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Sutapa Biswas
'Seeing, remembering and translating are all acts of alchemy. Through time the act of alchemy becomes apparent and revealed'. Sutapa Biswas.

Birds can be signifiers for many things, but for Sutapa Biswas they have a poetic reverberation. She describes her father, as migratory and birdlike, birdsong was significantly the first thing she heard after her father died, she has drawn and painted birds.

The surreal presence of nursery rhyme birds, Hitchcock's film, their presence in Biswas dream where the rapier like claws of a bird failed to hurt and Edward Lear's drawings -were in part her starting point for the 2004 film Magnesium Bird. Its intense working process is grounded in 'instinct' and steeped in historical understanding and critical readings. Magnesium Bird was shot on 16mm film with sound, at Harewood House, in a walled Victorian garden designed by Capability Brown, a site redolent with history.

The Magnesium Bird of the title are filmed, each one different and made from magnesium wire, flaring brilliantly as the camera tracks their ' performance' against the backdrop of blustery thundery weather. As the carefully crafted burning birds, start to smoke they are sites of memory including a funeral pyre Biswas witnessed on the River Ganges in India. The flaring of light - that essential element for the film image to exist, is for Biswas primal and universal.

The enigmatic sound of absent children playing on the film affects the viewer's spatial orientation. It deliberately comes from behind when installed and lasts longer than the looped panned image, giving the impression that there are different shots of the same scene. The take that Biswas used was explosive and travelled 'quite quickly' with a 'sense of awkwardness' the gusting winds can be clearly heard and add to the sense of place. The artist posits that it makes the viewer feel they are going to 'dive into the liminal space' the sounds similar to those heard from perhaps a nearby playground though an open window, 'mesmerising familiar' and often 'anxious'. Citing a remark by Robert Louis Stephenson that 'words are to man what play is to a child' Biswas states that 'this is something that captures me every time' Play, the enacting and performing in often imagined spaces by children happens in both real and imagined time. These distilled moments of childhood can be accessed through her films as one loses oneself in the darkened viewing space.

In all her films including Birdsong, Magnesium Bird and The Trials and Tribulations of Mickey Baker Biswas states that there is no distinction between her relationship to paint and celluloid. She is attracted to their surface qualities and materiality. The saturation of colour in celluloid can be 'so painterly - that film flicker has an aura and presence'. When drawing, Biswas loves the idea of literally marking time. 'As an artist I don't separate film and painting and drawing, strange as that sounds … you have a kind of inflection with the surface'. The light that penetrates her images are references to her Indian heritage and the paintings of artists such as Edward Hopper and Vermeer. Both of these artists provoked video works in particular Untitled (Women in Blue Weeping) 1996 and The Trials and Tribulations of Mickey Baker 1997.

Ultimately Biswas' practice is about a passionate engagement with past and present 'the magical moment of the first encounter'. It is this, her Indian heritage and feminity that lend her works such resonant poignancy. She enjoys taking her viewer and herself as maker, to the edge, exploring her moments of 'epiphany'. Her statement that ' my work is intended to be contemplative. Often ephemeral, it is like a garden in which we hear both ambient sounds and nothing' is perhaps a fitting beginning.

Jean Wainwright
Still from Magnesium Bird by Sutapa Biswas, 2004
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