Amit Desai: Ancestor Bone Hug

24 Mar 2016 – 20 May 2016

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10 March 2016 - The Empty Gallery in Hong Kong is proud to present ‘Ancestor Bone Hug’, an exhibition of new works by Indian-American artist Amit Desai.


This will be Desai’s third exhibition in Hong Kong and his second solo show at The Empty Gallery. Using the camera as his primary tool of investigation, Desai’s artistic practice aims to destabilize Western conceptual binaries by addressing concerns of the photographic medium through a framework of non-dualistic Eastern thought. Desai presents works that ask metaphysical questions of space and time, presence and absence, illusion and reality, and emphasize the interrelationship between these concepts. His studio sessions often take the form of ritualistic "happenings" in which theater, photography, and therapy session become indistinguishable from one another and the notion of authorship is diss olved.

For ‘Ancestor Bone Hug’, Desai has ventured beyond his preferred medium to create a suite of thematically interconnected works including installation, single-channel video, and large-format photographs. Inspired by the Hindu ritual of ‘Kapala Kriya’, the titular Bones of the exhibition involve large-format photographs of human skull fragments which have been enlarged almost beyond the threshold of recognition. At once futuristic and archaic, these luminous sheets of ivory matter, scarred and pitted through the action of time, resemble asteroids or perhaps the enigmatic surface of a foreign star. By deciding to shatter the skull and emphasize its materiality through enlargement, Desai transforms a symbol of both the individual ego and the negativity of death into a distinct metaphor for the timelessness and generativity of the universe. 

Desai’s Hugs further deconstruct notions of space and identity through their aesthetic process. Working for the first time with the medium of ink, his method nonetheless remains closely tied to photography. To create these five life-sized works, Desai hung sheets of translucent Japanese silk between a series of nude couples smothered in black calligraphy ink, then asked his subjects to embrace. The resulting ink traces belong wholly to neither individual, emerging as a ‘single being’ through the mutual action of an embrace. These enigmatic figures represent the physical boundaries between individual subjects and point to the possibility of spiritual union beyond the borders of the material realm. These unique works will be displayed in custom fabricated light boxes, floating in the gallery’s darkened interior.   

The final aspect of the exhibition is a single-channel video work. Ancestors was commissioned by the gallery and shot in the space. In this work, set within the obscure mists of prehistory, Desai envisions the first encounter between primordial man and woman. Shot in black and white, this ‘speculative anthropology’ continues Desai’s exploration of cosmological time and the contingency of ‘the human’.

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Amit Desai


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