Alternative Structures: Aesthetics, Imagination, and Radical Reciprocity: an Interview with Girl
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Alternative Structures:
Aesthetics, Imagination, and Radical Reciprocity: an Interview with Girl

In the spring of 2012, on a visit to New York City, I took the train up to the Upper West Side on an explicit mission to visit the Jack Tilton Gallery. In a striking turn of fate, the gallery was running not one

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Simone Leigh. Photograph by Paul Mpagi Sepuya.

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Chitra Ganesh. Photograph by C. Ganesh

[End Page 241] "but two of my friends' solo exhibitions simultaneously: CHITRA GANESH's The Ghost Effect in Real Time and SIMONE LEIGH's jam packed and jelly tight. Traversing elegant narrow mansions with pristine balustrades and faded facades in the upper 70s, I eventually entered a large space where I was immediately greeted by one of Leigh's arresting sculptures: a sinuous and slender wood tree trunk reaching toward the ceiling, where it cradled one of Leigh's large ceramic glazed cowrie shells covered in a brilliant appliqué of gold leaf. Upstairs, as I traversed Leigh's sculptures—chandeliers of pendulous glass containers filled with salt; a row of six figurines with headdresses made out of voluptuous configurations of cobalt blue ceramic roses—I encountered Ganesh's large-scale black-and-white charcoal drawings of scenes inspired by early cinema productions in India, Germany, and the United States. Ganesh's drawings contained imagery culled from science fiction, histories of Orientalism, and epic myth. Combining compressed charcoal with charcoal dust, the drawings were mysterious and strangely evocative, as if the remnant of charcoal dust enabled the residue of embedded historical narratives to migrate off the surface of the images and saturate the room with the density of the past. In short, the title of Ganesh's exhibition—THE GHOST EFFECT IN REAL TIME—felt especially appropriate, as the reverberating presence of hauntings seemed to pervade the room. Despite the formal divergence of Leigh and Ganesh's work, I now recognize in hindsight that the convergence of their exhibitions was really a meaningful coincidence; it was indicative of their friendship and broader commitment to each other's work—a shared affinity that is deeply implicated in each of their art practices. For Leigh and Ganesh, art and friendship are delicately intertwined and mutually transformative. [End Page 242]

Both Brooklyn-based artists, ceramist Simone Leigh and painter Chitra Ganesh have been friends for several decades, and their artistic practices are informed by their upbringings as children of immigrants from Jamaica and India, respectively.

Ganesh, a graduate of Brown and Columbia Universities, combines drawing, installation, text-based work, digital collage and collaboration in her praxis. She makes rich use of materials that range from lace to spray paint and from glass to chalk, and her work excavates narrative palimpsests—particularly the submerged voices and concerns of South Asian women—that often remain obscure within both conventional history and the contemporary arts. Drawing on surrealism, futurism, mythology, comic-book aesthetics, and cultures of protest, Ganesh's often large-scale yet intricate work integrates "traditional and established painting practices with the artist's unique visual iconographies and assemblages" to create artistic subjects who "confront the viewer with their gazes, acting as radiant agents of their own present and future, emerging as powerful allegories of politics, performance and fantasy."1 A current Hodder Fellow at Princeton University's Lewis Center for the Arts, a 2012 Guggenheim Foundation grantee, and a Kirloskar scholar-in-residence at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014, Ganesh has participated in numerous group and solo shows in New York City and elsewhere in the United States, including Word of God(ess) at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (2011), Eyes of Time at the Brooklyn Museum (2014), and The Ghost Effect in Real Time at the Jack Tilton Gallery (2012). She has exhibited around the world, with solo shows in Paris, Zurich, New Delhi, and Mumbai. In addition, her social practice has included several billboard-sized public art exhibitions in Shanghai, Lisbon, Porto, and at the Socrates Sculpture Park in New York. At the latter site, Ganesh reproduced...


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