Charles Guilbert: With the two-part exhibition Near You No Cold, you are presenting for the first time photographs that you took in India during three visits (one lasting four months). Images of different kinds are on view: interior scenes, street scenes, landscapes, still lifes. What image of India were you trying to capture?
Raymonde April: For a Westerner travelling, it’s quite easy to take striking pictures of India. But what is being portrayed in these images is simply culture shock. One stays at a distance. Since I was in Mumbai to work, what was urgent for me was not so much to take pictures as to understand. First, I was struck by everything that was incomprehensible to me: human relations, class relations, and so on. Photography and videography helped me to apprehend this large Indian city and the people who live there.
CG: A clue to this search is the fact that you repeat a single motif several times, such as the small sanctuary composed of silvery garlands. The four-image sequence presents a sort of crossing of the space in which it is found. We sense, as we approach the work, that there are other images under each of the four images. We discover them by uncovering them, from very close by. Like you, we must immerse ourselves in the images to understand.
RA: There are sanctuaries like this one all over Mumbai. This one was situated between the apartment (on Marine Drive, a rather upscale neighbourhood) and the studio (in Mazgaon, a very mixed industrial area). At first, I felt like making this trip of several kilometres every day was a test, because of the intense heat, the incessant noise, the density of the traffic, and, especially, because I felt like I had no reference points. The sanctuary became one. I glimpsed it from the taxi, then from the bus. Then, I made the trip on foot, and that’s when I photographed it at various times of day. Through it, I was able to master space, but also time. I saw the passage of light in the city and shadow invading the spaces enclosed by walls, like this one. Spectators who look attentively at the images of the sanctuary notice that a number of details change, such as the cobblestones on the street. This is because the images were taken over three years, and the city is constantly being remodelled by construction. Through the superimposed images of this fragile reference point, the sanctuary, I make transition, transformation, and movement visible.
CG: This idea of movement and travel is central in the video. Although there are images of RA: all sorts, the street scenes taken on board vehicles are the guideline. The noise of horns, in fact, haunts the exhibition space.
You can’t ignore the incessant movement that creates the city’s rhythm. After a few days spent by the sea far from Mumbai, I felt anxious about returning to this torrid flow, which I saw as a kind of hell. But when I got back, I realized that I had to let myself be carried along by the movement. It’s like circulating in a large body. You feel incredibly small, replaceable, but also light, because you’re part of something huge and supportive. I never experienced this intense sensation anywhere else; it led to a sort of trance, of which I absolutely wanted to keep a trace…
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The artworks included in this portfolio have been shown in a combined exhibition at Centre Clark and at Donald Browne Gallery, in March and April 2015, in Montreal. Raymonde April is represented by the Donald Browne Gallery.