File Museum is the new work by Dayanita Singh, currently on show at Frith Street Gallery. The work consists of an assemblage of 140 photographs of various document archives from across the Indian sub-continent – and by combining these in a variety of ways it becomes a self-referential repository of pictures of repositories.
The joy lies in the fact that the general mayhem of the pictures’ subjects contrasts very effectively with their highly considered, ordered and thought-through presentation. Even allowing for the fact that when you walk into the gallery there’s an individual photograph here, a grid of thirty-eight there, with the central monolith presiding over it all, the sense of order is so palpable it provides a relief from the overwhelming chaos of some – or perhaps all – of the pictured libraries, law courts and other bureaucratic archives, all of which contain seemingly endless documents piled against walls or shoved into shelving.
This show is what Singh refers to as ‘photographic architecture’, and the presentation really is as important as the pictures – the central structure itself is the potential home to all 140 photographs and individual frames turn out to be home to three photographs each.
Immediately the anticipated hours spent re-arranging the pictures within all the permutations on offer corresponds nicely with the hours the owners of the pictured documents seem (or perhaps seem not) to have spend filing.
Singh describes her practise as ‘based on photography’ and this show represents a continuation of her meditation on the place of paper and recording in a world apparently saturated with the digital (a continuation and re-consideration of her previous File Room and File Keepers series). It makes for an impressive and restrained exhibition.
Dayanita Singh: File Museum
Frith Street Gallery
until 26 January 2013