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Celebrating Tagore in Sweden

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high" – a photograph of the words written on a beach becomes a prism of poetics. Reena Saini Kallat takes the words of Rabindranath Tagore and invites visitors in Stockholm to re-configure the words of the poem, giving it a new turn. Her installations are part of a show entitled 'Make a Change and Crossroads No 2.' curated by Torun Ekstrand at Norrtalje Konsthall in Sweden.

Reena brings back the historicality of the very act of the written poem with salt on sand, allowing it to be slowly consumed by the advancing tides. In surrendering these words thus to nature the artist creates a fragile, dissipating memory of the poem wherein the evaporated salts from the oceans return back to it. Placed alongside the photopiece are salt rock chunks engraved with dates of Tagore's visits to Sweden, the stamp from the Post museum along with related material found in the Nobel Museum archives. He was the first non-European to have received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and his books were translated into Swedish for several decades thereafter, (some of which are made available from the local library as part of the exhibition). Tagore visited Sweden for the first time in May 1921, eight years after he received the Nobel Prize to deliver an acceptance speech to the Swedish Academy. He invited Academy members to visit Shanti niketan, where he was setting up Visva-Bharati (which means the communion of the world with India).

The materials that she uses and the cross cultural counterpoints that she brings alive in her installations reflects the truth that Reena Saini Kallat's art is fluid, shifting and tenuous. Text is written with salt on sand, only to disappear moments later. Her use of material is simultaneously transcient and timeless. Over the years, she connects politically divided terrain by interrogating various national identities and their symbols through sculpture, photography, drawing, and video. Her installation, 'Saline Notations' takes us to ephemeral shores of scholarship and referencing. She inscribes a text using salt, and unfolds a soliloquy that submerges with a rising tide."The fluids in our bodies mimic the primeval seas in which life began and we've perhaps retained the salts in our bloodstreams," she reiterates.

"Salt used as a preservative since ancient times, is gathered here to form transient texts that have an element of surrender, their submission to the variables of nature incorporates time as a crucial element of the production of the work." Reena Kallat works closely with tidal calendars and sunset timings which form an unseen, and unlikely, backdrop to the fleeting presence of the salt.

She describes her thought process, "I'm interested in thinking of the thing I make as language itself – where meaning is lodged in the material. In 'Saline Notations'(Echoes), 2015, the soliloquies inscribed on a beach using salt evaporate with the tides. For a moment an idea is made visible, then suddenly lost. My photographs remain as the only evidence of these salt stories before they dissolve. This piece came from researching tidal calendars and times of sunset. I often think of our relationship to the sea and the salinity levels of the body, and our evolution from the Precambrian seas." Besides 'Saline Notations,' the other works being shown are the videos: 'Pause Persist', 'Synapse', 'Aperture-2' and the 'photopiece Saline Notations' (Echoes).

It's intriguing how each viewer will have different responses to her installation practices. Like a holographic poem that moves and changes as a viewer wanders through it, fluid signs in salt on blackboards placed on the floor will alter through visitor participation throughout the course of the exhibition, escaping the constancy of meaning a printed sign would have.

The viewer/reader becomes an unconscious collaborator; remains subject to the words themselves that endlessly reshape themselves and their environment. Her practice spans drawing, photography, sculpture and video-she engages diverse materials, imbued with conceptual underpinnings. She is interested in the role that memory plays, in not only what we choose to remember but also how we think of the past.
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