Video still showing transformations in three stages


As if from a lake

I surface for air,

mirrors and ripples embracing me

through layers of sleep.

I greet the chilly dawn,

newly-born each morning,

cracking through the fragile eggshell air.

Botticelli's Venus is brought to mind, born from the lake, her nakedness partially concealed behind long golden hair, looking back at the viewer as we gaze upon her alabaster form of which we are afforded an endless glimpse as angels blow away the drape that another woman is rushing forward with which to cover Venus' modesty. How different is the woman in Sonia's Metamorphosing Female: PURGE, to which these lines refer. Sonia's women also emerge from water, they too are 'newly-born' and they too are self-aware, of their newness, their femininity and the condition of being observed. Yet her women are inward looking, their eyes shut and focused on their own being not 'their-being-as-that-which-is formed-only-in relation-to-the-others-gaze'. Thus they are beings in the universe, i.e. like everything else, formed by a multiplicity of single cells not because they are observed, brought to sight.

The graphic patterns on the canvas are inspired by and taken from 18th and 19th century microphotogrpahs, documents and diagrammatic representations of single-celled organisms that occur in the ocean. These cross-sections seem highly complex and ornamental for such base creatures. Sonia has selected fragments from this world to reveal evolutionary mechanics and represent the upward growth of species where single celled creatures are the bottom-most and human beings at the top. And it is these types of cells that are the basis of all life, wherever they may lie on the evolutionary scale.

The process of compounded growth is central to Sonia's work as she delves for inspiration into the extremely personal and transformative experience of becoming a mother. The group of works share the title Some Roots Grow Upwards with the painting of the name of a young woman tending to her terrace garden while a fetus grows peacefully in a fleshy placenta like flower. It urges the audience to believe that while the woman in peacefully tending to her plants she is being 'fertile' in both senses of the word and as she nurtures and nourishes the plant so also she does the child to be. The flower, here the pseudo-womb is very Georgia O'Keefe and makes a correlation between the beauty and productivity in plants and humans.

If we are to consider 'roots' and thus the deleuzian structure of interconnectedness as being organic and 'un-grid-like' with a central point from which spring almost uncharted paths then in Sonia's work this would be the woman-mother-nuturer.

Julia Kristeva has written[ii] that with the beginning of motherhood, which begins when a woman gets pregnant, she becomes passionate about herself. This passion for self manifests in an inward 'looking' that is a turning away from the outside stimulants of man-lover-world towards the growing fetus-baby-child. She also uses the phrase 'mystery of gestation' not as a theoretical turn but really to describe how, despite the sciences desire to know the biophysical process of birth, it remains in some part in the realm of the unknowable.

The journey is one that begin with extreme narcissism conditioned by the pure physicality of pregnancy and transforms to extreme 'sacrifice' (the child becomes the supreme being for the mother). And thus it may be something both desired and despised (this latter experience is almost always hidden, unspoken, unacceptable).

Excerpts from 'Born of Watery Realms and Fusing Cells; a few thoughts on the transformative experience of the biological imperative' http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/yinchuan-biennale-2016/

Video still showing transformations in three stages

In Sonia Mehra Chawla's works, the artist persona often appears as an archetypal figure mediating between the enigmas of the natural world and the experimental protocols that science devises to investigate them. Her mixed-media paintings, prints and video works assume the form of encounters between mystery and inquiry. In her 2009-2011 series, 'Some Roots Grow Upwards: The Transformative Experience of the Biological Imperative: Both Desired and Despised', for instance, the artist persona takes a nap on a couch while a dream play involving the human body, stripped to nerve, muscle and bone, unfolds around her; neural electricity links her to a ghostly X-ray double, heavy with child, and to pensive skeletons drawn from the history of anatomical representation.

Her own bodily experiences, especially of pregnancy and childbirth, provide a recurrent basis for Sonia's reflections. Incrementally, during the last decade, she has developed a vocabulary of germination and gestation, phrased in placental and foetal forms as well as protozoan and plant images. In the 2011 diptych, 'The Sea Within' and the 2013 triptych, 'Embryonic Plant', she subverts the conventional symmetries of scale and detail in a gesture reminiscent of science-fiction scenarios of miniaturization; she inserts the artist persona into a universe dominated by the gigantically enlarged forms of micro-organisms, variously honeycombed, tasselled, tangled, globular or star-shaped.

When Sonia presents us with the complex and visually exciting micro-architecture of cellular structures, of ganglia and cortices, spores, packed seed-pods and streaming plankton, she draws us into an experience of abundant and versatile aesthetic stimulation but also into a visual regime framed rigorously by the optics of microscopy, radiography and nanography. On a preliminary viewing, it may appear that the primary impulse in Sonia's practice a lyrical and expressive one, geared towards the production of tapestried images that celebrate the domain of organic forms invisible to the naked eye. Closer engagement reveals, however, that her practice is also sustained by a compelling conceptual orientation: a fascination with imaging itself, the constant translation of experience into image, as a key mode by which the human consciousness anchors itself in the world.

Excerpts from Mystery and Inquiry: Reflections on Sonia Mehra Chawla's 'Scapelands', by Ranjit Hoskote ... Read more http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/yinchuan-biennale-2016/
© sonia mehra chawla