On the High Wall: Satpreet Kahlon

A slow unraveling of the same thread (and the universal tragedy of time)

June 7 – 10, 2018

A slow unraveling of the same thread (and the universal tragedy of time), by Satpreet Kahlon
Installation view

Satpreet Kahlon, Britta Johnson, and DK Pan discuss A slow unraveling of the same thread (and the universal tragedy of time)

HW: Hi Satpreet, thank you for sharing your work with us! I saw this piece in Production Valued, your show this past November at the 4Culture gallery. Can you talk a bit about that show, and some of the thought processes that led to this particular piece?

S: Yeah, totally. My first instinct is to say that this show is a departure from earlier shows I’ve had, but I think my career is so young and in flux that, in many ways, each show is a departure from the previous one.

But I do think that in Production Valued I really made a concerted effort to step away from traditional, labor-intensive, and maybe more straight forward or literal material practices in my work. In exploring concepts of labor – by both critiquing how value is determined, especially how cis white patriarchy determines values in raced and femme bodies, and wrestling with my complicity in these systems (as evidenced by my participation in these value structures through the show at 4Culture) – I really tried to expand my trust in audience by letting them do more work and leaving more room for interpretation in the show. I wanted things to feel in flux or in motion or unsettled and unsolved – what does it mean for works to be questions rather than answers – I think all of these issues are ones that are common in artist practices, but they felt necessary for me to go through in my own way.

As I was stepping away from things that might be considered traditionally beautiful in their craftsmanship, I knew I was walking away from a point of accessibility to the work for folks who are outside of the contemporary eurocentric art world, and that’s how I decided to make video such a large part of the show. I have never shown video before, but it felt like such an obvious way to give the show a sort of narrative and familial or personal quality.

For this piece specifically, I was thinking a lot about the matriarchs in my family, and how they are seen and valued (or not), and how I benefit from the structures that actively shun them (most obviously because I speak fluent non-accented English and have access to communities that allow me to learn how to speak about my work in ways that gets me money and space to keep making that work). I was thinking about the impossibility of legacy or diasporic expectation, and also the tragedy of our short-term generational memory and how we undo and redo the work our ancestors have undone and redone themselves.

The impossibility of living up to someone’s expectations and doing right by them and extracting yourself from imperialist structures that denied them the possibilities that you now have for yourself.

HW. One of the things I like most about this piece is that to me it holds both distance and intimacy simultaneously; you and your mother are doing such similar movements, so close you are overlapping, but you also seem like ghosts to each other, and the movements are in fact opposite (doing vs undoing) and have very different social meanings. Are you depicting a kind of longing?

S. I’ve been thinking about longing and yearning and craving a lot. Like when you see a picture of a dinner that you’ve never had before and you have no idea how it would taste but the imagining of it fills your mouth with water and a phantom of itself anyway.

That sounds stupid. But it’s late and it feels true.

I don’t know what I’m looking for. I think if I found it I wouldn’t recognize it. I don’t know what I can do for my mother or what I need her to do for me, or how we work sincerely to help each other while actively undoing labor and work that the other has done.

I don’t know. But I still want it.

HW. Thank you for sharing your art with us!