In her ongoing project, ‘Scapelands’ (2014-2015), supported by a residency grant endowed by the Charles Wallace India Trust and the British Council India, Sonia carries her preoccupation with germinative and gestational energies into a robust engagement with the landscape. ‘Scapelands’ has allowed her the latitude to deepen her research into the resources and possibilities of the axial element of her artistic practice, printmaking, at the London Print Studio, where she experimented with the photopolymer gravure or solarized intaglio fine art printmaking process.
“Although photopolymers have been used in industrial processes for several years, their use in fine art printmaking is relatively recent,” writes the artist. “A drawing or photographic image on transparent high quality film is placed on the photopolymer plate and exposed to ultraviolet light in varying degrees. It is then developed and hardened at different stages before it is ready to print. ” This process bears an affinity both to traditional engraving techniques such as aquatint, which emphasizes effects of tone rather than line, and to early photography conceived literally as 'drawing with light' .
Fluidly combining the phases of expedition, research, documentation and meditation in ‘Scapelands’, Sonia moves outward into diverse terrains of the natural world and simultaneously inward into the history of artistic practice, renewing landscape as a genre. Her project title is instructive: she inverts the two elements of the genre appellation, ‘landscape’, generating a semantic shift. ‘Landscape’ announces itself as artifice, for it does not exist in nature; it is the artistic imagination’s proposal of a particular way of representing or symbolizing the natural world, of transforming nature into subject. Its mirror twin, ‘Scapeland’, turns this relationship between subject and artifice around, making the ‘-scape’ the focus of inquiry, engaging with the internalized aesthetic concepts and art-historical categories that form an integral part of our lifeworld.
The resulting findings constitute a territory that belongs equally to the cartographer and the psychonaut, at once geographic and oneiric.
The images gathered together to form ‘Scapelands’ act both as entries in a journal, shaped within time, and as a cycle of archetypes standing outside the flux of time. Sonia Mehra Chawla’s prints and video works elude the tourist’s simple categorizations; instead, they record a pilgrim’s encounters with a universe that retains a measure of unfathomable otherness.
Excerpt from Mystery and Inquiry: Reflections on Sonia Mehra Chawla’s ‘Scapelands’, a catalogue essay by Ranjit Hoskote.
Supported by the The Charles Wallace India Trust and in collaboration with