As a part of Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s collateral programme, Michelle Poonawalla opened her multimedia installation Introspection at the Cochin Club on 12th December 2018, but due to the overwhelming positive response it has garenered, the show has now been extended to stay till 12th February. The project builds on Poonawalla’s growing interest in larger scale interactive installations and the use of new digital technologies in her artistic practice. Introspection was born from a contemplation on the barrage of images of violence and displacement on endlessly repeated news cycles. The installation takes the audience through a sensory journey that starts with sound, using fragments of audio clips from the new combined with ambient sounds. Through her project, Poonawalla intends to take the audience on a journey that creates a moment of pause and a space for contemplation. We spoke to artist regarding her work to get a closer look at Introspection.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, how your journey as an artist began and how it has been so far.
Art has always been a part of my life, but I seriously started engaging with it when I began to study art and design in London. My grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, was a prominent architect and art was his passion; he had developed a special technique of oil painting which he had shared only with me. After he passed away, I began to revisit art, which was always deeply personal to him. At this time, my father produced a book documenting all my grandfather's theories and special technique with painting. It was during the book launch that the opportunity to work with the students at the Gateway School, Mumbai, came up. This was for their annual spring-summer exhibition, where they invited an artist to work with a group of students to develop an exhibition, which would be sold for charity. This experience, along with the artistic legacy my grandfather left me with really inspired me to put pain to canvas again. It was also around this time that I began sketching for a children's book - Adventures of Harvey Mouse. These various elements seemed to come together and I took it as sign. I now spend a lot of time in my studio, simultaneously working on my paintings as well as large scale multi-media installations that I am currently ideating.
How would you define your relationship with art as?
I’m an aesthete and try to keep myself surrounded by creativity and fresh ideas. My fondest memories are of my grandfather at his desk, sketching away, experimenting with ideas and ways of expression. That creative impulse has stayed with me and my art is an important part of my life. My studio is my zen space.
“I travel all over the world a fair bit and I’m always struck by how vulnerable we all are to random, senseless acts of violence and terror. And yet, we’ve become numb to the images such as those of refugees fleeing for their lives.”
Which artists were your early formative influences?
I grew up in London, so all the legendary museums were a big part of my early experience of art. My father is also a keen collector of antiques, so we’d often end up at Sotheby’s or Christie’s.
I’ve always been drawn to the work of artists who were not afraid to push boundaries - Picasso, Dali, Miro to name a few; these artists and icons changed the way we look at the world. There’s a lot of great contemporary art that’s experimental and interesting. I like contemporary artists like the Los Angeles-based street artist Mr. Brainwash.
What was the main inspiration behind your multimedia installation Introspection?
For the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, I wanted to create a work that would create impact - something that would make the viewer take a pause, think and feel. I travel all over the world a fair bit and I’m always struck by how vulnerable we all are to random, senseless acts of violence and terror. And yet, we’ve become numb to the images such as those of refugees fleeing for their lives. Death has become a statistic. I was thinking about all of this when I started conceptualising Introspection. It finally turned into this multi-media, immersive installation that uses sounds and visuals to create a viceral experience.
“The sound element consists of a series of sound bytes of news stories of refugees and victims of atorcities, stitched together and interspersed with ambient soundtracks to to create an unsettling, eerie sound piece”
What was your creative process behind this installation?
Most of my installations begin as a sketch, a translation of what I have in my mind, on t paper. The installation is a complex video and sound piece, which took a while to put together. The sound element consists of a series of sound bytes of news stories of refugees and victims of atorcities, stitched together and interspersed with ambient soundtracks to to create an unsettling, eerie sound piece, which are projected through “sound showers”. The sound transitions into the visual part of the piece - a digital projection of what looks like a blood-rain, signifying the senseless loss of innocent lives. A discreet motion sensor gets triggered when the viewer comes close to it, setting off a cascade of pristine, white butterflies that slowly cover the whole screen, symbolising the lives lost, finally attaining peace. The overall effect is that of an overwhelming sensation, followed by a cathartic feeling.
What was your experience like working with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale?
The biennale has been a great experience. It has been wonderful to be able to reach out to such a diverse, global audience. People’s responses to this has been tremendously positive and encouraging. I’m looking forward to talking the instillation out of india.
What are your future artistic ambitions? Are there any more goals to be met?
I’m the process of ideating a new installation and I would very much like to do collaborate with artists and writers doing interesting work. I’m keen to look at doing international shows and sharing my vision with a global audience.
Text Nidhi Verma