Pillow Songs: Poonkhin Khut

Exhibition Review Pillow Songs: Poonkhin Khut Sidespace Gallery Salamanca Arts Centre Hobart Tasmania January 1 - 30 1998


In his sound installation Pillow Songs Poonkhin Khut has created an environment that seems strangely disconnected from the outside world. Passing through black drapes one enters into a disorientating space in which familiar sounds have a dream-like quality and indigo shadows bleed into the darkness. The Spartan minimalism stimulates a desire to see more in the dimness and make intelligible the noises which colour the heavy silences. A piano note resonates, then another, each emotively hanging in the air for a moment before evaporating into a silence marked by static and a sense of expectancy. Snatches of unintelligible conversation and fragments of music seem indistinguishable from stray thoughts or the incidental noise of footsteps and stifled laughter which seep into the space from outside. In this space boundaries between physical and psychological realities seem to blur.

A violet light-bulb hangs over an unadorned bed, staining the white cotton sheets an iridescent blue. Somewhere a dog barks. Warily negotiating the shadows one becomes aware of other beds which are vaguely reminiscent of dormitories, cheap hotel rooms or convent cells. In the darkness the beds evoke a sense of familiar intimacy and the plain sheets reveal a sensuality which belies their ascetic frugality. Sounds emerge from the pillows like memories made manifest or half-forgotten dreams exposed and rendered audible.

Stained linen which in the past absorbed the impression of lovers and wakeful nights of solitude have been stretched on several wooden frames and casually leant against the gallery walls. Illuminated from behind, the subdued ochre light which emanates from these old pillows renders the delicate traces of the excretions which are embodied in the fabric into ethereal abstractions. Like Rorschach ink-blots, while suggestively alluding to imagery, these traces lead viewers to project and reveal their own thoughts. As in the revered stains ingrained in the Shroud of Turin (in which some identify the face of Christ) exudates which are usually repulsed and seen to represent abjection and mortality have been venerated and memorialised in Khut's installation. Framed and contextualised, the bloody smears, saliva, semen, tears and sweat have been endowed with an ambiguous resonance which both invokes and repels notions of the sublime.

Lying on the rough cotton sheets the inevitable association of light illuminating the darkness to traditional representations of transcendence is thwarted. Instead an overwhelming sense of the temporality of life marked only by fleeting sensations, thoughts and lingering memories is evoked. Implicitly the long hoarded pillows, vestiges of the artist's past refer to the passage of time and the materiality of the body's seeping flesh. These ideas are intensified by the physicality of the muffled vibrations of the sound transmitted through the pillows and the gradual awareness of the residues harboured in the crumpled linen of those who have visited the installation before. A strangely intimate and disquieting proximity revealed by the lingering scent of strangers, a stray golden hair and a damp smear on the pillow.

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