The 20th Biennale of Sydney, titled The future is already here - it's just not evenly distributed and presented free to the public from 18 March until 5 June 2016, is featuring the work of Indian artists Dayanita Singh and Sudarshan Shetty, as well as artists based in India, Neha Choksi and Bharti Kher.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art: Embassy of Translation, Dayanita Singh presents two photo series. Suitcase Museum, 2015 is a travelling photographic installation that observes the fluid, ever-changing nature of life and her practice.
Contained in weathered leather trunks, Suitcase Museum comprises a series of book objects featuring photographic sequences that have been woven together to create a novel of life. Images can be swapped out for others; the structures themselves are adaptable and movable.
Her second series, Kitchen Museum, leads the audience only lightly through the work, leaving much of it a mystery without labelling or anything indicating what the audience is seeing. This leaves the work up to their interpretation, as there are no captions, no names, no places and no clues other than those the audience might find.
The form of Singh's work is symbolic of the metaphor of photography and its connection to life: photography is the act of capturing a single moment in a lifetime, while life is a collection of moments over time.
At the Embassy of Spirits within the Art Gallery of NSW, Sudarshan Shetty presents Shoonya Ghar, 2015, a new film work that continues his exploration of the cycles of life and death and investigates the symbolism and theatricality inherent in ritual. The title, Shoonya Ghar, translates to 'empty is this house', referencing a twelfth-century poem by Gorakhnath, a guru associated with the traditions of Nirgun poetry and ideas of emptiness, formlessness and the void.
The setting of the film is an abandoned quarry near Loavala, in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, a surreal, empty landscape. The sequence of vignettes, disjointed fragments of performance, ritual, and moments of domesticity, are played out by a series of characters that fade in and out of existence, leaving the viewer unsure if they are real or imaginary; ancestors, memories, or ghostly remnants from past lives.
At Carriageworks: The Embassy of Disappearance, Neha Choksi presents The Sun's Rehearsal, 2016, a billboard-sized installation that has been constructed from scaffold and a wall layered with seven photographs of sunsets, and overlaid with a digitally rendered depiction of a setting sun. The sun is a motif in Choksi's work, a powerful symbol linked to cosmography, and to her Jain heritage, where the universe is considered an ongoing and eternal creation. Over the course of the exhibition, the sunsets are peeled away from the wall, leaving the traces and remnants of what had once existed and suggesting the passing of time - one day, one week, one year, one lifetime.
This idea is enhance by the work of Australian dance artists and choreographer Alice Cummins performing Memory of the Last Sunset, 2016, to prompt questions about the life of a continuously warming planet and of an aging body, with the audience setting the tempo with an Indian temple bell. The life-giving power of the sun is further evoked by a curtain, which covers a gaping hole where the suns have been torn away.
On Cockatoo Island: Embassy of the Real, Bharti Kher presents a series of life-sized, seated female forms that were cast from real women in her New Delhi studio. Kher sees the body as a literal and metaphorical site for the construction of ideas around gender, mythology and narrative.
Critically, the vulnerability of the women stems only in part from their nakedness; Kher's sitters were sex workers, paid by the artist to sit for her, in a self-conscious transaction of money and bodily experience. Throughout the process, Kher asked herself: 'If the body can carry the memory of other bodies as well, what does this mean? Can a body carry narratives that don't belong to it?' Kher's sculptures address the physicality and inherent vulnerability of the body and quietly challenge our perceptions of the body in contemporary culture.