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Frieze London 2022

Indra’s Net is an Intersection of Voices

Director Eva Langret speaks with Sandhini Poddar about the artists, geographies and themes of this year’s Special Section

BY Eva Langret AND Sandhini Poddar in Frieze London & Frieze Masters , Frieze Week Magazine | 06 OCT 22


Inspired by the image of a bejewelled net found in Buddhist and Hindu mythology, the Special Section Indra’s Net brings together works by artists of diverse geographies and practices, from Dorothy Cross to Claudia Martínez Garay. ‘In the end, these voices all intersect’, curator Sandhini Poddar explains to Frieze’s Eva Langret.

EVA LANGRET It's really nice to see you, Sandhini. I'm very excited to work with you on this year’s curated section. I can't wait to see it all come together. So, to start, I'm interested to go back to the early conversations that we had, and maybe some of your initial thoughts when I first approached you to be guest curator.

SANDHINI PODDAR I have to say that my first feeling was trepidation. That's because working within a commercial forum isn't something I'm familiar with or used to. As you know, I have been affiliated with the Guggenheim Foundation for the last 15 years, and that's the kind of intellectual and pedagogical space I'm familiar with. I don't curate exhibitions necessarily from scratch. I have ideas that have often been gestating within me for years, based on what I read and what I care about, and where I travel and who I meet. When I was doing my Master's in Art History back in India, I spent many years studying Buddhism and Hindu temple architecture and iconography. Indra's Net is one of those generative images that has stayed with me for a very long time. And when you invited me, the idea just appeared, literally when I got off the phone with you after that first conversation. It felt like the right springboard for this presentation. Indra’s Net is a very beautiful image. It refers to a mythological net that hangs over the universe. It’s bejewelled, it’s glistening – because at every meeting point there is a diamond. Within Buddhism, this diamond is a symbol of knowledge, and within this structure of the diamond is the structure of reality. It seemed like an interesting philosophical and conceptual space to jump into this project, because it's very generous and open-ended. It's not didactic, and yet it points to a certain kind of interest in ethics.

MARTHA ATIENZA, Tarong 11°16’12.0”N 123°45’23.4”E2019-08-06 Tue 2:27 PM PST 1.50 meters High Tide, 2019. single channel HD video (00:44:03 min. loop), no sound. Editionof 6 + 2AP. Courtesy of the artist and Silverlens
Martha Atienza, Tarong 11°16’12.0”N 123°45’23.4”E2019-08-06 Tue 2:27 PM PST 1.50 meters High Tide, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and Silverlens

EL On this topic of openness, I think one of the things that really strikes me when I look at the section and I look at the artists you've selected for it, is the breadth of practices, geographies and generations of artists that you’re representing. What was important to you when selecting artists for this section?

SP Well, it always starts from a place of integrity. These are artists who are connected by the strength of their practices. They are working many times outside the studio framework – they are avid travellers, researchers and professors. They have an openness to the world. This is not just based on curiosity or aesthetics, it is also based on some kind of political drive or some kind of interest relating to the world through the lens of ethics, either advocating for a community, for land or for a sense of justice and democracy, or even looking at colonial histories and how one might think about man's recurring tendency towards domination and violence. There's a lot happening across the world, but these artists offer us a sense of poetics, a sense of release and a sense of critical re-examination.

Shirazeh Houshiary, The Songs of the Earth, 2021. Courtesy: the artist and Lisson Gallery.
Shirazeh Houshiary, The Songs of the Earth, 2021. Courtesy: the artist and Lisson Gallery

EL Going back to the origins of the themes for this section, I wanted to ask you about the presence of religion, mysticism and spirituality.

SP I think of it more conceptually. Sure, the section refers back to Buddhist and Hindu thought, but I was really thinking of it more as a structure that would enable a diversity of voices. In the end, these voices all intersect. Perhaps their philosophy towards the self and their philosophy toward the world is somehow related. I don't really feel like there's a place for religion per se, but there's certainly this strain of thinking about different forms of knowledge. It could be Claudia Martínez Garay and her interest in pre-Columbian ceramics, or Patricia Domínguez, spending time at CERN, and looking at quantum physics and how it might relate to indigenous plants and healing. It's really trying to think about the past and the future in a complex matrix. Indra's Net becomes this more complex, non-linear form within which to situate this range of conversations.

EL On this topic of time, could you tell us a bit more about that connection between ancestry and futurity, which I think comes out in several of the practices you're presenting?

SP I'm really pleased you have high- lighted this, because I don't really believe that those things are dichotomous. I actually feel like they are part of that same diamond. A lot of contemporary artists today are thinking about forms of knowledge that existed before the advent of colonialism or the advent of capitalism, not as something that comes from the past or remains in the past, but that is highly futuristic. The future is always implied, the future is always present, the future is always recurring – you see this with Dorothy Cross, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Oscar Santillán and Clarissa Tossin. These concepts are not sitting on a linear pathway. They are reverberating and echoing and constantly being implicated.

Dorothy Cross, Jellyfish Lake, 2002., dvd 6 minutes. AP1 from an edition of 4 + 2AP. Courtesy of the artist and Kerlin
Dorothy Cross, Jellyfish Lake, 2002. Courtesy: the artist and Kerlin

EL Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

SP I'd like to say that I'm very grateful to the galleries who are coming to Frieze London for the first time and have shown us that trust because, of course, it's a leap of faith, and I don't take that for granted. 

EL Absolutely. For us at the fair the section has really opened us up to some geographies that we haven't necessarily explored much in the past, such as Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Is there anything in particular that you've learned during this project that you'd like to talk about?

SP I'd say I felt very humbled by the fact that an old metaphor like Indra's Net has proven to have continuing reverberations for me. It is an ask on my part to request audiences to think about these principles of ethics, and how one becomes more finely tuned towards our actions and our thoughts and our words. Every single human being's actions help determine what happens next. You start reading what the Buddha was saying back in the fourth century – it's profound. We don't have to reinvent anything. Good thought, good action, good words. Try to do that every single day, you will understand just how hard it is. The Buddha said this more than 2,500 years ago. Think of Boris Johnson, think of Trump, think of Putin, think of what would happen if those three men applied that kind of thinking – imagine.

EL I think that makes a very good place to end. Thanks, Sandhini.

SP Thanks so much, Eva.

A fold out map accompanying the Indra's Net Special Section is available at participating booths.


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Main image: Shirazeh Houshiary, The Songs of the Earth, 2021. Courtesy: the artist and Lisson Gallery.

Eva Langret is Director of Frieze London. She lives in London, UK.

Sandhini Poddar is an art historian and Adjunct Curator at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project. She lives in London, UK.