Working primarily with black-and-white photographs, Dayanita Singh’s subtle depiction of everyday subjects exists somewhere between documentary capture and personal invention. Drawn from the vast photographic archive she has developed over more than 30 years, Singh describes her most recent works as ‘mobile museums’. Each work contains a series of images, catalogued as an interconnected body of work, and arranged according to themes. Through these processes of translation and retranslation, Singh’s works can be endlessly edited, rearranged and displayed, casting new light on possible narratives in the process.
Suitcase Museum, 2015, a travelling photographic structure, observes the fluid, evolving and ever-changing nature of life, and of Singh’s practice. Weathered leather trunks contain a large-scale book of photographic sequences that have been woven together to create a novel of life. Images can be swapped out for others; the structures themselves are adaptable and movable. Singh’s work validates the transformation of photography, and its presentation, over the last century. As the audience and their response changes, so too does the work. Her subjects transform and grow before our eyes, some reappearing in multiple photographs at different stages of their lives. This progression is compounded by the structure of Suitcase Museum, which can be packed up and neatly transported for a fresh audience to appreciate and examine for meaning. Similarly, any modification in the structure of the museum will result in a change in how the book is read.
This notion of the audience being only indirectly guided through a work and ultimately controlling the outcome is strong in Singh’s practice. Kitchen Museum, 2015, consists of a series of accordion-fold, handmade books. Made for a particular friend or travel companion, with one twin that is kept by Singh herself, the books are small and non-descript, save for the name of a city lightly marking the cover. Inside, there are no captions, no names, no places, and no clues other than those the audience might find. A sunset or sunrise may indicate the time, and travellers may recognise certain landmarks or features. The absence of indicators allows the subject to be the primary focus of the image. The viewer is taken on a journey page by page through the images, which literally unfold to a single long sheet, at a pace of the viewer’s choosing. The form of Singh’s work is symbolic of the metaphor of photography and its connection to life: photography is the act of capturing a single moment in a lifetime, while life is a collection of moments over time.
Exhibiting within the Embassy of Translation, Singh creates a museum within a museum – a museum that anyone can have and hold, and take with them on their journey. Through constant editing, translating and restructuring, Suitcase Museum and Kitchen Museum are works that endlessly evolve and are different for everyone who experiences them.
Dayanita Singh’s works have been the focus of significant solo exhibitions, including ‘Go Away Closer’, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2014) and Hayward Gallery, London (2013); ‘Dayanita Singh’, Art Institute of Chicago (2014); ‘File Museum’, Frith Street Gallery, London (2012–13); and ‘Dayanita Singh’, Mapfre Foundation, Madrid (2010). The artist has participated in major international exhibitions, including ‘Whorled Explorations’, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, (2014); and ‘Reading Cinema, Finding Words: Art after Marcel Broodthaers’, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and Kyoto (2014).