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Go Away Closer is a contradiction. “To me that’s photography. You are trying to hold onto something but in the process of trying to hold into it you’re pushing it away (…) The contradiction is key to me. If I had to make a book of my life’s work “Adventures of a Photographer” it would be finally called Go Away Closer”.[1]

This is the title chosen by Dayanita Singh for her first UK retrospective currently at the Hayward Gallery.

The Indian artist defines herself as a bookmaker who uses pictures to narrate novels through images. Photography is just the beginning: each reproduction is connected with other images in order to tell a story. This is what really concerns the artist, who focuses her attention more in the process of editing than in taking photos.

Thus, her exhibition becomes odd, because the protagonists in the show are not the few pictures on the walls, but the mass-produced books, which on view for the public there. The artist explores new ways to present her creations, in order to generate an engagement between them and the audience.

The two most exemplificative texts, “Sent a letter” (2008) and “Blue book” (2009), serve as different models in which photography can be displayed. “Sent a letter” is curious for its format. It is a series of seven soft cover albums, where each can be opened as a fan to show image after image. In “Blue book” the innovative idea of collecting reproductions of industrial landscapes printed on postcards is used.

Dayanita Singh wants to communicate a clear, incontrovertible message to the public. Therefore, she keeps a strong presence in the organisation of her exhibitions, and in the same way she creates books she becomes curator to her own projects, refuting and reinventing the common curatorial practise.

With this awareness, in 2013 she created “Museum Bhavan”, which is located in the second room of the show, consisting of 10 portable wooden structures containing 70 to 140 pictures. Some images are exposed, while others are kept inside these libraries for illustrations, waiting to be disclosed. Each construction has a different denomination (e.g. Museum of Chance, File Museum) and is host to a collection of icons, all interconnected in order to narrate a story about a particular topic. It is literally a museum inside a gallery, and the curator cannot do anything else but offer it as is.

Go away closer is not a common photographic exposition, with pictures on the wall presented like paintings within a white cube. It is a living experience where the composer is the curator, and she dictates a path for the audience to follow in order to discover how she sees her country: India. In an Era where artists frequently are unable to explain their own creations, Dayanita Singh can drive the public through her world, in a unique personal way. This is one of the few occasions in which the interpretation cannot be mistaken, because everything is already explained.

Mariaelena Soligo


[1] From the interview in Art It Magazine, 1st February 2012.

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