Profile: Poonam Jain / Sushma Sabnis
We exist in a skeptical world of blacks, whites and approved grays with clear cut definitions and classifications by muted remote controls. When creativity combats such psychological, social and political boundaries, it burgeons at a rebellious pace. Every era has seen such rebellious burgeoning in response to limitations and boundaries. As one often witnesses when innocence sheds its clothes to don the garbs of maturity, imagination gets scrutinized and moulded into what could be a compromised acceptance. Confronted with a lack of acceptance for its originality, creativity takes a back seat. The mill does not stop there, the show must go on and year after year fakes and rip-offs surface and resurface in the name of the ‘contemporary reality’.
As one crosses over into the world of the grown-ups, loss and gain manifests. One gains experience / maturity and loses an innate innocence. Along with innocence, gradually but steadily depleted, is another substance which is vital for human living – a natural sense of wonder/ questioning. This same sense catapults a thought into a multi-pronged imagination which ‘grownups’ refer to as creativity.
In a society which refuses to nurture the diminishing light of creativity, stands a girl, almost an elf like presence, with what could only be an uncanny potential of reviving the all-spark of creativity – artist Poonam Jain.
A Rachna Sansad college graduate, Poonam’s work is a complex and intricately woven mesh of words, numbers, design, form, sculptures and installations, glued together on skeletal frames of conflicting truths. The devices of numbers and alphabet are used as raw materials to create a completely new perspective. Firstly the artist employs an imagination which accosts preconceived notions of space. In some of her work, especially as a response to the urban precursor in which she dwells, Poonam posits a rebellion in direct and indirect ways. If one were to look at the world through this artist’s eyes, one would see the ‘other side’ of a precarious balance. She brings into focus a parallel universe of existence, that most urban minds and eyes have been blinded to.
Primarily the artist addresses the concepts of space which are reflective fragments of places she comes from, exists in, and moves towards. The act of movement is brought about in her delicately designed works, which are presented in the form of a story book. Essentially each of the work is a numbered chapter of this book, which is ever expanding in volume. In each of these chapters one encounters an alert mind, keen on deliberating on an idea using the most engaging ‘fable’ like language possible. Without decapitating the work of its strength of concept and meaning, she anoints a sense of mystery to it, making the work interactive and imaginative all at once. The sense of wonder remains intact, evoking a curiosity in the viewer about the work. While the artist seems to ask, ‘What if, why not?’ , the viewer tends to ask, ‘what’s next?’
In series of her works related to the MHADA colony (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority) she brings in the contrasting irony of claustrophobia and open space, also the mockery of the very solidity of a building structure which when seen from an angular planar position, appears like letters of an alphabet. Now imagine the entire city and its ‘concrete text ‘ messages strewn all over the land as in the work ‘House of Feathers’. She mocks the idea of the immovable building structure by designing them completely with feathers and allotting them only one door for entry and exit. This could be seen as the closeted thinking about a ‘home’ and on a psychological level also reflect upon the concepts and understanding of a comfort zone. People build mental forts and their homes are the economic, practical and physical manifests of such forts. They are about protection from the outside assuming the outside is dangerous. This thinking is turned upside down on its head and swirled around at the speed of a ferris wheel in the ‘House of Feathers’ Chapters.
Poonam takes a concrete enslaving reality and willfully airs those outmoded ways of looking at things. For the lay person, what seems to be pencil-erasers neatly lined and forming snaking lines and blocks, the artist’s interpretation is of a housing colony. On closer observation one would find that each of these erasers have a small rectangular bit cut out from it, representing doors of each house. The cut outs are randomly strewn on the floor, the work satirically named, ‘Match the following’.
The elven puzzler resurfaces in the her work titled, ‘Letter to Me’ where the artist painstakingly writes an entire letter using only the first letter of each word. Each of these letters are then moulded in plaster of paris and laid in rows on shelves on the wall. A tiny visual associator for each letter in the work. She tries to revisit the ‘A for apple’ phase that every human being goes through early in their lives. The only difference is that for each letter she uses different objects, further intensifying the maze of associative cognition.
The thread that links thought and matter is the energy of intent. Poonam initially transfers her thoughts into her works (matter) and later exerts a passive energy on the viewers’ attention by evoking their curiosity. This is done by the substances and raw materials which she uses to create her works. The second point of further drawing in of the viewers’ interest is in the sizes of most of the works, which are small. This urges the viewer to move closer to the artwork, subconsciously. Standing close to the work, one is completely engaged in it, its minute features, details which give definitions to the matter and leading them smoothly to the original ‘intent’ of the artist’s thoughts about the work.
One could argue about the mammoth scale of the work titled, ‘Everyday’, where the artist creates a proliferating form, made entirely of cotton swabs (ear buds) glued together. Each unit, which is a geometrically stable form is stuck to several other units, creating a massive structure which stands from the floor to the ceiling of the space. Initially assembled on the steps leading to her apartment, the artist intends to question the stability of any structure itself. If one were to look at this massive form as a whole, one is drawn in closer to inspect its units, the viewers in their own minds try to ‘give form’ to the structure in a attempt to relate to it. Whatever they take away with them from this work, there is an exchange of sorts which can only be a form of ‘energy’. The artist very adroitly manages to convey her thoughts through a medium of the material representations of her works, and she could be sure the viewer leaves thought- provoked.
Her series of Book Displays is another dismantling of the ‘house’. Walls of a quintessential house are summoned in, the protective doors become the book covers, handles and all and the whole idea of inside and outside is deftly questioned, the work succeeds in opening up the closed and losing its identity only to be freed. In some of the works from the Books series, one can find the interesting ‘Practice Book’ which has its coloured ruled lines printed in concentric circles, comically defying the ‘rules’ of linearity and parallels.
Poonam takes a bit of her own and dissolves it in her work, ‘Swastik visits Clony’ where the book has a central rectangle on each page which could be used to write upon with a border covered with imagery of the stationery shop owned by her father. The stationery shop today struggles for attention due to the mall culture seeping into the system, and the artist uses photographic images of the shop with its ‘old-world’ charm to highlight the stagnating plight of many such small businesses under the threat of globalization. This work was installed in a shop called Clony as part of the ‘We Have Arrived Nowhere’ 2nd Transnational Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.
With an ability to remain true to the well spring of her imagination and using her vision to look at her surroundings in an emancipating light, artist Poonam Jain possibly represents the new breed of the thoughtful, urbane contemporary artist.
Poonam Jain lives and works in Mumbai.