In the 21st century, virtual boundlessness in globalization is widely praised as an index of humanity without frontiers. With various avenues opening up for a better life, there has been a surge of migration in the last few decades. Ironically, global fear has provoked the reinforcing of borders, curtailing movements and frantically fortifying security zones; still worse, designating an entire nation as a restricted zone. Artist Andrew Ananda Voogel’s solo exhibition titled The Weight of Separation at Project 88 is one that showcases the repercussions of separation through a subjective-objective dyadic lens.
The very first artwork that attracted me was his canvas painting titled Sugarcane Painting I. I was instantly reminded of the German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer who has always addressed controversial issues of modern history. Andrew has done something along similar lines but his artistic treatment is distinct from Kiefer’s.
Voogel’s artworks are predominantly tangible, and I am drawn towards the fact that he uses textile as a medium. It is an interesting choice in my opinion, for textile has a quality of wearing out and morphing as time passes, just like human beings. And much like the east Asian belief, threads here signify the thread of fate of all those who have been displaced and separated.
The installation titled Handloom I and II depicts the human subjectivity caught up in various existential predicaments that are centered around separation. The wooden frames could possibly be identified as either two individuals separated spatially but connected precariously through multiple, fragile threads, or they could illustrate the schism within hyphenated individuals who no longer belong to any one place, thus being separated from home forever.
Similarly, the installation titled Untitled Form II shows the viewers that the migrant individual is partially occupying both worlds, and yet a space in-between–what the postcolonial cultural theorist Homi K Bhabha calls the “third-space”. This particular installation visually examines the subjectivity of immigrant life-world paradoxically characterized by a sense of being “elsewhere, [even while being] within here,” that the Vietnamese film-maker, writer, and literary theorist Trinh Minh-ha talks about in her book Elsewhere, within Here.
Not only do Voogel’s artworks and installations bring the internal schism of the migrant individual to the fore, but they also provoke us to witness the pain that is felt by those who have left and those who have been left behind. The weight of sadness, loss, and a fragile expectation is shown poignantly in his installation titled Weight I and II.
In Weight I and II, two concentric circular sculptures are held down by weights that are visible as well as invisible. While one is enmeshed with ropes that may signify worldly responsibilities and restrictions of the migrant, the other is held down by invisible chains that may be read as the emotional baggage that is left after the departure of a beloved. Both circles are held by two ropes that have one point of origin which may be read as the idyllic space we proverbially call “home”. The separation and the pain that ensues are reinforced by this juxtaposition.
The self-explanatory title Abacus I shows the gradual introduction of nude units in a sea of black ones almost as though Andrew is illustrating issues such as legal and illegal occupation in foreign host-lands by migrants. On a psychological level, the installation can also be understood as the subject’s mind that is now being coloured by the clash and negotiation between the cultural ethos of two disparate worlds.
The artist also transcends the worldly vagaries of separation and carefully broaches metaphysical themes such as Time and Death. While understanding the human limitations of making sense of these concepts, he has ingenuously experimented with tangible analogies to give form and semblance to the intangible.
In his installation, Confrontation of Time, Voogel’s miniature sculpture has ascending and descending helix-like staircases which depict the introspection that human subjectivity is invariably prone to. From time to time, humans dig into their personal archives of memories in order to reassess where their decisions have led them to, and attempt to construct a narrative that they can imbue with meaning. The ascending staircase marks the journey of the individual into the present and eventually the future.
The Burial, which comprises two pieces of dyed hemp cloth with a tear in the middle, represents Death. Andrew tries to contain the idea of death and understand its repercussions. Here, of course, it is an extension of the concept of separation that takes up the quality of being absolute and irrevocable. The split in the middle can be interpreted as the violence that claims the lives of those who were caught amidst the political machinations of nations. Much like Derrida in his book The Work of Mourning, Voogel too tries to understand Death–that which cannot be understood and never completely assimilated by humankind.
Overall, I do feel that Andrew Ananda Voogel’s exhibition is one that introduces the viewers to confront the universal feeling of separation. While I am of the opinion that his installations are far more visceral than his canvas and miniature works, it is undeniable that the exhibition as a whole offers heterogeneous perspectives of sundered humans and conveys everything that words fail to communicate when we need them the most. These emerge from his installations through an artistic and critical rigour which explain the fragmentation and asymmetry that people face on a global and every-day basis. Andrew’s exhibition must not be missed, especially as it offers a continual insight into the human predicament in current times when the world is full of strife and longing.