Three Seeds, 1988, from series, ‘Memory, Balance, Love’.
Platinum-palladium print on Fabriano 5 from 8×10 negative

Considering Memory, Balance, Love

Chris Bucklow, assistant curator Photographic Collections, Victoria and Albert Museum,1990
– introduction in the exhibition catalogue, Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh / Edinburgh Festival 1990, 4 August – 8 September.

A sequence from Pradip Malde’s new work gives rise to a number of thoughts: a net placed upon the end of a stick — it looks like a single-celled creature — something unitary. A whisk and strainer — male and female — duality. The apple. Light shining through some kind of screen — enlightening a dark space. The coils — serpent like, hanging in a tree. The gate — leading from a garden; sycamore seeds — winged things — above. A bowl — empty when seen in another photograph — now used. These things are clearly things in themselves — though they are characters from Malde’s memory and imagination. Perhaps I shouldn’t spell out what I see here as his interest in the myth of the Fall — but that such ideas should rise from this sequence seems natural enough. Yet the photographs are ambiguous. Perhaps the Fall was really a rise? Were Adam and Eve expelled from paradise or led into paradise? Is knowledge then a curse or a blessing?

Pradip Malde’s new work is arranged in three such sequences or cycles. Their titles ‘Memory, Balance, Love’ refer directly to his sense of what constitutes humans — what it is that the individual embedded in the flow of material circumstance draws upon in coping with the “stream of impressions and experiences”. Malde expands the ideas alluded to in his titles in this way: “With memory, the creative mind exercises that quality which is the mark of intelligence: the ability to identify patterns, hypothesize and make deductions. Love compels the creative mind to express itself, be compassionate and learn how to nurture itself. Balance, or rather the creative mind’s desire for balanced states, is often the condition that ignites the individual into action and helps define a sense of ‘completeness’…” I find these ideas philosophically refreshing. They are independent, they ring true to a position based on personal experience.

There have been signs in Malde’s previous work of an interest in alchemy and recent physics — old and new views (and strikingly similar views) of what nature is. ‘Memory’ strikes an interesting note in this context. Giordano Bruno and Julio Camillio were Renaissance thinkers working within the ambience of alchemical beliefs. These men saw memory as the key to understanding universal harmony, for within the human mind the whole of creation could be unified. Malde’s inclusion of love is interesting, for love is the Romantic philosopher’s equivalent of gravitation. We find it in Schelling, Shelley, Fichte and Hegel. Here it is a principle of cohesion and motivation too. Malde thinks of his cycles as spirals: “In a manner of speaking, the mind sweeps over the old familiar ground in order to understand new ground, but in doing so, the old ground gets disturbed… it is hoped that the result will generate a fluid spiraling poetry.” This brings to mind the dialectical model of experience and history in Hegel. Put the Fall myth into this context and one can see more sense in Malde’s interests. Hegel and Schelling believed that man’s fall was a precondition of a return to unity — a unity that is not cyclic, but spiraling and progressive; a better and hard won unity.

As a philosophy of what we are uniquely in nature Malde’s view is also a distinctively holistic vision. Modern specialist accounts of man as a phenomenon often follows materialist views established in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These stress reason as the major human faculty and either ignore emotional phenomena altogether or treat them in a fashion which underlines the deep suspicion science has harbored that mental phenomena as a whole are epiphenomena — unexpected or atypical by-products of matter which, because the physical sciences are the ultimate arbiters of our ideas of nature, are denied any fundamental reality. Pradip Malde’s view, unlike these professional philosophical accounts, attends to both our rational and emotional faculties — indeed in his writing he largely ignores such traditional oppositions, treating them as a single entity.

The cycles, ‘Memory, Balance, Love’ are in a sense a means of conveying a philosophical outlook. But their very nature as an inclusive account of our being presupposes that the cycles were made in accordance with the ideas conveyed in their titles. Thus what we see in these photographs are Pradip Malde’s memories, such balance as he possesses, and the objects and effects of his love. Of these, ‘Memory’ must surely have the utmost importance, for it is the basic faculty which in representing the world allows the activities of all the other mental phenomena. Much has been made of this act of representation in the history of modern philosophy and a great deal of interest since 1600 has centered upon the exact mode in which this is achieved and the mind modeled either as a passive reflective mirror or as a projective active lamp. I am sure that Malde’s use of the words ‘creative self’ is suggestive of his acknowledgement of the projective nature of mind, but I also detect in his pictures a sense of wonder at the very fact that the world is represented — an astonishment at representation as a phenomenon — and a renewed wonder at man — the ‘Ape of Nature’. Thus when we see the reflective surface of a still pool (and this is not to speak, by analogy, of an epistemological theory of mind, for the mode of representation — mirror or lamp — is unimportant) in which overhanging trees, dipping reeds, clouds and passing birds may be present for a moment as echoes of themselves, we cannot help but be amazed. How often, though, is this merely amazement over the perfection and clarity of the image? Rather should this not sometimes cause is to wonder at the very idea of representation — that things, in the presence of minds, should be translated into representations at all?