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Art Dubai Commissions – Part 2 – Sreshta Rit Premnath

For the last seven years, Art Dubai has developed a series of non-profit, commissioned works to exhibit alongside the fair. They present an opportunity for visitors to engage with artists often informed by or from the region, who create new works and performances intended to question the fabric of an art fair. In the next three pieces, FNND asks three of the project artists some questions: Doa Aly, Sreshta Rit Premnath and art collective Nile Sunset Annex.

For 2016, independent curator and writer Yasmina Reggad, who was tapped to lead the projects and commissions, invited Doa Aly, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Massinissa Selmani, Lydia Ourahmane and Areej Kaoud, Moza Almatrooshi, and Jumairy, as well as the art collective Nile Sunset Annex. Reggad, whose research area is currently focused on the politics of futurity, has aptly titled the series of commissions Into the Unknown, meant as a catalyst to bring forth questions underlying the “mechanism[s] of the production of our fantasies, expectations and projections triggered by this young, 44-year-old federal state [of the United Arab Emirates]”.

Commenting on the Art Dubai Project for 2016, Reggad notes that the “commissioned artists have developed or made use of speculative approaches engaging with conjectures and hypothetical narratives anchored in the present, to research and discuss topics such as architecture, cartography, safety, sleep, constructed speech and labor.”


Art Dubai Commissions 2016 artist SRESHTA RIT PREMNATH.

Sreshta Rit Premnath works across multiple media, investigating systems of representation and reflecting on the process by which images become icons and events become history.

FNND: For Art Dubai you are showing an iteration of Plot, previously explored in solo exhibitions at Chicago’s Tony Wight Gallery (2012); Gallery SKE in Bangalore (2013); and The Bindery Project in St. Paul, Minnesota (2014). How did this project start and how has it developed in recent years?

Sreshta Rit Premnath: Growing up in Bangalore during the 1980s and ‘90s, I saw the city grow very rapidly. This development of expensive real estate depended intimately on migrant workers who moved to the city from surrounding villages. It struck me that the people who actually built the city owned next to nothing and lived either in slums or in shacks at the construction site. The word “plot” began to signify both a piece of land ready for “development,” as well as a piece of land the size of a body—the minimum space that a laborer who owns nothing might occupy. I began to use sandboxes and body-sized sheets of sand to signify this contradiction between the bodily occupation of space on the one hand and the ownership of space on the other.

SRESHTA RIT PREMNATH, Plot, 2015, from “So-Called Utopias” at Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago, 2015.

The central figure in my project from 2012, The Last Image, is MS Ramaiah, a property developer who believed he would die if he ever stopped building. In the looped video I Will Die When I Stop Building, I allude to a link between the developer’s fear of death, and the “death drive” that fuels development in India. More recently, in my project at [New York’s] Queens Museum, a piece titled Projections (1964/2014) (2015) focused on the tendency for luxury developments in Bangalore to be named after places in America. In this piece I layered a press photograph of the Indian Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair—which had been held at the current site of the Queens Museum—with a photograph of a billboard from Bangalore advertising a luxury apartment complex. The billboard reads, “New York Living In Bangalore.” This “nominal displacement,” as I call it, reveals the contradictory desires of a developing city—a simultaneous desire to be both here and elsewhere.

SRESHTA RIT PREMNATH, Projections (8000 miles / 10 seconds apart), 2016, part of Art Dubai Projects.

FNND: Can you expand on how the works from this series, which you are showing as part of Art Dubai Projects, respond specifically to the locality of Dubai and the wider region? In particular, what conceptual basis ties the two elements of the series, Projections (8000 miles/10 seconds apart) and Slump (Tired/Tiered)?

SRP: A few months ago, Donald Trump, a businessman and current presidential contender of the United States, proposed that if he was elected he would ban Muslims from entering America. This statement was met with international outrage, and Trump’s partner in Dubai temporarily removed his name and image from all Damac-Trump advertising. Projections (8000 miles/10 seconds apart) layers two press photographs, shot 10 seconds apart, of a billboard advertising the Damac-Trump luxury residential complex. Adhered to corrugated roofing material, one photograph shows the billboard at the moment of redaction, while the second shows a section of the sign that displays the slogan “The Beverly Hills of Dubai,” revealing a political and fantastical entanglement between two areas separated by 8,000 miles.The sculptures that comprise Slump (Tired/Tiered) are made up of bunk-bed-like structures with body-shaped sheets of sand draped over them. Part of an ongoing series, these sculptures are in reference to laborers, who own no property and relinquish their only remaining resource, labor power, when they sleep.

FNND: Throughout your work we find references to scale, or perhaps systems of representation, or the practical means (and thereby limitations) through which our abilities to decipher, reason and know are defined via language, but also through measurement and territory. Can you talk about how you intend for the viewer to engage on this level with Projections (8000 miles/10 seconds apart) and Slump (Tired/Tiered)?

SRP: Systems of representation simultaneously make possible and limit our ability to understand the world. In Projections the reference to the time between two consecutive photographs (10 seconds), and the distance between the cause and effect of an event (8,000 miles), become a way to think about the entanglement of politics and capital that knots our increasingly global world. However, at its very foundation is the simple, hard fact of exploited bodies that physically labor to build this global infrastructure.

FNND: What are other projects, research and/or exhibitions that you have coming up this year?

SRP: I am currently developing two projects, one titled Cadere that will be shown in Italy, which proposes a performative relation between the Polish conceptual artist André Cadere and the immigrant rose sellers in Italy. A second project titled Proposition 7.0 will take me to Kathmandu and Kailash Mansarovar [a spiritual pilgrimage to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar in Tibet] in the Himalayas for research, and will reconsider tantric painting through the work of the late modernist Indian artist Prabhakar Barwe.

Originally written for Art Asia Pacific.

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