The Hindu published a book review of Light Matter: Atelier Pierre Legrand: Edited by Anuradha Majumdar

by Neerja Dasani

The relationship between words and images is a peculiar one. Both are essentially abstractions, a set of signifiers trying to locate and communicate meaning. Even though their purpose is the same, they often seem to occupy parallel universes, unable to converse with each other, lost in translation. Can there be a language that is beyond physical borders and creative boundaries; beyond even itself? What would an expedition for it look like?

This work is a documentation of this search, one that the Auroville-based artist embarked on soon after he met Aurobindo Ghose and Mirra Alfassa at their Pondicherry Ashram in 1967. Capturing Legrand’s artistic journey on paper is a daunting task, for his work is an abundance of abandon, where the lines between creator and creation are constantly blurred. Like a mystical alchemist or a child at play, he can transmute any surface or substance into an object of wonder. The dancer/writer Anuradha Majumdar, the editor of the compilation and Legrand’s companion/collaborator in the pursuit for ‘magic moments when the whole universe is nothing but a smile’, does complete justice to this irrepressible spirit.

The focus is on Legrand’s atelier (workshop) — a catalytic space in which the internal gets externalised and the external internalised. This phenomenon is unravelled largely through photographs barely able to contain the delightful riot of colours and forms that the artist unleashes.

The text is fittingly sparse; a handful of essays attempt an exploration into the evolution of Legrand’s creative process. Special appearances are made by Majumdar’s poems from the namesake collection ‘Light Matter’ (1998), written for one of Legrand’s installations. And then there are the cartoons, witty aphorisms depicting the universal aspiration for life with a capital L.

The search began, says Majumdar in the introduction, with an inquiry into whether there ‘was something left to reveal in a world flooded with too much of everything’? As Legrand delved deeper into the nature of the material, he was able to visualise the immaterial cellular structures that inscribe the universe. What he needed now was a language with which he could communicate to the world the nature of this beautiful and invisible complexity. Once the intricacies had been identified, the differences disappeared, leaving behind only the unifying structure, and he arrived at a coded alphabet comprised of those most basic of signs, the dot and the dash.

With these he could now set about creating ‘spaces made of poetry’. Cracking the code meant that the strictures of disciplines no longer impeded him. He was able to craft a world of his own where art, literature, sculpture, music and architecture all flowed into one another, nurtured each other.

He refers to his works simply as ‘writings’ or ‘scripts’ but a few photographs of his notebooks, replete with diagrams and calculations, provide the reader with an understanding of just how difficult it is to be simple. There is not a single casual dot or careless dash.

Legrand says he encodes these texts into his works to ‘charge the piece with an inner meaning or power.’ This spirituality percolates every aspect of the artistic practice and ultimately the experience of the book itself. There are playful images of the artist literally enmeshed in his work, as if teasingly testing the reader’s ability to differentiate the maker from the material. And once they’ve visited Legrand’s world, they might no longer be so sure. This ‘eroding of certitudes’ is the most precious aspect of the work; once the reader/viewer is shaken out of preconception, division and disparity, the underlying meaning begins to reveal itself.

The title ‘Light Matter’ now becomes loaded with significance. At one level it is graceful self-deprecation, suggesting that even an oeuvre as weighty as Legrand’s is essentially a ‘light matter’. It further seems to signal readers that in order to be a ‘light traveller’ even they must shed their excess baggage. And at another equally profound level it is witnessing the ‘adventure of light in matter’, which for Legrand is a ‘playground for the soul’. Light is at once the container and the content; the source as well as the endpoint.

The artist expresses this sentiment eloquently in the book when he says, “Just as birds need branches to sit on and manifest their joy in singing, light also needs support for its multitudinous play and my works are a means of finding such a framework.”

This book is a connoisseur’s delight, but it would be equally enriching for students, educators, physicists, mathematicians, musicians, poets and so on. Anyone, in short, who is a fellow seeker.