Nightingale by Yedda Morrison

There are things
We live among ‘and to see them
Is to know ourselves’.

Occurrence, a part
Of an infinite series,

The sad marvels;

Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.

‘You remember that old town we went to, and we sat in the
 ruined window, and we tried to imagine that we belonged to 
those times- It is dead and it is not dead, and you cannot 
imagine either its life or its death; the earth speaks and the salamander speaks, the Spring comes and only obscures it-’
from Of Being Numerous
-- George Oppen

We are occurrence, and we exist in an infinite series of bodies, of things. How we choose to acknowledge our place in this continuum, how we choose to inhabit and observe the cyclical nature of materiality, in many ways defines us. What strikes one immediately in Nightingale, is Meera Margaret Singh’s willingness to focus unapologetically on, and in fact celebrate, the material evidence of our mortality. This work takes nerve. It examines the undulating line between the living and the dead, the lived and the left, the body and the remnant. It takes as its subject something most of us turn the lights down low on, the measure and physical manifestation of time on and around our bodies.

In Memento, a looped video projected on the gallery wall, dark hairs move across the frame, animated. The bed sheets look dirty, off-white patterns on white, shadow, palimpsest, stains of the body, living or dead. The hairs reach, curl, and recoil. When the body is finished, it is hair that remains, given some strange after-life by wind, by water.

In another room, a large print of a burgundy colored carpet asks again “what remains?” “What defines us?” Handprints and shoe scuffs are clearly visible on the carpet’s surface. There is wear on the carpet, as on the body. In other, smaller images, the marks of hands and hands deeply marked, legs hashed in burgundy and blue veins, the edge of a white slip, shards of living. What is evidenced are the material remains of our physical existence, the shells, the houses, the casings.

There is a lush morbidity here, a horror shot through with transient beauty (is there any other kind of beauty?). Singh’s work affirms the crude material life of the body while elevating it to the realm of myth. And less Singh be accused of shooting through rose-colored glasses, let us be clear... yes, Singh uses her baroque aesthetic sensibility and deft manipulation of light to release the psychosocial influences of composition and color (the colors of devotion being mauve, burgundy, lavender, teal, gold, surely). But in doing so she does not shroud, romanticize or keep the body from us.

Rather, by placing her subjects in the devotional light of early painterly masterworks, Singh unearths a collective narrative of the physical, the material circumstances to which we all are bound. The precision of Singh’s craft, her technical skill and classical sense of color, gesture, and balance, elevates the urbanity of the body without sugar coating it. If photography is the art and mastery of light, Singh’s meditation on the aging body and the vestiges of the life it leads, is a celebration of what can be revealed and revered through the transformative powers of devotional light.

Throughout, Singh employs light as she employs the intensity of the child’s gaze. If the mother’s face is always beautiful to the child who is loved, then it is through the transformative gaze of the child that the mother’s loose flesh might become a wing, glorious in its symbolism and pure potential for flight. In this light, the act of looking is in fact an act of devotion; it has the power to reveal not the truth in beauty but the complicated beauty in material truths. In other words, it is devotional light that can banish the horror of the body, not through erasure, but through full disclosure.

But Nightingale is less a meditation on the artist’s mother than a keen and highly aestheticized engagement with the visual manifestation of the cycle of life, the mythological narratives of life and death and the taboo of bodily decomposition. Here, as we stand before her, the mother’s aging body becomes not only every woman’s body but also the universal body, succumbing, as it must to time and gravity. One sees clearly here the inevitability of our return to the materials from which we came, and one sees also the potential for grace in this inevitability.

--Yedda Morrison

Artist Statement
Meera Margaret Singh
“So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and the thorn touched her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shot through her. Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death…”
-- Oscar Wilde, The Nightingale and the Rose

Meera Margaret Singh’s most recent work, Nightingale, is a series of still and moving images of her mother. Harking back to literary and artistic symbolism, the nightingale often appears as a metaphor for both love and loss. As the protagonist in a narrative of human fragility and tenacity, Singh’s mother symbolically embodies the twin impulses of living and dying. With Nightingale, Singh explores the inescapable reality of age and loss and the beauty made acute by this inevitability.