The perceived division between nature and culture is both outmoded and defunct. Nature is in us, in as much as it is in everything that surrounds us. Examining this loss of our intrinsic connection to nature in a modern and technology driven world, Catrine Val collaborates with Madhu Nataraj and the dancers of Natya & STEM Dance Kampni of Bangalore, India, to produce her newest series titled Transcendence – The Lotus Chronicles.
Through the resulting intercultural perspective of this vibrant collaboration, she constructs a bridge between the philosophical pasts and presents of the West and Indian metaphysical traditions, exploring their iconographic peculiarities and interdependencies.
In a post-digital age, we conceive of nature as a romantic abstract concept that is seemingly disassociated and distinct from our lives, realities and identities. Idealising nature within a fixed reference point in the past, when man and nature were in harmony, we bemoan the accelerated demise of the same in our industrialised age. Advocating the notion that instead of abstracting nature, we must use the vantage point of the abstract in order to understand it, this work articulates that nature, both is and becomes; simultaneously existing as subject and environment, as object and effect.
Seeking, in cooperation with the dancers, a new concept of identity that takes into consideration cultural and social circumstances, developing perspectives on different traditional philosophical schools of thought and their current relevance, this collaborative project attempted to create – through movement and dance, through stillness and framed tableaus, each with their respective forms of expression and interpretation – an exciting, open, and artistic journey. Intertwining occasionally, merging often, and moving parallel to each other at other times, the different registers of dance and photo art ensured that varied approaches combined to produce a complex exploration of global transformations, the contemporary relevance of historical philosophical figures and their philosophical impact on social thought and life.
Still a work in progress, this philosophical photographic series celebrates the presence of independent thinkers, reformers and mystics through time and imagines their reappearance in today’s world. With a wide referential spectrum that includes Sharanes (women mystics from Karnataka) such as the radical Akka MahaDevi, Lalleshwari from Kashmir, Bhakti saint poet Mira Bai, freedom fighter and patron of the crafts and performing arts, KamalaDevi Chattopadhyaya to modern day thinkers like Gayatri Spivak, this series endeavours to forge links between nature, mysticism, and identity while navigating multiple temporalities.
Val consciously choose to shoot this series in the midst of nature and lush greenery, a rarity in most Indian metros, in order to avoid the clichéd ways in which India is usually framed in a Western context and compose a narrative that moves beyond ‘in nature’ and ‘with nature’ to ‘women as nature’. The lens of gender underlines the precarious position of women in philosophy, and emphasises the historical presences (and absences) of women within analytical and logico-rational spaces/fields.
An extension of her earlier series “Philosophers”, this series builds on the effects that individualism and mechanisation have had on the relationship between man and nature that the former documents. Employing transformations, mirror images, doubling and replications, Val develops realistic fictions that amaze and surprise the beholder. Images of the dancers and locals in busy urban spaces are juxtaposed with those captured in the wilderness, thereby provoking questions about both functional contexts, as also our ideas of value.
Val’s conscientious artistic practice foregrounds the importance of reflecting on the role of art in a world suffused with, and highly sensitised to, visual material, where the boundaries that mark truth and authenticity are heavily blurred. Exploring the changing relationships between nature and technology, language and body, body and space through the dual lens of gender and time, this photographic series aims to step beyond a discursive postmodern mode of reasoning in its quest for a new language and grammar of thinking about contemporary art.
– Shilpa Vijayakrishnan
The photographs below come from the series “Transcendence – The Lotus Chronicles” – made during Catrine Val’s 2014 residency at the Goethe-Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore.
Catrine Val is an interdisciplinary artist who works primarily with photography, video and painting. She was born in Cologne, Germany, and began her career in Vienna, Austria working as a commercial artist in advertising. Feeling unfulfilled as a commercial photographer, Val pursued Fine Art at the Art Academy in Kassel Germany, after which she completed post-graduate studies at the Kunsthochschule für Medien in Cologne. Val worked for 6 years as an assistant lecturer to Bjørn Melhus in new media and digital art at the Art Academy in Kassel, where she further developed her personal projects and artistic position. Val has participated in numerous solo and group shows across Europe as well as in Taiwan, India, Iran and Cuba.