The Luhring Augustine Gallery near the Morgan L stop is about to close for the summer, but there’s still time to see its last exhibit.
“Pleasure Pavilions: a series of installations” has separately exhibited the work of nine artists, the last of whom is Charles Atlas. All artists’ work has been exhibited alongside a late 18th/early 19th century Indian pavilion, “most likely part of an Indian palace or resort, [which] was believed to have been originally used for recreational activities,” according to the exhibition’s webpage.
Throughout his nearly five-decade-long career, filmmaker and video artist Charles Atlas has worked closely with artists like Marina Abramovic and Merce Cunningham, pioneering “video-dance” in addition to creating video installations like the one shown in “Pleasure Pavilions.”
In this work, Atlas projects a video onto the pavilion, which stands alone in a large dark room. It lasts around ten minutes and is accompanied by a soundtrack.
Being in the exhibit feels a bit psychedelic: colorful swarming visuals, but moreover, the realization of your tiny, random placement in the scope of history.
The soundtrack starts first — tropical birds chirping, then a creeping sitar song in half-tones that makes standing in the dark room a bit frightening. It feels voyeuristic to be looking at this structure where people spent their leisure time, and now you’re here without them three hundred years later. Then the song picks up, adding a heavy beat and a catchy baseline to the dissonant cascading notes. At some points, it sounds like a techno song and at others, it sounds like a hip-hop beat.
Even with the pulsing beat, the structure is so imposing and intricately carved that it is easy to picture royalty lounging around it in some lush oasis. But the pavilion is here in the gritty warehouse district off the Morgan L stop.
The video begins by drawing lines to outline the pavilion. The undulating patterns are so meticulously planned and coordinated that they match the intricately carved pavilion seamlessly, adding to the dissonance between this much intentionality and the vinyl apartment buildings and chain-link fences outside, where the beauty of the artistic sense comes in posters, a smattering of street art and golden hour light.
There is a history of the pavilion on the Luhring Augustine website by George Mitchell, an architectural historian specializing in ancient Indian architecture. In it, Mitchell gives some background on the Mughal Empire and goes on to explain the significance of the pavilion’s design, then explains that this was likely not even Mughal at all. (It most likely belonged to a ruling Hindu family.)
According to Mitchell’s piece, the realism of the flowers is lifted from European Christian imagery, the lotuses are a staple of Persian Muslim design, and the carved sandstone structure itself is an element of Indian Hindu architecture. He explains the religious and spiritual significance of the floral motifs — the Muslim idea of Paradise being a garden, the Hindu idea of the lotus being auspicious.
The pavilion is a distinctly Mughal-style design. With each of its elements lifted from a different culture or religious tradition, it is a perfect visualization of cross-cultural exchange in 18th century Northern India.
Even though the pavilion is out of place here in Bushwick, each of the elements are a bit out of place with each other as well.
The video cements this idea — there’s a yellow-gold projection that makes the structure look like a temple out of Indiana Jones, there’s one that makes it swarm with bats like a vampire’s castle, there’s one that makes it look, with shocking realism, like it’s covered in purple velvet.
It is only with the unifying lens of history that we look back at the Mughal reign as a solidified art historical period rather than the melting pot of traditions that it was. It was new then, and now covered in video art in Bushwick, it is new again.
Toward the end of the video exhibit, Atlas creates the sense that the structure is on fire and then falling away.
It’s a strange feeling because the pavilion is not the thing that is going to disappear. It outlived the people that built it, and it will outlive you.
This exhibit is on view until July 16. It was made possible through collaboration with the Sam Fogg art gallery in London, which specializes in medieval art and antiquities. Luhring Augustine’s next Bushwick exhibition begins September 16, it is called “Court, Epic, Spirit— Indian Art 15th- 19th Century.” The Luhring Augustine Gallery also has locations in Chelsea and Tribeca.
All images from Charles Atlas’ “Angel Dust” (2021)
Three-channel synchronized video projection, site-specific architectural installation, with sound.
Duration 12 minutes.
© Charles Atlas; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.
Photo: Farzad Owrang
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