Life Aquatic with Anjana Janardhan (Some Notes on ‘Specimens’)

Anjana Janardhan lives and works in London. 
Born in England, Janardhan has lived in both the U.K and India. She studied BA Surface Textiles for Fashion at the London College of Fashion and has since gained experience at a range of companies including Hussein Chalayan, Preen, Dazed & Confused and Black Dog Publishing.

Janardhan has also independently collaborated with fellow designers and artists on projects. These include producing a documentary on Roger Burton, founder of  The Contemporary Wardrobe, participating in Shared Talent India a project to research sustainable suppliers in India and exploring new approaches to design in a project with writer Michael Crowe. She recently also developed a range of jewellery now stocked at the ICA Bookshop.

The Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific is the deepest part of the ocean, at over 6 miles deep you could invert Everest and you would still have a couple of miles to climb. In 1960, a Swiss-made submarine called the Trieste, manned by two Americans took nearly five hours to descend to the bottom. They stayed for twenty minutes to observe the small amounts of life that miraculously seem to survive under such conditions. Nobody has ever been down since; Richard Branson in collaboration with Chris Welsh has recently announced plans of a visit, but it is safe to assume that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean.

Perhaps there are creatures in the Mariana Trench that look like the figures that populate Anjana Janardhan’s photographs. ‘Specimens’ a new series of symmetrized photographs were taken with a smart phone around the streets of London. What looks like semi-translucent protective sheeting – the type found wrapped around electrical appliances is photographed and mirrored to suggest microbes or jelly fish. These ethereal creatures could be taken from an animation, seemingly endlessly generative; they recall the open-ended narrative of strucuralist film or the continuous and modular rhythms of dance music. They are resolutely corporeal, even at a point of near abstraction.

It’s how we like our celebrities, empty abstractions that exist as endlessly generative machines of content. The fashion industry is fed by an endless stream of mutable flesh that is worked to points of near abstraction. Through montage, surgery, air-brushing, exposure et al, the modern body is inflicted by a constant desire to abstract it, to be anything other than an animal.

Janardhan’s photographs are resolutely urban, objects that act like bodies and hybridized forms that remain mutable, adaptable and fluid, like the millions of commuters that move through the city like blood cells through capillaries. Movement, speed and mutability are the fuel of the modern city. Contemporary car advertising often plays with these themes to a variety of effects. The contemporary car skates, glides and flies, taking on the characteristics of an animal whilst the driver is immobilized in a protective cocoon.

Ernst Gombrich perceptive analysis of decoration in ‘Sense of Order’, notes that the use of mirroring and symmetry expresses familiarity, safety and pleasure. Symmetrical markings on an animal often express status and prestige. The use of symmetry and the decorative impulse is one which structures our engagement with the world. Symmetry is both emblematic and decisive. By taking the aesthetic strategies normally bestowed upon commodity culture and marrying them to a product which illustrates the abundant waste of capitalism, Janardhan takes this surplus material and re-animates it. Historically, the use of rubbish in art has run through the various discourses of abjection, entropy and ecological debate, but these images aren’t political, they are poetic. In different ways they recall the street photography of Rut Blees Luxemburg or the temporal street interventions of Gabriel Orozco.

It seems significant that the images are taken using a smartphone, they are products of digital technologies and could as easily evoke our projected fears of computer viruses. The  smartphone synthesizes our body and its relationship to its environment whilst simultaneously   connecting us to the regulatory blood flow of the information systems. The immediate ability to record, manipulate and disseminate radically alters our relationship with the city. These weightless, virtual creatures, both mobile and inert, neither male or female, both emblematic and unknown are products of this changed engagement. ‘Specimens’, seems a curiously misleading title – a sight of discovery – a specimen reveals it self through interrogation. The more we ask what these creatures are, the less they reveal to us. Janardhan has turned the streets of East London into her laboratory, and her images reveal them to be as mysterious as the bottom of the ocean.

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