Jitish Kallat: Decimal Point at Sperone Westwater, New York

By Tausif Noor

Jitish Kallat, Rain Study (the hour of the day of the month of the season), 2017, graphite, acrylic epoxy on Arches paper, 51 × 41 cm. Photo: Robert Vinas Jr. Courtesy the artist and Sperone Westwater, New York

Jitish Kallat is concerned with the ‘natural’ as it pertains to human interventions in urban landscapes (as in Chlorophyll Park, 2010) and the limits of science (as evidenced by his astronomy-inspired curatorial direction for the 2014 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Whorled Explorations). At Sperone Westwater, the Mumbai-based artist considers the epistemic limits of scientific study, sprinkling his experiments with a dash of the sublime. Situated near the gallery’s entrance, Covariance (Sacred Geometry) (2017–18) is a lumpy, craggy mass resembling an asteroid sculpted from yellowish dental plaster; The Infinite Episode 2 (2016) is a series of slumbering animals realised in the same material. At once inorganic and organic, celestial and terrestrial, they give the impression of having descended from the heavens.

In the upstairs gallery, Kallat’s works attempt a balance between methodology and chance. Wind Study (Hilbert Curve) (2017) is a series of works in which the artist has plotted lines in adhesive on paper according to the principles of German mathematician David Hilbert, and then set these lines aflame. The burn marks left on the paper are determined by the direction of the wind, creating what the artist has termed ‘transcripts derived by eavesdropping on the silent conversation between wind and fire’. These drawings are numinous and pleasingly complex: the eye follows dense areas marked by shadowlike patterns complemented by clear patches of white paper. For Rain Study (the hour of the day of the month of the season) (2017), Kallat held out sheets of paper under the rain for a duration determined by his own ‘breath cycles’, then overlaid these drawings with pigment. The resultant images, evoking night skies seen through telescopes, are undermined by scribblings of figures and times that recall a laboratory notebook.

Kallat’s pursuit of the elemental evinces his faith in universal gestures, yet his practice sometimes recalls the Rube Goldberg machines that use absurdly complex processes to produce simple results, or in the artist’s case obscurantist propositions for their own sake. In the series Sightings (2017–18), for instance, the artist arranges 16 panels of lenticular prints – lurid neon blues, yellows, greens and oranges – in grids. In the context of the galactic themes of the exhibition, these images at first suggest exploding stars or distant galaxies, but closer inspection reveals them to be closeup details of fruit, chromatically inverted. These photographs, like the exhibition of which they are a part, tantalise with the prospect of a higher plane but never quite get off the ground. 

Jitish Kallat: Decimal Point at Sperone Westwater, New York, 26 April – 16 June 

From the Summer 2018 issue of ArtReview Asia