FOLDED PIERCED STRETCHED showcases Kanchana Gupta’s homage to tarpaulin and is a testament to her mature and dexterous interweaving of the potentialities of process and materiality, coupled with her indomitable spirit to keep pushing against the intrinsic limitations they present. Originally from India, Kanchana Gupta currently lives and works in Singapore and her practice delineates connections between the two nations. Linking the two megacities of Singapore and Mumbai, both of which she has called home, Gupta’s works offer a personal exploration of and a thoughtful response to the urban environments she inhabits.
Under the guise of flux, almost every global metropolis appears to reverberate with real estate developments, trending towards residential gentrification together with a concentration of phototropic skyscrapers bracketed within the parameters of newly imagined business districts. The rapid urbanization of Singapore, articulated by the swathes of tarpaulin that color the city state’s skyline, echo Gupta’s memories of Mumbai’s momentous building spurt and the consequent proliferation of tarpaulin-covered urban slums creating a collaged blue horizon. It is specifically the exploration of this quotidian material, a signifier of transitional sites, that continues to inform Gupta’s practice.
Over the last decade, Gupta has pursued her fascination with the materiality of paint, approaching it with the excavational zeal of an archaeo/anthropologist. Directing her investigations into the physicality of the medium Gupta continues to examine its transformation through processes like heating, burning, and tearing, to create flat, wall-based work and sculptural installations. Each series, that Gupta produces extends her exploration of the potentialities of studio mediums like oil paint in juxtaposition with culturally loaded material like vermillion powder, henna, silk, and sandalwood powder or quotidian material like jute and tarpaulin. Gupta’s process involves the unremitting mining of weaves, textures, patterns, and structures, through which she mediates an ongoing social commentary on the conditions and visibility of migration. In Traces and Residues (Singapore,2017) Gupta’s practice directed attention toward migrant labor which facilitates urban transformation only to be further marginalized by the gentrification. In 458.32 Square Meters (Singapore, 2019) unexpected appositions of iconic identity and social symbolism were in turn manipulated, to express the accrual of lived experience and the psychological landscapes of rupture and were read as metaphors for concealments and revelations. Pushing the limits further still, Gupta stacked, heaped, and folded, venturing into a series of industrially compressed sculptural forms, (Compressed And Cut, 2019), which were in turn cleaved to expose a personal geology of loss and longing. Gupta’s laborious interventions have harnessed both studio as well as industrial processes to underscore the tension between deconstruction and reconstruction. Each work she contemplates leads to a series of investigations and each series becomes the foundation for the next FOLDED PIERCED STRETCHED extends Gupta’s earlier meditations on sculpture and intentionally shifts between flatness and three-dimensionality.
FOLDED PIERCED STRETCHED sees Gupta manipulate paint in an unhurried, meditative ritual as it is loaded and layered with studied repetition onto a tarpaulin base to form paint skins. The accumulation, amounting to thirty-five meticulous coatings or more, is ceremonially flayed. The delicate accretions, with the exposed cutis which now retain the traces, patterns, and memory of the tarpaulin substructure, are then grafted onto both sides of a construction canvas. In the process, the inverted order of the membranes renders the cutis uppermost., exposing the texture and patterning of the parent tarpaulin. These dermal constructs are then industrially printed to introduce pigmentations which in turn mimic the colour and patterned combinations of contemporary construction site tarpaulin. The ragged edges of the dermal layers are trimmed and cropped, revealing Gupta’s intense obsession with detail, and the selvages are folded to create the dense hems required to receive the eyelets. In a departure from her earlier work, the skin tarpaulins here are strung up, splayed out, held in place by steel suspension wires that affix them to steel frames. Their monumentality blurs the line between painting and sculpture; real and ersatz; and accentuates the importance of context.
Throughout, whether within studio processes or industrial, the handmade-ness is never masked, never suppressed, it is allowed to shout from the margins: for instance, when construction canvas peeps through the tegument. Despite this, there is an alchemist’s sleight of hand - at first glance, visually and texturally, the tarpaulin sheets look deceptively like found-objects – discarded tarpaulin appropriated from construction sites. In reality, however, they are the culmination of meticulously controlled transformations.
Gupta’s practice has consistently confronted powerful and evocative themes – urbanization, labor, and migration. With FOLDED PIERCED STRETCHED, Gupta confronts an even more challenging theme - the relationship between skin and identity. Far from being a simple surface, skin plays a key role in the fundamentals of meaning and identity. Perceptions of skin, weighted with pre-conceptions can lead to false suppositions as Gupta so accurately asserts through her tarpaulin works. Identity, Gupta suggests is both externally conferred and internally assembled, and it is the tension caused by the encroachment of one over the other that her work seeks to emphasize. FOLDED PIERCED STRETCHED explores these questions using a subtle visual vocabulary and a simplicity of form that belies the deeply reflective and introspective thought process that informs Gupta’s practice. With the dermal tarpaulins, Gupta commences an interrogation into identity: questioning whether identity is conferred through the skin or whether in fact, identity is the product of complex social interactions and contexts beyond skin
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