Installation view of DAYANITA SINGH’s Museum of Shedding (2016) at Frith Street Gallery, London, 2016. Courtesy Frith Street Gallery.
Installation view of DAYANITA SINGH’s Museum of Shedding (2016) at Frith Street Gallery, London, 2016. Courtesy Frith Street Gallery.

Museum of Shedding

Dayanita Singh

Frith Street Gallery
India UK

A portable museum has established itself at Frith Street Gallery. Its empty desk waits for a registrar, curator or director depending on which panel the wooden prism signage block placed in its center, reveals. Beyond this desk, there is a low bedstead framed by an elegant screen, a series of wooden stools dispersed across the gallery’s concrete floor, and two storage units holding part of the museum’s collection of black and white “photo-architecture” images. This domestic arrangement by Dayanita Singh, entitled Museum of Shedding (2016), can quickly pack away, and similar to structures in her “Museum” series (2012– ), the wooden infrastructure can be reconfigured. It can open out, it can be folded inwards, and this museum’s collection of photographs can be re-sequenced and edited.

Knowing that the spatial dimensions of the museum and the collection have a potential dynamism, and may rotate over the show’s duration makes the curator-registrar-director’s absence intriguing. The emptiness gives the museum a peculiar personality. It at once has a faceless agency, which the viewer can appreciate. There are photographs and a series of empty storage frames, displayed in a grid formation along two interfacing walls, which the museum has chosen to show. Others are kept in the two storage units positioned close by. The museum also seeks our involvement and interaction. The images are notably placeless; a mix of contemporary and historic architectural details including marble walls, geological masses with repetitive black and white textural contours, desolate corridors and unoccupied chairs. Combined with three empty wooden frames that hang on the wall, the museum compels the viewer to make connections, and consider how the shifting elements of the work impact the meaning. As the artist has suggested in previous interviews, the arrangement of the photographs is rhythmic, a process similar to editing music as she reflects upon pitch and musical tones while working. This helps make the work meditative, and the pace set by the display of objects certainly provides an opportunity to explore the complexities of exhibition design and its transmutable relationship with archives and collections.

Installation view of DAYANITA SINGH’s exhibition “Museum of Shedding” at Frith Street Gallery, London, 2016. Courtesy Frith Street Gallery.

“Time Measures” (2016), a photographic series shown alongside the Museum of Shedding, intensified this discussion, and at the opening, viewers were transfixed. These thirty-four images, installed as seven sequences in a circular form across four walls, presented a collection of archival portraits. Unlike earlier images from “File Museum” (2011) taken in situ at Indian archives featuring employees and visitors, these works isolate red cotton fabric bundles of documents. Singh depict them as individuals, as if posing against a crisp background, and in doing so another collection of absent-present personalities are defined. She captures the intricacies of these archival personae; each bundle displays a varying intensity of red dye, and a series of idiosyncratic folds. Some show seams of machine stitches, others have broken blue thread coming through the fabric’s fiber, and light white fluff and bits of debris are found on others. Most of the bundles are tightly knotted and closed, whilst those, which form a simple knot allows the viewer to glimpse their interior.

DAYANITA SINGH, “Time Measures” (detail), 2016, 34 framed photographs, 54 × 44 × 4 cm each. Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London.  

The tactility Singh achieves in the both Museum of Shedding and “Time Measures,” and the show as a whole, pushes the viewer to think beyond representation, and scrutinize object relationships, exhibition terminology and components of display. Spending time here in Singh’s anonymous institution, with unidentifiable images, empty frames and reserved images, which remain stored yet tantalizingly visible should make viewers a part of the performance. For whilst the Singh’s museum can function on its own accord, the viewer gains by considering their encounter, and position. To return to the empty desk, and wooden prism, there might be a vacancy for a registrar, curator and director.

Dayanita Singh’s “Museum of Shedding” is currently on view at Frith Street Gallery, Golden Square, London, until January 13, 2017.

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