Janhavi Salvi is an Indian visual artist based in Canberra with a particular interest in pushing the boundaries of the media she works with. Janhavi loves accomplishing this by crafting experiences that change the status of the viewer from being the classic mute spectator to participants. She aims to bring about communication between the viewer and the work – to make them co-authors of the work – she happily welcomes even the most basic response of emotion, even that of a chuckle. Her practice is driven by the aim to make pieces of work that move away from the ‘please do not touch’ conditioning to a more liberal form of engagement that encourages touching and tampering with the work.
‘0’ first appeared at the ‘Creating Space’ exhibition at the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre. The exhibition was curated by Kirandeep Grewal of the Migrant Women’s Art Group in Gungahlin and Michele Grimston of the Belconnen Arts Centre.
Growing up in India, English has always been my fourth language and was introduced to me through a formal education system.
When I arrived in Australia, I came to realise that English holds a monopoly in this island continent. I feel as if the English that I have learnt is my pocket money, by virtue of which: its nature is limited and extremely conditional. Australia continues to be what I like to call a massive word pharmacy where I, as a multilingual, must purchase English constantly for optimal communication. Though it is now given the status of a universal tool of communication and has the status of being a prestigious vehicle of high culture, it continues to remain alien to me. As someone from an Asian country who has made her way down south, I wanted to explore this gap between multilinguals and monolinguals.
‘0’ is a text-based work representing my relationship with English as a language that is a direct result of Western imperialism. Since it is said that each language has different eyes sitting inside its words, this work experiments with how a piece of text can communicate and the ways in which it can commence a dialogue with the viewer. The text here has situated itself in the context of the confines of the canvas with the responsibility of creating a microcosmic reflection of the cerebral space English takes up in a bilingual’s mind.
The proportion of text to the canvas is considerably tiny. This is to create a forced proximity between the viewer and the work, such as the one I share with English. The artwork here is roleplaying as being used to promote a promised meaning.
The overall experience is confusing yet comforting; confusing, primarily because the equation in mathematical terms does not add up and comforting, since the text is reassuring. Here, English playfully poses as a textual false limb!
© Janhavi Salvi, 2022