Sandeep Mukherjee: Mutual Entanglements
As I sat staring at the pattern on the back of the seat in front of me during a three-hour flight from Houston to Los Angeles, I contemplated Sandeep Mukherjee’s impressive painting installation, Mutual Entanglements, at Chimento Contemporary, the last art exhibition I saw before leaving on a four-day trip to Florida to visit my family. I was without a book or a pen during the flight; all I had was the back of the seat and my mind’s wanderings.
Bus, train, and plane upholstery share common features. They are designed in hideous patterns in order to complicate the eye’s perception, disallowing the passenger to recognize the dirt and grime built up over months and years of excessive use. Often multi-colored grids or complicated crossed eye-inducing patterns, public transportation seat fabric pushes the viewer’s gaze out as it holds everything in.
Mukherjees’s paintings are not hideous. They are physical, finely tuned palimpsests of dignified expression. Imagine a landscape pulled apart, ripped and torn, piled up and spread flat.
Ten large panels cover two adjacent walls, forming a wide V with a Serra-like effect that dwarfs the viewer and echoes the massive weight of steel from afar. I am pulled forward. Gradually, the heaviness dissipates; the thin, errant edges and misaligned contours of the individual panels reveal their independence while holding onto solidarity through color and a general schema. The deceptively thin material provides a sturdy enough surface for the rigorous but gracefully applied array of mixed media resting on top of one another. Melded markings, mulch, foliage too thick to traverse—one must find another access point.
I remember sitting at a popular restaurant with friends when I was young. A small boy to my right began to throw up his food. Knowing my stomach’s empathetic nature, I removed myself from the restaurant. Walking briskly to the exit, I approached a set of stairs and felt a powerful push from behind that launched me into the air and over the steps. I landed on my chest on the tiled floor, confused and believing momentarily that a friend of mine had shoved me. I turned over quickly and was met by a set of large, sweaty, pink hands and fiery eyes. The stranger pulled me from the ground and slammed me into the brick corner. “You making fun of my kid?” he yelled directly between my eyes. His thumb and index fingers stretched under my ears, he spit when he talked. He smelled of what I knew.
“Back the fuck off him!” my friend yelled, running down the stairs.
The man with his hand around my neck turned to him, “You back off you Ni—-,” catching himself just after the first syllable, but everyone around had heard it. It all became clear in that moment. It wasn’t me he wanted to be choking. I had separated myself from the group and it gave this subhuman an opportunity to feel powerful in all his weakness. Even with his hand around my neck, I was only an observer of this man’s hate; he wore white on that day, but he wore blue when he was on duty.
The panels can be arranged in any order you like: place side B of panel 2 to side A of panel 1, or place side A of panel 3 to side B of panel 6, and expect similar results.
Sandeep Mukurjee’s paintings occupy a corner that I cannot. If I stand at the inner-most point where the walls meet and turn around, I see an empty room with colors only on the edges of my periphery. When I turn back into the piece my nose inches from the surface. I am in a dark wilderness of familiarity. I search for more formal words about brush strokes and paint application, but we end up in dark corners for other reasons. Dark corners are for deviance, they are stumbled upon, or escaped to. They are for hiding ourselves or hiding things. They are places where some people express dominance, and others are victimized. Corners in the mind carry stories of trauma and forgotten lessons. They can be startling and nagging lingerers, or places to rest, contemplate, and observe. There are many reasons why we end up in corners, both physically and metaphorically. It’s important to remember how you got into them in order to find your way out.
Another officer pulled me from the group, flashed his light on both sides of my neck, and said he saw no marks, no evidence that could prove that anything had happened.
Photos from Chimento Contemporary