‘Drawing Breath’ by Amal Khalaf


Hurtling through space, we on Earth are experiencing time at multiple speeds. Moving at the speed of loss, of grief, of time-ticking urgency and of stillness, moving at the speed of us. Pandemics, climate catastrophes, daily death figures, explosions and unpredictability are disrupting the usual rhythms of capital. Our bodies and how we connect to each other and the planet are changing. Exhausted, our capacities, tendencies and affordances are shifting. We grow atomised, and through our relative isolation we tune into foundational rhythms.

    The cycles of the sun and moon
Utterances, the rhythm of syllables on our tongue and ear
The blink of an eye
Our breath
Jitish Kallat, Integer Studies (Drawing from Life), 2021, graphite and aquarelle pencil, stained gesso, organic gum on Bienfang gridded paper, 29.2 x 35.9 cm each. Courtesy of the artist.

What time is it on the clock of the world?[1] On this planet that is depleted, extracted from, transforming faster than we can predict, where and how do we locate ourselves? In ecological or interstellar time? Where, on an algorithmic timeline, is now? How do we locate ourselves in ourselves? How can we find ways to metabolise this loss to make meaning and sow seeds in the compost of our grief? What frames of reference, what scaffolds are holding us?

Jitish Kallat’s practice moves us through orders of magnitude, in bodies of work that transport us through time and space, from the cellular to the celestial. Epistolary, decrypted images from the Golden Records, photographs from the iconic 1955 Family of Man exhibition emerge from roots, grids and structures turn to rivers, frames collapse into frames, ink marks and a geological movement dissolve into each other. The past, present and future compose timeless-lines; lines and marks, mark-making as ceremony, marking the passage of time, recording nature, observing shadows, raindrops as collaborators and fire marking wind patterns. These works evoke another quality of time, emerging from a reverent stillness that becomes the point from which what appears familiar or graspable quickly unravels and asks our help to make sense of it.

     Inhale, exhale
     Expand or shrink as you take 
     and release each breath 
     Right lung, left lung, earth lung, 
     aqua lung, space lung
     Breathing in chorus, your breath in time 
     with their breath, in time with mine  
     When it stops somewhere, 
     we lose our timing[2]
Jitish Kallat, Epicycles, 2021, double-sided multiplayer print on 20 LPI lenticular lens, teakwood, 226.1 x 132.1 x 61 cm. Photo: Ismail Noor/ Seeing Things

Breath is a force that animates the exhibition. The blinking, breath-like cadence of the decrypted images of Covering Letter (Terranum Nuncius) is a salutation to the beyond, a breath that becomes the space between personal time and collective history, the finite and infinite and the unknown other.

Imagining the encounter that the images and the 55 recorded salutations were intended to have, would those interstellar others receiving them know of the costs of our humanness, the grief that accompanies our extinction? What would they be able to hear? Would they be able to decipher the gasps of air and the shaping of breath by mouths that form our words, our calls to the ether?

     Keeping time
     Measuring distance
     Drawing breath
     Reaching out
     Touching what touches us, to 
     touch our being-touched
Jitish Kallat, Covering Letter (terranum nuncius), 2018-2021, 116 stereoscopic parallax prints on Plexiglas, programmed LED Panels, frames, wooden shelves and bench, 4-horn speakers, video projection, dimensions variable. Photo: Ismail Noor/ Seeing Things

In Epicycles, we see other representations of humanity, gathered in the 50s, these images are encountered from all sides and connected to the ground, breathing with aerial roots like adventitious plants, breath uniting the terrestrial realm and sky. The geological, subterranean and celestial are also interconnected in Postulates from a Restless Radius, floating in fluid, unruly mark-making and melting movements of pigment on a page.

In this unfolding of the planet onto a flat plane, river-like lines stream. They look like ravines that took millennia to form – twenty-four breaths, or six minutes, for the water to dry. Drawing breath and holding breath, Integer Studies (Drawings from Life) feel like a daily practice of witnessing time, witnessing life and death, and the frames we have to describe the shape of our grief. In a compelling meditation on extinction, survival and our interconnectedness, statistics discordant with structuralist detachment swim in the bare emotion of abstract residues.

     Languid, diaphragmatic, deep, 
     shallow, sweet or laboured
     How do you breathe?
     Inhale all the way,
     Empty the breath till you reach stillness

We become more aware of our breath, the breath of those around us, and those far away.
Jitish Kallat, Detail of Covering Letter (terranum nuncius), 2018-2021, 116 stereoscopic parallax prints on Plexiglas, programmed LED Panels, frames, wooden shelves and bench, 4-horn speakers, video projection, dimensions variable

My life is conditional on yours and we inhale the same present, and exhale into the future and this space between us is also what connects us. Shouting in the dark, we are distanced whilst constantly connected through the ether. We are more aware of the overwhelm of messages we are sending and receiving from radically different contexts, our algorithms broken only by our biorhythm. Inhale, exhale all the way.

This stillness, this new way of listening, with our breath and our bodies, exposes the way in which we co-create one another, continually engaged in the processes of making and re-making one another. As we practice stillness, knowing our breath is part of a chorus, we can try and synchronise our tempos[3] to find a collective rhythm to set new worlds in motion, to lay the foundations for our survival.

Jitish Kallat, Postulates from a Restless Radius, 2021, Acrylic, gesso, lacquer, charcoal and watercolour pencil on linen, 640 x 320 cm radius, 375 cm length. Courtesy of the artist

[1] American revolutionary and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs along with her husband and civil rights activist Jimmy Boggs visualised 3,000 years of human history on a 12-hour clock where every minute represents 50 years.  In 2014, at almost 100 years of age, Grace Lee Boggs wrote this essay: https://conversationsthatyouwillneverfinish.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/what-time-is-it-on-the-clock-of-the-world-by-grace-lee-boggs/

[2] A haiku by Sonia Sanchez:
without your
residential breath
I lose my timing.
in Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism (Cambridge: Semiotext(e), 2018

[3] In Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism (Cambridge: Semiotext(e), 2018