Asha Ganpat : Remote Viewing
by Dodo Dayao
in conjunction with her site-specific installation in north willow
(link to the exhibition)
Given how much geography not to mention a profound disparity between time zones separate me and Asha Ganpat’s new work, this piece has become indebted to the process invoked by the show’s title, and writing about the show partially from this rather unique but necessary vantage point has become, inadvertently and rather organically, a tangential layer of its praxis, the way remote viewing in its most fundamental iteration enabled me to eavesdrop on the recent past while staying firmly in a present that was itself slowly sliding into an eventual future. Such squirrely demarcations of time, which ultimately obfuscate all demarcations, are essential to what Remote Viewing, the show, contemplates, what Ganpat herself evocatively codifies as “metaphysical circumstance and supernatural self-determination devised through sound, vibration, and oscillation.”
In boiling what she means by remote viewing down to an act of “seeing somewhere else at the same time”, Ganpat somehow nails, too, the literal circumstances of my own remote viewing experience, but what she’s really implying is far loftier than time-delayed bi-location, something more akin to psychic phenomena, in all its odd iterations: extra sensory perception, telekinesis, Kirlian photography even. Kirlian photography is the process that allegedly captures an image of someone’s aura. In perhaps the only piece in the entire show that references psychic phenomena in a more forthright, less allusive way, the series called School Portraits, consists of faux-Kirlian photographs of indigo children, an allegedly super-evolved strain of humans endowed with supernatural abilities, or at least that’s the definition Ganpat is sticking with.
For the most part, though, Ganpat folds her definition of remote viewing into more religious contexts. “Every religion offers it's believers a way to reach beyond what can be touched, speak to what has no ears, and feel what has no corporeality.” The spiritual congress that enables believers with remote viewing is tempered here by the mechanisms of ritual and the concept of alligation, first put forward by Martin Duffy in his short essay, Symbolism of Nails, referring to the transfer of energies that occur when one object makes contact with another, a phenomenon predicated on the theory that all things are imbued with virtue. “If we will accept that touch transfers energy, through knotting and rubbing and scraping with force and ritualistic movement, I have charged these objects.” Ganpat has designed the works to invite spectator participation in the hopes that the engagement will form a ritual in and of itself, one that mimics each spectator’s own established rituals. “I am curious to see if some sense of human ritual universality can be appreciated.”
In the self-explanatory Automated Oracle Vending Machine, a riff on the Judeo-Christian concept of vending machine gods, the work is like a direct line to the heavenly host, dispensing fates for anyone with four quarters to spare like they were candy bars and evoking a playfulness that is not so much flippant but curious, the way it mashes up what is itself a ritual, albeit a secular one but similarly driven by a craving, with a pidgin spirituality. “I am interested in matters of potential and inevitability, and most particularly curious about perceptions of fate, of destiny, and of clairvoyance.” And while two pieces, one called Forest which enables the creation of sounds through touching and another called La Sonette which is essentially a doorbell made from nails, might skirt the rest of the works’ more overt parallelisms, the notion of sound and touch as means of seeing is a quintessentially religious one. “They are an accumulation of potential, little pieces amassed to a formidable force of transference.”
The ramifications of the attic space feel almost pre-ordained for Ganpat’s purposes, the way attics are repositories for our detritus, our heirlooms and our secrets, hollowed-out by time but whose former luster is rekindled by remembering and by touching, and the way , too, that the attic is like some clandestine wing of the house, somehow autonomous and integrated in the way churches are in relation to their respective neighborhoods. “Attics are raw spaces, not quite entirely in the house.” The church reference feeds off the way Ganpat not so much transforms the space but quite aptly transfigures it into her own shrine to the accoutrements of faith, right down to an interactive altar, The Office of Requests and Petitions, made from a block of hand-sanded wood held together by “anointed” nails. “The invitation to kneel before the wood becomes one of genuflection. That interaction and expectation alone bestows the wood with a holiness, a right to reverence.”
My own relative distance from the work makes it easier for me to empathize with and even unwittingly mimic the nonchalant way Ganpat remains dubious about religion. Remote Viewing is by no means a revival meeting or a date to church, but the desire to transcend mortality is a deep and primordial code that needs no dogma to fan into a flame. “I do try to play along with the rules of superstition as best I can when working with spiritual themes in my work.” In its own ecumenical way, the show is a non-believer’s rumination on belief, shot through with a curiosity that isn’t condescending and a fascination leeched of critique, recognizing that between nature and supernature is an impossible chasm but making the attempt to bridge it anyway.