Hi All, Recently went to the Dayanita Singh show at the Hayward. Black and white photos on the walls and in structures – interesting how the monochrome prints become disjointed in time, aided and abetted by the subject matter so it’s unclear what period they are from. My favourites are a series on file storage rooms and ageing factories in India – also saw the File Room series in the German Pavilion in Venice in August, presented in a bit of a cramped way, without the wooden screens and structures.
The photos show various rooms stacked high with papers and folders or sacks of documents, often an impenetrable wall of officialdom. Singh’s images make up artist’s books, so with each subject there are explanatory texts- The reams of paperwork, often endless legal documents, seem to be from an uncertain age, Victorian colonial India? post-colonial? present day? … the high humidity and frequent floodings mean that the custodians move endangered room contents from room to room dodging the pools of water. Insects love the paper, assisting the breakdown proces – the resulting friable stacks are further disturbed by electric fans (cooling the staff down). From just the images it would appear an impossible task to find any vital folder. They suggest that the English legal system inherited and treasured in post-colonial India has become stuck in pre-digital time, magnified itself, creating a beauracratic monster Kafka would be proud of.The vulnerability of the mounds of paper and files seem to conjure up protective feelings towards the physicality of the material – links, possibly from a certain generation, are the book burning pyres of the WW2 period in Germany. Certainly there are visual connections with the British artist John Latham His book works certainly touched a few nerves in the 70’s, with him getting his students to each chew and digest a part of a book – the college subsequently sacked him from his lecturers post.
Earlier still is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – also made into a film by Francis Truffaut – this also deals with the destruction of books, with the ‘rebels’ at the end each memorising a particular book or poem. The individual then becomes the book – that personal link over time forms a bond that maybe the custodians of the File rooms have.
There is a also another topic suggested by these images – those of ‘Ruins’. That process of change between the freshly typed and bound folders and the powdery residue caused by floods, fans and insects is endlessly fascinating, with the File Rooms photos in the end holding centre stage mid way in this process, our own present-day Romantic Ruin.