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DEEP SEA DIVER 
Amita Kirpalani

Reproduced from the catalogue for the exhibition, "Visceral Forms", Utopian Slumps, Melbourne, 2012


To construct is to omit. And experience like material processes (such as braiding and knitting) are manipulated by deft fingers working beyond the body. Known and honed practices, genealogies of gesture. Unreliable memory is also muscle-based, so we trip and we stutter, falsehoods are woven into narrative, and dreams and actual events blur.


I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done


These lines from Adrienne Rich's poem "Diving into the Wreck" (1973) describe the process of reflecting on past experiences and memories and examining them, diagnosing them, of stepping inside the structure of recollection. Here Rich visualises herself as deep-sea diver, exploring the familiar known parts as well as the unfamiliar, with necessary trepidation. Rich's watery wading through the partially lost, forgotten and unexplored are visualised through remnants of structure. The metaphors she employs are burdened, encompassing sometimes, several dissonant truths. So perhaps beyond past experience, the wreck is the poem itself.

And here are more. Tubular enclosures, cellular drawings and sculptural sacks or cavities, by Berkowitz, each a wreckage to unpick. The circular forms that connect these objects are made from off-cuts of leather cricket balls, in lurid pinks and oranges, individually imitating cells or perhaps air bubbles. They are both a conversion and complication of organic processes through constructed forms, a paradox that is integral to Berkowitz's practice. Each component, a 'wreck', speaks of the once held, the no longer held, the fallible, the weak and incomplete. And the wreck is always, a direct template of the original structure, bearing remnants of memory, experience, construction, decay, allowing them to drift apart: a disassembling of the self.


There is a ladder.

The ladder is always there

hanging innocently

close to the side of the schooner.

We know what it is for,

we who have used it.

Otherwise

it is a piece of maritime floss

some sundry equipment.


Berkowitz's sculptures are ladders, not just formally, but as transformative sensory experiences. We can step inside the hanging forms which confuse with their sense of interior. Is this inside the body or inside the method? Are these frameworks for organic processes? A kind of measuring out of the hand and the body and its enclosures? Berkowitz's materials have been repeatedly manipulated for their potentiality and worked to the point of irresolution. Seeking full circles to be endlessly paired with full circles, but there is no infinitude or perfect full stop to be found here.

Making sense of shapes, hands need this work just as these particular irregular circles need their counterparts and inconsistencies, as a register of what has been omitted.


This is the place.

And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair

streams black, the merman in his armored body.

We circle silently

about the wreck

we dive into the hold.

I am she: I am he


Once arrived, the pristine quality is at odds with a bodily identification. Like the way hair in water becomes loose, untangled, weightless and too perfect to be human. Here also Berkowitz's synthetic fibres glint and dull as hair might, both unworldly and human. Caught in the act of unravelling, the wreck - its decay and its clarity - drag the subject as it struggles to keep pace with its parts.


Amita Kirpalani  
Assistant Curator, Australian Centre for the Moving image, Melbourne
Copyright © 2012, the author