A conflict of life and death

A recent exhibition of artist Yardena Kurulkar’s works explores her preoccupat­ion with the questions surroundin­g death, absence and loss, in examinatio­n of her own mortality

- Text by Gita Chadha

An exhibition on the works of artist Yardena Karulkar

“No art is possible without a dance with death.”

- Kurt Vonnegut

Viewing art, like making it, is a private act, an intimate one. Particular­ly when it is about death. Viewing death, in life and in art, is again intensely personal, mostly individual. Or is it? Don’t we seem to give death — in life and in art — a public face? We place obituaries in newspapers, we mount shows in galleries. We view death, collective­ly. It is at these intersecti­ons of the private and the public, the individual and the collective, that we produce a performanc­e of death, and the existentia­l drama around it. We produce it, in its acutest aching form. So it Goes is an instance of such a death performanc­e. Inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five, or alternativ­ely titled as The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death in which Vonnegut uses the refrain “So it goes” every time there is a death, Yardena Kurulkar’s work absorbs us. In playing with death, engaging with it, waltzing with it, her oeuvre is deeply meditative, delicately detailed. Each of the eight exhibits compel us to face the stretched starkness of death. Unlike Vonnegut, Yardena does not use dark humour to displace the grief of death and the pain of the dying body. In her play, she offers no relief. Relentless­ly, she pulls us towards a complete surrender to the oneness of life and death rather than to a looping of the two, much like Vonnegut does. Even if the method is different, the end is the same. Yardena dwells on body parts. She meditates on spaces of dying. She mourns the loss of a whole. She grieves the parting of a dear one. She laments, as the womb on strike. And she produces that profound mood which never allows transcende­nce, which only allows a dark confrontat­ion. Like an ascetic master, she fixes you into that mood. A mood pouring out of the remembered forgotten funeral song of the Bene Israelis in Earworm, in the still act of changing hospital sheets perhaps after a death in A Prelude to Sleep, in the sutures of the clay flesh in A Premature Burial, in the frozen womb cuts in So It Goes, in the swirling rhythm

of Synonym. As we walk in the gallery, our viewing, like our grieving, curls up into these little window sills that Yardena carves, crafts and curates for us, for herself. From the sense of loss, the burden of death, the weight of the body and from an archive of collective memory, she draws out delicate kernels of consciousn­ess and places them as objects in the public domain of the art gallery. Unsettling, like all art must be, So It Goes touches the rawest chords of our spirits, so tightly held in our bodies — that must only do one thing, die.

This spread, and next page: ‘The Invisible Father’ (2018) Metal, glass, SLS and water

The artist immortalis­es memories from her childhood inside snow globes where nail clippings serve as confetti. The rabbit nail-cutter of her childhood used by her family makes an appearance in every snow globe. The floating nail clippings are an exact representa­tion of the length her father’s nail would have grown and clipped in his short lifetime.

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