From crumpled receipts and printer copies to letters left in mailboxes, paper is a material in a perpetual state of alchemy, becoming vessels for individual and collective communication, maps of memory, transmutable records of histories. For her fifth show at Luhring Augustine, veteran printmaker and sculptor Zarina brings these very material and metaphysical qualities of paper’s receptive surfaces to the forefront of her creative practice.
At a distance, her mostly white, ephemeral collages are nearly indiscernible from the walls, save for handmade Indian paper shapes soaked in black Sumi ink and woodcut prints of Arabic script punctuating each framed work. Her small collage works are meant to be seen up-close, demanding an intimate examination of their imprecise harmony: the delicate slopes at the woven seams of Untitled, 2013, the gently askew circle of Untitled, 2017, or the mountainous, fabric-like creasing of Starting Over, 2016. Through the simple gestures of cutting and crushing, Zarina demonstrates that, despite our presumption of emptiness, these two-dimensional pages can come alive with sculptural plasticity. As John Cage remarked upon seeing Robert Rauschenberg’s 1951 White Paintings, Zarina’s collages are “airports for lights, shadows, and particles,” recording the results of actions rather than reproducing naturalistic images.
Zarina’s body of work is one of nomadic Minimalism. Whether it’s three dots of gold leaf falling just outside of the black square of Beyond the Stars, 2014, or her disorienting woven ‘map’ of Delhi, 2008, her materials are not contained by formal borders. The show’s centerpiece — 100 collage pieces arranged on a circular table — is the third iteration of her ongoing series, The Ten Thousand Things. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Box in a Valise, 1935–1941, these miniature duplicates create a portable index of her studio’s contents. Like mass-produced fliers, they can be easily transported to new places, yet they still bear the memorial traces of Zarina’s past spiritual and geographic ‘homes’: script in her mother tongue, slivers of architectural details, markers of her faith.
Through the reuse of old scraps in new collages, the merging of Islamic symbols and Arabic writings with materials sourced from her home country, India, and greater Asia, Zarina’s collages disorient one’s sense of belonging to the precise dimensions of a particular time or place. These liminal surfaces collapse together under the weight of past and present migrations. On the sidewalk outside, a cluster of uncollected cardboard boxes pulp and wilt like limp animals in the October rain. Like Zarina’s body of works, they, too, are in an ephemeral, ongoing state of re-becoming, their forms marked by physical and temporal passages, subject to the will of their makers.
Originally written in November 2018