Press Release from 21.2.2024

Word mark Gropius Bau

Pallavi Paul: How Love Moves

The Gropius Bau presents the first major solo exhibition of New Delhi and Berlin-based artist and film scholar Pallavi Paul. This exhibition brings together her early moving image work, most recent cinematic productions and immersive spatial installations, especially conceived for How Love Moves as the Gropius Bau’s Artist in Residence, expanding across six rooms on the first floor.
Pallavi Paul engages the camera as her primary tool to interrogate how regimes of “truth” are produced and sustained in public life. Through her multimedia practice encompassing film, installation, drawing, photography and writing, she negotiates the documentary not only as film or image – but as an ecology of materials, a network of alliances, a system of thought and a site of sensation. 
Through a poetic and cinematic lens, How Love Moves reflects on breath as a planetary language and a continuous process of circulation in the context of global healthcare crises. The exhibition explores illness not as a metaphor but as an ethical, spiritual and biopolitical phenomenon, in Berlin, New Delhi and beyond, linking the COVID-19 pandemic with the outbreak of tuberculosis in Germany around the turn of the 20th century. How Love Moves also reflects on transient states of being, mourning and the persistence of memory, thereby conjuring up a multitude of desires. 
“To breathe is to remember our individual and shared pasts and to renew our pact with the future. In this exhibition, I want to unpack the time of a breath as a cinematic act: The breath of those who exist, the breath of those to come and the breath of those who have departed will together speak to the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic that has arguably altered the world forever. To place the contemporary healthcare crisis and the tuberculosis pandemic together can help us understand how the breath has moved between histories and geographies to pose questions and to create solidarities.” 
— Pallavi Paul

Caught between light and darkness, it is cinema itself that Paul reimagines in her recent and earliest works. In the short film Nayi Kheti / New Harvest (2013), the poetry collection After Lorca (1957) by US-American writer Jack Spicer serves as a vantage point to reconsider the afterlife of a document. Playing with the ideas of authorship and truth, Spicer invents fictional conversations with Lorca nearly twenty years after his death, asking: “What did you want to do with a poem once it was over?” In Nayi Kheti / New Harvest, Pallavi Paul imagines Lorca’s response from beyond, cinematically connecting it to the writings of the Indian poet and activist Ramashankar Yadav (also known as Vidrohi), whose work circulated mostly orally, tackling the question of the (post-)document from yet another perspective.

Fusing narrative strands within the documentary, Pallavi Paul’s new experimental essay film Twilight’s Envelope / Und in der Dämmerung Hülle (2024) captures the remnants of the Heilanstalten Hohenlychen, a former tuberculosis treatment facility near Berlin, through newly filmed and archival material. Paul produced her recent cinematic inquiry as Artist in Residence at the Gropius Bau and as a research fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Textured by the voice of factory worker Moritz Theodor William Bromme, a former tuberculosis patient who chronicled daily life in a sanatorium in Lebensgeschichte eines modernen Fabrikarbeiters (1905), the film turns to perspectives usually pushed to the margins of historical records: “15 years of factory work, that is 15 years of swallowing dust”, Moritz T.W. Bromme noted. “It was not surprising that the dreaded bacillus had begun its work of destruction also in me, who had been weak from birth.” Paul chooses a poetic and archaeological approach for her filmic investigation into reading architecture through an ailing worker’s life. Framed by the patient’s deeply touching accounts, a soundscape of German lullabies accompanies viewers through the massive ruins of the Heilanstalten Hohenlychen, which are haunted by psychological, bodily and spiritual remnants. Now overrun by dust, weeds and animal life, the building complex still carries the grievous traces of its former use that exceeds the treatment of tuberculosis in the early 20th century. In 1942, after the sanatorium had been converted into a military hospital in the First World War and a sports sanatorium during the Nazi regime, the facility’s doctors and medical staff arranged and committed brutal experiments on inmates of Ravensbrück, the largest women’s concentration camp on Germany territory. The film points to the larger context of industrial society, state violence, labour and health as well as nation-building.
The respiratory and spiritual pressures of contagion in the past serve as portals to the contemporary in which the breath has become a heavily contested field once again. Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, the feature-length experimental documentary film How Love Moves (2023) follows a grave keeper, Shamim Khan, and his colleagues over a two-year period as they work at Delhi Gate Cemetery, the largest Islamic cemetery in India’s capital. In a city that was heavily hit by the deadly disease, Shamim not only became a companion to those shunned by the state, medical infrastructures and even families but also a guardian of the brutal and simultaneously tender love between the earth and the deceased. Unpacking the cycle of one breath and its connection to the soil as a carrier of hope, sorrow and life itself, How Love Moves unfolds alongside Shamim’s understanding of a burial site as being many things at once: a place of rest and of exile; a crucible for memory and a slow incinerator of time; a claim to dignity and oblivion; a chain of presence and a reminder of absence.
In terms of a cinematic structure, Pallavi Paul unpacks the timespan of a breath through five chapters titled after Islamic prayer times – فجر (Fajr, before dawn), ظُهْر (Zuhr, afternoon),  العصر (Asr, late afternoon), مَغْرِب‎ (Maghrib, after sunset) and  عائشة(Isha, nighttime), – which, at the same time, mark a disruption in the prayer’s connection to the cycle of life. Archival material, including video recordings of political speeches, dysfunctional hospitals and draconian measures against the spread of the virus, interrupt the flow of cinematic time. Feverish scenes allude to the breathlessness and fear escalated by the pandemic. While these moments piercingly capture the horrors of the health and political emergency, How Love Moves also allows for restful inhalations of the world through intimate conversations, dreamscapes and otherworldly life, which is, in turn, woven into the local and spiritual textures of life within the cemetery .

“In connecting the grave keeper to the deceased, we can perhaps come to understand the breath and love for what it is – a transformative promise that builds the world anew every moment.”
— Pallavi Paul

In How Love Moves, soil as both material and habitat is conceived as a witness to planetary health and ecological catastrophes as well as an ingredient for healing and spiritual connection. Collating short love stories from online sources, the installation Slumber (2023) assembles interlinked visual scenarios from poetry, industrial labour and geology, inviting visitors into unusual perspectives on time, love and location, as they move sub-soil or go beneath the ground to contemplate place, belonging and transience anew.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave, with infection figures at an all-time high and subsequent oxygen shortages in northern India, images of bodies in zipped-up bags continuously circulated in news outlets and public announcements. Body bags became a painful reminder of how death is made impersonal in times of crisis and contagion. Trousseau (2023) reclaims the dignity and intimacy of death and mourning, by having had each body bag in the installation uniquely embroidered by a group of New Delhi-based women in the style of bridal garments, featuring motifs associated with fertility. It is through their labour, their prayer and their yarn that the memories of lives lost are woven into the otherwise sterile, mass-produced medical objects. The series Everything is Still Damp (2024) also features floral motifs dedicated to the persistence and fading of memories. The screen prints on sandpaper depict roses and the patterns of a chadar, fabrics which in the Islamic tradition are laid on graves as a symbol of respect and care for the deceased. The manual production process of the prints on the rough surface creates variations of the original motifs, which allude to the dissolution, fragility and transience of memory. 

Located at the entrance and exit of the exhibition, the installation Salt Moon (2023) imagines the graveyard as a portal into grief but also to rest and remembrance. Sculptures resembling graves become projection surfaces where animals appear as the emissaries of the abundant, more-than-human life of the Delhi Gate Cemetery. Enveloped by an immersive spherical soundscape that gently spills into the adjacent rooms, the installation is an invitation to cherish the love of the absent, which unfolds in the exhibition on and off the screen. 
How Love Moves is accompanied by the public programme SixDays of Love, a series of cinematic readings, performances, conversational formats and sonic acts taking place across different spaces of the Gropius Bau between spring and summer 2024.

Curated by Natasha Ginwala with Sonja Borstner