STEPHANIE VON SPRETER,
ON DAYANITA SINGH´S LIVING "MUSEUM" STRUCTURES
Dayanita Singh’s exhibition Go Away Closer at the Hayward Gallery in London, which ended in December last year, keeps hovering in my mind. Singh is an artist who has engaged with photography right from the beginning of her career, when she started to follow one of India’s greatest living musicians, Zakir Hussain, with her camera. But this was not the only great personality whom she would pursue. She brought, for example, the life of the outcast eunuch Mona Ahmed to public attention, while at the same time developing a friendship with her subject.
What is so striking about Singh’s photobooks is an almost organic combination of the two forms – photography and the book – which become inseparable media, creating an archive of human existence. Working mostly with black-and-white photography, she presents a silent and contemplative image that is at once severely contemporary and a frozen picture of the past. Constructed like a walk-in book, the Hayward Gallery show managed to achieve this same quality. A carefully curated archive of Singh’s work up until 2013, it focused primarily on the last ten years, including the Museum of Chance (2013), the Museum of Embraces (2013), the Museum of Furniture (2013), the Museum of Machines (2013), the Museum of Photography (2013), Go Away Closer (2007), the File Museum (2012), the File Room (2013), Bombay Portraits (2002) and the Allahabad Series (2000). All works were displayed in ‘Museum’ structures – flexible, custom-made shelving systems that displayed the artist’s selection of photographs and books but left room for re-ordering the display, even for exchanging specific works with others in the future. This allowed viewers to immerse themselves in the works, and to remain curious about what was still to be discovered.
But why address Singh’s work now, almost half a year after the exhibition ended and a year after her work File Room was seen by a large audience following its presentation at the Venice Biennale in 2013? In an interview between Singh and the curator Stephanie Rosenthal published in the Go Away Closer catalogue, Singh talks about her wish to let the Museum structures take over her own home. With her idea to open up a different Museum structure every time there is full moon, constantly changing the display, inviting an archivist-in-residence (curator, writer or artist) into her bedroom, this photographic archive becomes even more intriguing. In this way, after the exhibition has ended, her installations continue to live on, avoiding becoming a static representation of her work. The Museum structures leave space for imagination and a deep engagement with the present, showing how it is possible to continuously activate a photographic work that is inherently an image of the past.