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Disjuncture in everyday surfaces

The first thought that strikes a viewer of Ilse Hilpert’s exhibition of “digital prints of direct scans” is, are these printouts of photographs that have been scanned' The artist, who says she has lived for 20 years in different countries, including five years in Bangladesh, soon disabuses viewers of such notions. Refreshingly free of cant, Hilpert explains that she directly scans her face — or whatever object she wishes to use — in her digital prints. If, as in her current exhibits, the suds of a cleansing fluid happen to be part of the image, the froth is encased inside glass and scanned.

What is remarkable about Hilpert is her rigour, the rigour of the artist who wields paint and brush, having been replaced by her tremendous clarity of vision that allows her to conceptualise each image and the degree of distortion that she will subject it to. Consequently, things of everyday use take on an unfamiliar, if not a sinister and malevolent look, as she manipulates them the way she wishes to project them. She says she occasionally uses filters to heighten their disjunctive effect.

Take, for instance, the image of a woman’s face as if being tortured. Her mouth is open in pain and her eyes are dilated like an animal’s. Her skin is seemingly covered with scum, an effect that increases the sense of her degradation. Is the woman wearing a latex mask' Hilpert says the woman is herself and she used a filter to produce that slimy effect.

She, thus, uses her own face in a series of images to create a sense of the disturbing political climate in Europe as the possibility of a devastating war comes closer to reality. The image is often shattered or splintered into smithereens, as if great violence has been done to it or it is disintegrating.

In Face Scrutinised, Hilpert uses an antique magnifying glass to enlarge only her painted mouth. The cupid’s bow turns into a monstrous blob of red, while her blue eyes glower in the dark. Multiple images of her mouth smudged with lipstick are projected to signify the madness that has overtaken our times.

Violence becomes evident as a woman crumples a sheet of paper with her bare hands or plunges her hand into water. Even a simple act like blowing up a balloon has a disquieting effect as it turns into a jack-o’-lantern. Alternatively, it could be the belly of pregnant woman. When deflated, it could have turned into a red speck of a spermatozoa.

Hilpert invests workaday things, like a cleaning brush and cloth, with an independent life of their own. They turn into biological specimens inside a jar. Surfaces, the title of this exhibition at Max Mueller Bhavan, is, therefore, quite apt.

Hilpert’s work demonstrates how new technology has been pushing the boundary of art in the West. Art by definition is never static. It transforms with every new age.

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