The marginalization of weeds
The MIT List Museum reopens strong with three new exhibitions
Sreshta Rit Premnath
MIT List Museum
On display until Feb. 13, 2022
Grave/Grove is one of three new exhibitions at the MIT List Museum upon its reopening, along with Leslie Thornton’s Begin Again, Again and Andrew Norman Wilson’s Impersonator. Both Begin Again, Again and Impersonator are video-based and definitely worth checking out if you have a little more time to invest in watching artistic films. Sreshta Rit Premnath’s Grave/Grove, however, is an installation that awes for as little or as much time as you spend viewing it.
Premnath’s installation is composed of a number of ground- and wall-based sculptures that all fall under a common theme. Built on site, Grave/Grove is one-of-a-kind and attuned to its space. The work incorporates elements of minimalism and conceptualism to create a beautiful and contemporary reflection on those marginalized within today’s society.
The most unique part of Grave/Grove is its use of live plants. From the cracks between sheets of aluminum made to resemble discarded cardboard emerge various green plants, soil and all. The vibrant flora brings life to the installation and stands out in stark contrast to the industrial materials that form the rest of the sculptures. Key to the meaning of the piece is the fact that these plants are all weeds — a classification that has no biological basis, but is simply a category for the plants deemed less useful and desirable than others. However, weeds are resilient, rising from cracks in sidewalks and thriving where no other plants survive. They are beautiful and alive despite the societal stereotypes against them. In Grave/Grove, the plants are a perfect symbol for those neglected by society, who lack permanent housing and must survive in the worst conditions.
Minimalist figures — simplified forms made of foam, cut to resemble legs — also populate the sculptures. They slump with an almost human posture, appearing to sit or lie among the discarded materials and plants. The figures are coated in plaster, which creates a tough protective shell on the foam, much like the disadvantaged people they represent, who are hardened by difficulty.
Premnath’s use of industrial materials brings to mind the modern, commercialized environment that has allowed the marginalization of certain groups. The metal sheets resemble discarded cardboard boxes, often used by those who lack housing as makeshift shelter. At the far end of the installation is a fence covered with a reflective emergency blanket, serving as a backdrop for one of the sculptures. Plastic bottles hang from the ceiling on metal wires from fencing, and IV tubes carry water from the bottles to the plants below. They are a thoughtful reflection on how people in need must often find resourceful ways to reuse discarded materials in order to survive.
The final element of the Grave/Grove installation is a series of exit signs protruding from the walls around the room. Each contains a pair of related words, one on either side, including the title inspiration grave/grove. The signs are another mark of modern industrialized life. Because it’s impossible to view both sides at once, the exit signs encourage viewers to walk around and explore the installation as they ponder the relationship between the two words and their connection to the work as a whole.
Premnath’s work is something that should be seen by everyone. Grave/Grove is a conscientious representation of an important societal issue that manages to be both thought-provoking and aesthetically pleasing.