Shubhangi Singh | Studio encounter

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Shubhangi Singh studio encouter by Julia Fidder

Image courtesy of Shubhangi Singh

Studio encounter

Explosives

Artist Shubhangi Singh sticks her finger in a chemical compound with a sharp, salty, bitter taste to demonstrate to me that the saltpetre, or potassium nitrate, she is currently working with is edible. The powder that once was made out of bird poop is both used in the fabrication of gunpowder and soil fertiliser but is also the origin of both Shubhangi Singh’s recent film Birth of a Grenade and the self-published zine { how not to make a bomb }. A certain flirtation with risk and danger in the artists’ work affects the audience but also functions as an introduction to the stories and histories to be uncovered in Shubhangi Singh’s work.

Affect and Complicity

For the invitation of Botanical Witnesses at the 8th Artishok Biennial at the Botanic Garden in Tallinn, artist Shubhangi Singh used the saltpetre to let her 16mm film slowly deteriorate. The film developed in bananas, dates and cocoa powder was dipped into the saltpetre solution by a motion-triggered mechanical arm whenever somebody stopped by to watch the video. By watching the projection, the audience became complicit in the slow degradation of the work. Would they feel bad once they learn that their actions led to this destruction? And following on; How much does the audience needs to be made aware of? The act of destruction could be perceived as an act of violence, yet artist Shubhangi Singh also describes the possibility for a new work to emerge through the alteration of the film. This mode of construction and deconstruction lies, as described by the artist herself, mainly in the raw, nature of the materials used in the work and they have an inherent relationship to the research behind the work. It is precisely through this role of materials in the duality of building up and breaking down that artist Shubhangi Singh relates to multi-species colonial violence in her artistic practice

Ghosts Carved in Stone

The fruits used in the production of Birth of a Grenade are seen by artist Shubhangi Signh as vessels for their histories and ancestral violence; these products made their way to Europe largely as a result of colonialism. The stories that are held in physical forms are recognizable in Singh’s attitude to her practice at large. The works might be recognized as containers for ideas – for the present and posterity. Through extensive research, the works become receptacles for many stories, histories and times, they are held by them until they can be held in the imaginations of the audience. The past three years the artist has been dedicated to research that stems from a particularly odd/interesting/vague/abstract monument. In the city centre of Turku, as part of the walls of Ars Nova, a large stone (placed on several small stones) can be found. What at first glance seems like an ordinary stone is a monument in memory of Herman Spöring Jr., the first Fin to set foot in Australia. This Finnish explorer and naturalist accompanied Captain James Cook on an expedition to Tahiti which was part of a research trip that documented the Transit of Venus, which helped to measure the universe, but eventually led to the colonisation of Australia.

Uncovering Narratives

Much of this narrative is not to be found on the plaque next to the stone. Through a deep search into the story of the stone, its conception, the transit of Venus and the expedition, Artist Shubhangi Singh has been uncovering more and more of the stories regarding the monument. The limiting narrative presented by the current contextualisation of the stone and what it stands for, celebrating Spöring as the first Fin to set foot in Australia, is a curated perspective through which we can perceive this object. Ursula K. Le Guin in Tales from Earthsea describes the conception of partial narratives and histories: “[e]ven if we are present at some historic event, so we comprehend it – can we even remember it – until we can tell it as a story? And for events in times or places outside our own experience, we have nothing to go on but the stories other people tell us. Past events exist, after all, only in memory, which is a form of imagination. The event is real now, but once it’s then, its continuing reality is entirely up to us, dependent on our energy and honesty.” The lenses brought to us are often incomplete, as is the case with the story of Spöring.

Future/Past/Present-Paradigm and Multiplicity

The limitation in our perception of the past that is catered through the facilitation of a mere singular lens leads to the impossibility of imagining exhaustive multiple futures: “I want to demonstrate how these temporal regimes encroach on one another, so to tell the story of the past means telling the story of the present, which is already where the future resides.” Lola Olufemi draws lines through the past/present/future or future/past/present or whatever non-linear order you want to give to time; it exemplifies how, in a world that lives both in current colonisation and its aftermath, we can’t say we are free from colonisation as if we simply step over it and call it a day. These stories are the stories of the future/present as well: even if we would decolonize all the land that is still under reign by other countries or governing bodies, the future/past/present is where the stories of colonialism reside through lived experiences and inherent histories. The generosity in sharing knowledge and stories inherent to Singh’s practice allows for a multiplicity in past/present/future, inclusive of voices and narratives. It allows for the presentation of a more complete image of the past. Both by seeing objects as vessels for stories to be uncovered and her own works as carriers for narratives to be transferred to others, Singh expands the narrative by allowing a multiplicity to arise where stories are not curated but rather unravelled in their integrity.

Bio Shubhangi Singh

Shubhangi Singh’s art practice often draws upon existing knowledges to address movement, identity, and queries related to the body and its relationship with the environment. Singh considers ideas of absence and absenting in her work as a way of reflecting upon what is visible, particularly in relation to history, memory and the labour of memorialising. Working across media, from text to moving image and site-specific installations, Singh’s works are routinely suspended between fiction and non-fiction, often adopting the position of an unreliable narrator.

Singh’s works have shown at the Whitechapel Gallery (London, UK), 33rd Rakkautta ja Anarkiaa (Helsinki, Finland), 8th Artishok Biennial (Tallinn, Estonia), Third Space (Helsinki, Finland), 28th Festival Les Instants Video (Milan, Italy), BideoDromo, International Experimental Film and Video Festival (Bilbao, Spain), 8th Cairo Video Festival (Cairo, Egypt), Experimental Film, Audio and Performance Festival (Florianópolis, Brazil), IDSFFK (Kerala, India) and Athens Digital Art Festival (Athens, Greece) amongst other venues.

Subhangi Singh holds a Master’s degree in Visual Cultures, Curating and Contemporary Art from Aalto University and is the co-founder of New City Limits, an initiative to facilitate creative viewing and practice in Navi Mumbai, India. Artist Shubhangi Singh is nominated for the 2025 Below Zero Art Award for Finnish artists by The Finnish Institute. She currently lives and works in Helsinki.

Shubhangi Singh artist website
Shubhangi Singh artist instagram

Julia Fidder curator website
Julia Fidder curator Instagram

Images below (left to right): Bārood (studio image), model of the neighbourhood Merihaka where Singhs studio is located, { how not to make a bomb }

Resources

Lola Olufemi, Experiments in Imagining Otherwise (London: Hajar Press, 2021).
Pupul Bisht, “Decolonizing Futures: Exploring Storytelling as a Tool for Inclusion in Foresight.” Master’s thesis. OCAD University, 2017.
Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World (New York: Grove Press, 1989), chap. The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.
Ursula K. Le Guin, Tales from Earthsea (San Diego: Harcourt, 2001).S

logo Gemeente Tilburg
mondriaanfonds netherlands
Kone Foundation
Bārood at Subhangi Singh's studio - Studio encounters at SEA Foundation by Julia Fidder
shubhangi model of the neighborhood merihaka where Singhs studio is located
shubhangi { how not to make a bomb }