In Reference To
Photographs by Guy L'Heureux
In Reference To, 2020
Installation in the window of articule, Montreal
June 29-August 6, 2020
Thumb Press, 2019
On Being Your Own Reference
Text by Joyce Joumaa
Swapnaa Tamhane’s vitrine-based exhibition In Reference To emerges from a questioning of the value of objects in relation to the space in which they are presented. How is a space created through an object’s relationship to it, and how is the reading of the object’s value affected by the means of access to it? These artworks invite the audience to look closely while offering space for critical reflection on their locale. They remind us to ask why some objects end up existing in a museum space while others exist in a street-window shop.
The meaning of these shapes stands at the core of a tension created around the objects which are mainly inspired by religious symbolism, sex toys, and utensils. They enter a state of flux in an attempt to “seduce” as they are presented in a window space. Looking at modes of exhibiting that perpetuate acts of exchange, we can think of how culture is commodified and thus read. The very same forms can be seen as a reference to kitchen utensils which suggests a look at a feminist history of toolmaking. It can also refer to the divine, the erotic, as well as the oppressor. The artist reflects on “mistranslation” and “misreading” as two concepts that were embedded within anthropological and ethnological practices. The act of referencing, or “captioning” implies a sense of expectation that depends on the proximity of the gaze which looks at a culture.
The objects on display are mainly inspired by drawing, Tamhane’s main artistic practice. Considering some of the sculptures as being themselves drawings, the work is an attempt to decolonize the concept of drawing while the molding of the form resists a defined reading of it. The artistic process becomes a model for self-assertion that looks at drawing from a personal perspective that is freed from a Western understanding.
Swapnaa Tamhane’s works portray a critical engagement in understanding this proximity and in reflecting on the etymology of the words “Shiva”, “phallus”, and “lingam”. In Reference To invites us to question the politics of communication, reminding us that a reference does not liberate the gaze from being doubted.