The ephemeral is permanent. The perishable lives to which we attach ourselves are impermanent. The residues of memory that the tales of time leave behind survive.
Yardena Kurulkar’s artistic practice is her attempt to understand and overcome life, death, creativity, destruction, the ephemeral and the eternal through personal experiences, performances and creations. The notions of impermanence and life cycles have been a primary concern for her since her ‘Transience’ series (2011-12). These reflections have matured with a certain acceptance of beliefs and thoughts, and have carried forward in Kurulkar’s recent works (2015 – 16). Her art deconstructs the façade of similarities, contradictions and interdependence and highlights the temporary and transient boundaries of presence and absence.
The artist confronts childhood incidents, phobias and emotions pulled out from memory by transferring them as an outcome of her artistic practice. With the notion of the ever-present ephemeral, Kurulkar’s art creates an inquiry into the manner in which, the beauty of the human condition lies in eternal suspension between life and death. The manners in which things erode and time reacts are beyond governance and interfered change. An image may create a memory, but it is only with a visual representation that a perished memory will linger.
Time, an important medium for Kurulkar, is used as a pace to understand and accept her own given time on earth. Materials such as porcelain, clay and water further convey the idea of fragility and change. These forms imbibe Kurulkar’s concerns that are related to her personal history and the erosion, resurrection and elusiveness of human life, over which we have no control. Similarly, her ephemeral works are staged confrontations in which, the beginning is planned, but not the end. The artist’s only intervention is to document and in some way arrest in a frame the passing moment, which is otherwise impossible.
Kurulkar has worked with various parts of her body to try and understand mortality, life and overcome her fear of death. A mould of her entire body in ‘…5 seconds later’ (2012/2011/2009), explored the tangible, visible and perishable. She gathered the dissolved clay to create another body again. This process of repetitive collection is an important one for the artist, since the preserved clay holds a precious history of transience, which has seeped in through the passing away of its previous form. It recovers again from nothingness.
‘Kenosis’ (2015) is a journey into nothingness, with a derivation from the Greek word ‘kenoo’, which means to empty. Life is emptied when the heart stops. The heart, the most important organ in the body and the first to develop in a fetus as a sign of life, is the centre of ‘Kenosis’. Intervening technology with belief, Kurulkar found 3D printing to be a method that could dissect and analyse components that make us mortal. She worked with this technology to acquire a life-size terracotta model of her own heart. The terracotta heart was then submerged in water and an image was captured at regular intervals of disintegration. This led to a documented journey of the heart into nothingness in a series of fifteen selected images of framed time.
Unlike her earlier works where Kurulkar sheds the human form, here everything that identified her as human to others is erased. While ‘…5 Seconds Later’ was displayed in a continuous loop to signify rebirth and appear infinite, this recurrence does not take place in ‘Kenosis’. Shunning the need to regenerate, the artist focuses on the reconstruction that human anatomy endures and reflects on the shape shifting ability of human nature and time. Water and clay recur in ‘Kenosis’ from the artist’s earlier works – water, for its transient nature similar to that of life, and clay as a medium nearest to human skin. Water, often associated with religious rituals, becomes a medium of personal rituals for Kurulkar in her explorations of life. In ‘Kenosis’, water acts as the carrier of disintegrating, perishing, purging and dissolving the heart. The only remains of the time of the heart in water is an unrecognisable lump of red clay in liquid, with the residues of emotion, memory and time that the heart deposited on people and its relations when it was a form. In a world that is constantly forcing information and images in front of us, how easy is it to maintain an eroding transient memory in its purity?
There is the inevitability of the temporary being the permanent constant in life, which is a cycle of continuous regeneration. It is not very easy to accept death and impermanence of the self. There is always a desire of ‘forever’, and knowing this is just a fantasy, leads to fear. In an attempt to reach a stage of acceptance and surrender, the artist puts forward her fear to the world, which she acknowledges through her works. She makes her body a transient medium in the hope that this fear will someday disappear.
In the ‘Dance of Death’ (2016), the body is not present, but Kurulkar’s presence is evident through numerous flickering bulbs suspended from the ceiling, which mark the date (01.06.1971) the artist’s body came into being. ‘Dance Macabre’ by Camille Saints Saens plays in the background in tune to something that is going to end unforeseen – much like birth, time and death. The flicker of uncertainty and the deception of eternity promised to human life are depicted through the silently dancing light bulbs. The lit up numbers flicker unseen to celebrate this date and their passing time. The light, which appears steady, is not visible to the human eye, due to its high ‘Flicker Fusion Rate’. The ‘Flicker Fusion Rate’, a function of the brain, differs for each individual and being, depending on their persistence to capture moving images; thereby making intermittent light appear constant. It is the balance point between our need to function in the world and the brain’s ability to process and store information. The faster the flicker, the less one notices it. As time passes, each bulb’s flicker dies, and the dance begins to fade away. Darkness begins to punctuate the light and what we see is split with time. The bulbs over time will fuse and the work will cease to exist – the heartbeats stop, the body becomes lifeless; the flicker dies, we are left in darkness.
Just as we do not see everything before us, what we may consider reality may just be an illusion. Eventually, eroded memories allow us to conjure, believe and give rebirth to new remembrances, the way we want to see them with overlapping associations. One can ally the passage of time in the ‘Dance of Death’ with several personal experiences from the everyday. The manner in which we appreciate moments, people and objects only towards the end or after their death is always too late. There are only memories left as residues of time, which too will eventually get buried under newer ones.
The fragility of strength becomes starkly evident only after it has been shattered. This stands true for belief, faith, relationships, time, life and even moments that we often take for granted as being permanent. These are things, which are born with the nature of temporary and through desire and human want are convincingly believed to have become eternal. When this belief snaps, there is a sudden collapse of faith as fear, shock and sadness comes pouring out uncontrollably. There is a release of something that has silently pent-up over time, and the ephemeral takes over.
‘Taphophobia’ (2016), derived from a Greek word, implies the fear of being buried alive. Thousands of trapped white porcelain nails barge out and shatter as they are freed from a large dark ornate cupboard covered with a curtain of blue velvet and fresh flowers. Using the historic reference of the cupboard as an allegory for rebirth, the artist places herself in this situation. Kurulkar, being Jewish, also challenges her religious beliefs in this work. The Jewish holy scrolls are kept locked in a cupboard, which is only opened on certain occasions. Here, the open cupboard signifies rebirth and claustrophobic release and thereby victory – the victory of fear and an overcoming feeling of being alive with the certainty of death.
The white porcelain nails in this work connect with the thought of purity and fragility being associated with something that may otherwise seem unbreakable. The nails, some shattered, some intact, juxtaposed against the changing beauty of the perishing fresh flowers, is a stark realisation of promises not being fulfilled. The reliability of what is considered strong suddenly reveals its fragile edge and hope scatters with the dawn of awareness, that everything is ephemeral. However, the release of the fragile from darkness into light is also an acceptance of the eternal cycle of life and death, and of rebirth and recovery from the ephemeral.
Veeranganakumari Solanki Jamwal