets of each prayer, value and celebration of these diverse traditions to reveal a language that is universal.
“In the Absence of Writing reconnects us to a world of co-existence, where knowledge is shared and created anew through a deep and sustained process of interaction.”
Astha Butail’s solo exhibition In the Absence of Writing, curated by Reha Sodhi and presented by The Gujral Foundation, is on View at 24, Jor Bagh, New Delhi, as a collateral event of India Art Fair 2019, until February 28, 2019.