in Interviews | 30 JUN 13
Featured in
Issue 156

Questionnaire: Dayanita Singh

Q: What is art for?
A: To escape.

in Interviews | 30 JUN 13

A sandstone sculpture of Lajja Gauri or Aditi, c.650, Badami Museum, India. Courtesy: Dayanita Singh

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

My first view of the full moonlight on the Taj Mahal. I was six or seven years old, and my father had driv­en us there, after dinner, I think. But now the vision is confused with the oleographs of the same view that Dr Jyotindra Jain showed me more recently.

What image keeps you company in the space where you work?

I work in many different places, so I always carry with me a box of small, 7 × 7 centimetre prints and a Moleskine notebook to sequence them in. When I run out of pages, I use hotel stationery or whatever else I can find for pasting onto or into; once I even used the box from a bottle of champagne. When there’s nothing in my room, I go to friends’ houses and ask for catalogues they don’t want and compose little sequences of the photos in them.

If you could live with only one piece of art, what would it be?

A sculpture of Lajja Gauri.

What is your favourite title of an art work?

Go Away Closer.

What film has most influenced you?

It’s hard to choose a single film since film, dreams and ‘reality’ all merge into one — I can’t tell which is which. Still, if you insist: old Hindi cinema, especially by Guru Dutt, mixed with Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarkovsky and my friendship with Mona Ahmed and my conversations with Aveek Sen and my travels with Zakir Hussain and … my life is like a Hindi film.

What are you reading?

Cinema Stories (2007) by Alexander Kluge, Invisible Cities (1972) by Italo Calvino (I am currently in Venice), and Vikram Seth’s All You Who Sleep Tonight (1991), a book I always travel with.

What music are you listening to?

Rasik Balma’s ‘Chori Chori’ from 1956. It’s Mona’s favourite song.

What do you like the look of?

Gerhard Steidl, in his doctor’s coat, holding the dummy copy of our next book, the gift of all gifts.

What should change?

The art world that constantly tries to pigeonhole by nationality, gender and medium.

What should stay the same?

The art of slow conversation.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

Running a private museum that would only open on full-moon nights and would have an archivist-in-residence programme. Once a year, we would have a seminar on ‘Nano Museums’. Hans Ulrich Obrist would be the chief patron. Steidl would publish the annual newsletter in the form of a mini-museum. Actually, it sounds like a plan.

What do you wish you knew?

How to sing like Rashid Khan; how to write like Geoff Dyer; how to dance like Mark Morris.

Dayanita Singh is an artist who was born in New Delhi, India. She has published 11 books of photography; her most recent book, File Room, was published in March by Steidl. Singh’s work will be shown in the German Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, from 1 June – 24 November. A solo exhibition of her work will be staged by the Hayward Gallery, London, UK, this autumn.