Sreshta Rit Premnath, Index, 2016. Photo credit: Jason Mandella
Sreshta Rit Premnath, Slump, 2016. Photo credit: Jason Mandella
Sreshta Rit Premnath, Sleeping Dogs, 2017

Can you walk us through the genesis of the video? Or the least the way it relates to painting?

I had come across Tantra Song, a book of abstract paintings made by devotees of Shiva and Shakti in Rajasthan, India. Edited by the French poet Franck André Jamme, the book featured a series of particularly minimalist Linga paintings–saturated, hard-edged oval forms in the center of a page surrounded by swirling fields of color. There was something arresting about the stillness and emptiness of the center in relation to the fluid movement of color and value around it.

I visited Kathmandu in March 2016 on a research trip with the India China Institute at The New School, with the aim of learning more about these paintings and finding a way to engage with them through my practice. On arriving in Kathmandu I found myself drawn to the stray dogs that were ubiquitous in the city. Asleep and still during the heat of the day, they peacefully occupied shaded thresholds between private and public space. They resembled the centers of the Tantric paintings I had come in search of, surrounded by the noise and frenetic movement of the city. The dogs became a way to map the city from a non-human vantage point–one that was alert and attentive even in sleep.

I am especially interested in how movement becomes abstracted in this work, or how the movement of coloured fabric and the movement of the dog's coat in sleep dissolve into marks of attention at different frequencies. Can you speak to the way the formal elements settled for you in this work?

I composed the piece with a set of very simple constraints. I walked through the historic center of the city and stopped every time i saw a sleeping dog. I positioned my camera away from traffic and and centered the dog in the frame, paying close attention to the activities at the edge of the screen in relation to the slow rhythm of the sleeping dog’s breath. The movement of a seated man’s legs, the motion of feet stepping over a hole in the pavement, the frenetic bobbing rhythm of pigeons, a green pepper at the edge of the frame that gets kicked into the middle by a passing foot; each has a frequency that plays against that of the dog's. Even the dog’s own ear sometime’s straightens in attention when it is alerted to a passerby. The dog becomes a gauge through which we encounter it’s surroundings. Within the constraints of the camera's frame, I was open to and often delighted by happenstance, and was just as surprised as any viewer by the chance juxtapositions of colors, textures and temporalities.

The other works, the bodies. These do not feel abject to me, but they do feel constitutively inadequate. Like formal instances of systemic failure. Do you imagine these in terms of failure? If not, what's another lens that comes to mind?

The word ‘inadequate’ feels closer to my intentions that ‘failure.’ We as humans are inadequate, or at least we are dependent on complex infrastructures that prop us up and keep us alive. The slumping figures I make have no internal mechanism to hold themselves upright and therefore become dependent on the infrastructures of metal frames, walls and straps to give them form. More than humans, they are like shadows that have been peeled off the floor. Proneness,horizontality and ‘falling’–a movement towards horizontality– are tendencies that animates my work and the common thread that ties Sleeping Dogs to Slump.

Sreshta Rit Premnath with NM Llorens

Sreshta Rit Premnath (born 1979, Bangalore, India) works across multiple media, investigating systems of representation and reflecting on the process by which images become icons and events become history.

Premnath is the founder and co-editor of the publication Shifter and has had solo exhibitions at Nomas Foundation, Rome; KANSAS, New York; Gallery SKE, Bangalore; The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Tony Wight Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin; Wave Hill, New York; Art Statements, Art Basel; as well as numerous group exhibitions at venues including Queens Museum, New York; YBCA, San Francisco; Galerie Balice Hertling, Paris; 1A Space, Hong Kong and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York.

He completed his BFA at The Cleveland Institute of Art, his MFA at Bard College, and has attended the Whitney Independent Study Program, Skowhegan and Smack Mellon. He has received grants from Art Matters and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and was awarded the Arthur Levitt Fellowship from Williams College.

Based in Brooklyn, Premnath is Assistant Professor at Parsons, New York.