Permindar Kaur: Cold Comfort

... In her most recent body of work, Kaur’s ongoing interest in questions of scale is abundantly apparent. The centrepiece of 'Cold Comfor't was three steel-framed beds, constructed to stand high above the viewer. Each bed comes complete with attached ladders, enabling prospective users to literally ‘climb into bed’. Elsewhere in the exhibition, a pair of chairs similarly dwarfed the viewer. Perhaps one of the most disconcerting things about these particular pieces is that they do not look like the eccentric or slightly odd creations of an artist. They are polished, highly finished pieces of furniture that have a showroom-like quality, making them all the more disconcerting. But the scale of the sculpture is not always expansive. There are a number of works that are reductive or undersize, creating further disquieting effects on the viewer. The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition features a full page photograph of a four-wheeled cart resembling a cage on wheels. The photograph makes the cart look as though, like the three beds in an adjacent gallery, it too might be the biggest cart we’ve ever seen. In reality however, the viewer towers above the cart. Another piece in the catalogue (again, a full page photograph) shows a row of five beds made of welded metal, each bed complete with brightly patterned or coloured mattresses. But how big are the beds? This work is not in the Liverpool exhibition, so the scale of the work , as presented in the photograph, is doubly ambiguous. Measurements are conspicuously absent from the catalogue, thus compounding the ambiguities of scale. In another part of the exhibition, a brass bed has been made - not exactly the sort of bed for a baby or a young child, yet by no means adult sized.

Kaur’s work relentlessly plays on our feelings of vulnerability, and effectively questions our attitudes towards power. She obliges us to reconsider our notions of childhood and adulthood, of the protector and the protected, what is safety, where are we safe, what demons or calamities might overwhelm us? What protects us and what might harm us? She obliges us to consider these questions by re-presenting domestic objects that we have learnt to identify with ‘home’ and the protection afforded by ‘family’. Within any home, the bedroom is not just a room to which we retire at the end of the day. It is a safe and cozy sanctuary. Likewise, the bed is not just something we sleep in - it nurtures and protects us. Kaur’s beds however, are several meters off the floor, as if the sleeper is anxious to escape or avoid some ground-level calamity or danger. The brightly coloured or patterned mattresses on top of these beds do nothing to dispel disturbing thoughts. Instead, all they offer is cold comfort.

Despite the magnitude of the emotions thrown up by Kaur’s work, despite the potential within the viewer for feelings of despondency, her voice is not shrill or alarming. Nevertheless there is melancholy. There is sadness. The cart piece, mentioned earlier is titled Loss - as melancholy a word as any in the English language. The disquieting nature of Loss is compounded by the contents of the cage on this cage built on wheels. Instead of sand - the playmate of children, the cage contains a pile of ash - the residue of material burnt in a fire. And the ash falls through the bars of the cage, invading and disturbing our space...

The above extracts are from a review by Eddie Chambers of “Permindar Kaur: Cold Comfort”, published in Third Text, Number 36, Autumn 1996: 91-94. The full text appears in Run Through the Jungle, INIVA, London, 1999