LEO (procedures in search of an original index)

Gallery SKE, Bangalore

Leo continues my exploration of specific representations of power that have been historically and cross-culturally repeated.  This repetition of a symbol, I propose, opens the contradictory possibilities of both reiterating and fortifying the power represented by the symbol and, antithetically, of exhausting and devaluing the representational potential of the symbol. The lion is especially useful as a specimen for this investigation as a creature that has historically symbolized power and through whose subjugation (through hunting, taming and training) people have articulated their own positions of power.

Through material and symbolic procedures of negation I think through the structure of the dialectic with its inherent threat of cancellation and the possibility of a third term. A term that is neither assertion nor negation and perhaps located in the body or made present through material.

I employ two symbolic uses of the Lion.  First,  I use Leo, the MGM lion, also a kind of guardian that announces our entry into MGM’s filmic spectacle – a symbol to be investigated, especially at this moment when MGM is in the throes of bankruptcy. In the video loop Mask I use Leo, the lion mascot used by MGM, in their very first production, a film titled He Who Gets Slapped.  Unlike the roaring lion we have become used to, in MGM’s first production the lion was simply silent and seemingly perplexed looked from side to side – perhaps a kind of death mask signaling its demise from the very beginning. In the video MGM RIP, I drive along with a friend, to a small town in rural New Jersey in search of an unmarked grave-site where the first lion used as MGM’s trademark, Leo, was purportedly buried. Here the question of how to create a narrative about a zero-site – a place that may not have been – is explored. Through a loose series of long, mostly silent shots an unresolved narrative is constructed.

Second, is an archive of photographs from around the world and across history of gateways flanked by lions. These gateways allow entrance into institutions of power as diverse as the Temple of Isis in Philae, the Jagannath Temple in Puri, the Louvre in Paris, the New York Public Library, and the HSBC world headquarters in Hong Kong. Although the position of these guardian statues – neither part of the architecture it symbolically protects nor part of public space falls clearly within Rosalind Krauss’s definition of sculpture, lion gateways are pointedly un-monumental and yet signify power. The cancellation resulting from this simultaneous and contradictory function of symbolizing power and its restraint or negation results in a kind of zero-site.

In the video Apology and each of the triptychs Hide, X,XX and …it is, it’s like, I think it was like… a third element is introduced to destabilize the dialectic of assertion and negation. In each of the two triptychs entitled Hide, for instance, the skin of the painting is explored as a procedure to disrupt a power relation established by the act of “shooting” within each pair of photographs.

In this project I attempt to extend Marcel Broodthaers’ project of exhausting the specificity of an icon by placing it in the context of a morphological archive (MoMA, Dept. of Eagles). While Broodthaers focuses on the iconic image, I focus on the contextual markers (the brackets) which surround and delimit it.

If an index serves as a pointer directing us to an object, then an original index may be a marker that designates an index – that tells us what the pointing of a finger itself means. Focusing on the gateway instead of the institution it opens into is a way of investigating a particular vocabulary that makes power in general apparent even before the specific meaning and implication of that power is understood.