Interview with Longlisted Artist, Vikram Kushwah

Vikram Kushwah’s Elizabeth and the Bathtub, taken from his series Memoirs of Lost Time, is longlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize 2016. His body of work discusses memory, and the tension between how memory reconstructs events and how they really happened. This is reflected in his photography – while firmly rooted in the real world, Kushwah reconstructs events in increasingly dreamlike and distorted settings and serials. We speak to Kushwah about his work, and his interest in the line between reality and fantasy.

A: This series is quite a personal work. What inspired the process of taking memories and recreating then into surreal images?
VK: My first series Ofelea was a portrait of my own childhood memories juxtaposed with elements of Freud’s theory and the surreal. That series led to the conception of this idea, to take memories and recreate them into surreal images, which was suggested by my then collaborative partner.

A: You have spoken about the influence surrealist artists had on you, as well as Freud’s theory of the aesthetics of ‘The Uncanny’. Were there any specific works that helped develop your aesthetic?
VK: It was the environments that the surrealists generally created that I found so captivating. You could say that my aesthetics leaned in a similar direction but they were raw and untapped. I could give a few examples of works that left a mark on me – the Surrealists’ practice of automatic writings and drawings, a lot of Magritte’s works like The Treachery of Images and The Lovers. Freud’s theory somehow left in me a similar sense of mystique, that which cannot easily be explain, hence the ambiguity in my work.

A: Do any particular objects or senses inspire your interest in memory and the reconstruction of events?
VK: The memory leaves gaping holes which are filled up by imagination and daydreaming. These are not accurate reconstructions – they’re fictionalised. Things that not only were, but also things that could have been. My interest in memory has always been sparked by old family photo albums and revisiting storybooks, films, smells and sounds from my childhood.

A: Your longlisted work Elizabeth and the Bathtub has a sense of wonder and journey about it, yet it is also unsettlingly dark and closed-in. How were you hoping viewers would react to this piece?
VK: Elizabeth’s parents ran a restaurant in London when she was little. She would be carted there every day against her will, while harbouring thoughts of exploring distant lands. This repetition and constraint versus free will gave rise to the idea of this picture where the boat isn’t actually being able to move and the trees are closing in. The melancholia translates to the unsettling effect. I expect viewers to feel melancholic or unsettled rather than defining the picture in a literal way.

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1. Vikram Kushwah, Elizabeth and the Bathtub