Body of Research

by Parvathi Nayar

Parvathi Nayar

www.parvathinayar.com

https://www.facebook.com/parvathinayarart

insta: artistparvathinayar, twitter:@NayarParvathi


Ravana 

/ ˈrɑ və nə /

  • Acronym, from Clonaid files

Replicant/Alpha Variant#2-76-4a/ Nodefamily A 

  • Proper noun, from the Indian epic Ramayana

Formidable, ten-headed demon king of Lanka, who was finally conquered by an avatar of the god Vishnu 

The Present

My Body: A User’s Guide

The creative act of making art is the only way left to express my authentic experience of being in the world…

Vishnu has quite literally stumbled across this in her search for – what exactly, she isn’t sure.

In the stack of artworks propped up in the sunbeam room, she had hoped to find something. Understanding? Forgiveness? Were they the same thing, just given different names? As she rifled through the works, what Vishnu did find was something she wished didn’t even exist. The mirrored-body painting. It rattled her afresh, sending such a jolt through her body that she lost her balance, fell to her hands and knees. Crawling, stumbling.

And there she spies it, under the work desk. 

The creative act of making art is the only way left to express my authentic experience of being in the world…

Ravana’s handwritten research paper. My Body: A User’s Guide

Not for Ravana the keyboard’s precise anonymity. It’s only handwritten text, Ravana would say, that becomes a body expressed. That wayward loop of an ‘l’, that ‘t’ crossed with deliberation.

Vishnu sits down to read the research paper. She does not know, how could she, that she sits precisely where Ravana had sat while writing the paper she now holds in her hand. In the same way, in the same spot, in a sunbeam of filtered grey light, exactly a month ago. 

Exactly a month ago

It was weak light but warm light on that one-month-ago day.

A stray beam from a recalcitrant sun has found its way into the room, softening the surgical whiteness to greys, picking out forms in the paintings on the far side, illumining tables of gloves, paints, brushes, knives, fabric. Ravana seeks the sunbeam with pleasurable defiance, even though she now knows the sun cannot harm her. 

Juggling papers, pen and research tomes, Ravana twists, cat-like, till she settles into the sunbeam on the window’s broad ledge. She runs fingers over skin to reassure herself it exists. Ravana does that a lot these days after her little chat with-

With.

Who is Vishnu, what do I call her, Ravana wonders. She no longer feels the downpour of hatred, the bitterness of betrayal. As with all storms and all things, there is an end. The emotional tempest is spent, but the vaporous wraiths left in its wake are invidious. Ravana prefers her paroxysm of weeping with its satisfying sense of physicality to this emotionless aftermath. This shadowy hiatus belongs to some less-tangible body.

But which body? 

That’s why she’s on the ledge today. To write her research paper on the body, and in the writing discover if she’s somebody, some other body, some body else.

She writes to understand … why she paints, why she paints the body, why she paints the body to express something real about the world, why she paints the body to express something real about the world that allows viewers to experience something real as well.

The dry description of painting as ‘unique gestural markmaking by an artist on a support’ infuriates her in how it leaves out the exquisite pleasure and pain. Don’t artists paint to feel and transmit that feeling – if not, what possible purpose can art serve in the narrative of human existence?

*

On that faraway day, a month ago, Vishnu walks in as though poised to flee, a mote hovering in the sunbeam. Vishnu rubs the cleft in her chin with her index finger, worries her lower lip with her tooth and looks at Ravana. 

Ravana, worries her lower lip with her tooth, rubs the cleft in her chin, looks back. 

Ravana’s mirror-gesture is unconscious, innocent of irony. The older woman often wishes that Ravana would embrace irony, such a wonderful coping mechanism. It would take the edge off Ravana’s theatricality too, where does the girl get that from? 

Vishnu thrusts her hands into her white coat, while Ravana sits tall in her feral way. Looking. Dark gazes mirror each other’s powerful opacity, the look, a tangible presence of touch. 

She doesn’t want to tell Ravana the news. Vishnu can’t cope with another weeklong outburst of weeping, she still shudders at the memory of the recent one.

But, how can Vishnu not share what has happened? Kumbha had been Ravana’s friend.

“Kumbha,” she starts. 

Ravana knows that her friend’s life-force has been flowing away with the blood. “Kumbha,” says Vishnu again and stops. There’s no need for more. 

Ravana replies, “It’s started, I’m bleeding.”

The words hover, alive and beating. Vishnu’s heart feels oxygen-starved.

*

Sur-Ya turns around when Vishnu enters the lab. 

“How did Ravana take Kumbha’s death?” he asks.

“Not well.”

“So, we’re in for another endless bout of weepy recriminations-” 

“Ravana didn’t say a word,” she interrupts, unbuttoning her white coat. She walks to the window, letting herself flow into the pale sunshine outside. 

“Then-” Sur-Ya’s crooked eyebrow lifts in a question mark. 

“I felt the pain in Ravana’s body.”

“There you go, being theatrical again,” says Sur-Ya.

Vishnu stares. “I’m not theatrical.” 

“Not very often,” soothes Sur-Ya.

She lets it go.

“Well,” says Sur-Ya, “Ravana’s all we’ve got left, we better take good care of her.”

Continuing along well-worn paths, he wonders, “Why her, why you? God knows I’m grateful, but I wish I knew why she lived, while not one of the others made it past puberty.”

Her cue is to nod. Vishnu’s afraid of betraying, even by a flicker, that she has an answer to that now-rhetorical query. 

“Well,” he says, “we just have to wait. Though Ravana’s pretty darn late at twenty–” 

“Only biologically.”

“Yes-yes, emotionally she’s younger, but her body’s that of a twenty-year-old. Brain too – she’s extraordinarily smart, isn’t she? But why she’s the only viable –”

“Viable?” Anger breaks her cue-patterns. “Ravana isn’t a set of multiplying cells on a petri dish. A process, a chain, a thing. She may have been once, but she isn’t now.”

Sur-Ya isn’t pleased at his word-walk being interrupted. 

“Clonaid will have to go public with her soon,” he harrumphs at last. “Everyone wants an announcement, the investors as reassurance, the government as distraction, the board to foil the rival Chinese consortium. Christ, all we need is for her to get to puberty. Then survive.” 

There it is. She can’t evade it any longer.

“She’s bleeding,” says Vishnu, “it’s begun.”

*

Fifteen years ago, seven Clonaid scientists who were handpicked as the brightest and best – Vishnu among them – had given of their bodies in the quest to extend Life. Seven female clones had been created, but now only Ravana survives. 

Perception is bound up in the inability to see oneself: so said the philosophers. Now science has proved the philosophers wrong. Vishnu has watched herself being born. Has watched herself grow. 

The fifteen years between Ravana and Vishnu blur the edges of skin and shape, but their mirroring is exact. As with the other clones, the first years of Ravana’s growth were accelerated. Then as the clones began to die, they slowed down the speeding up to let Ravana grow the last eight years in regular time. Fifteen years of life squeezed into a twenty-year-old body. A body that now hangs in balance. Too early to tell if it’s lifeblood or wastefluid that ebbs from her as she lies in pain, rethinking, reliving her past.

Reliving her past

Growing up within Clonaid’s sterile walls, Ravana knows Vishnu as both a doctor in the research facility and as her sister. 

Ravana is told that she has a life-threatening disease, a terrible allergy to unfiltered air and direct sunlight; that her friend Kumbha has a variant of the disease, which is why they are locked away.

Kumbha is quiescent, but Ravana, rebellious. So Clonaid allows Ravana to ‘escape’ several times, but puts enough nasty chemicals into her food that make her skin erupt into ghastly, frightening sores when she is outside in the sun. 

Vishnu soothes Ravana after each of these episodes, saying, you must stay within this world where I’ll look after you. Ravana trusts her ‘sister’, two sibling-rafts adrift in the sea of Clonaid. The rebellions stop. Body recognises body at a deep level, it never occurs to Ravana that bodies can lie. 

*

Interred, Ravana turns to creativity as a way to reconcile with her diseased body. She qualifies for a distance-learning art degree with an extended theory paper. For the practical component, Ravana picks painting, a fashionable choice. Art had once sacrificed handmade creativity at the AI altar, but turning full circle, has now resuscitated the form. 

Ravana creates from instinct, but soon develops a process: she paints pictures on her own body, photographs and digitally manipulates the image, gets it printed onto canvas and paints over it. Though all the paintings originate from images of her body, each finishes as a unique artwork.

If the strange disease had made Ravana’s body prisoner, painting it has set her free.

Initially, the older woman appreciates the irony. Ravana’s body is unique precisely because it isn’t unique. Because it’s the only successful human replica created artificially that’s moving towards its own replication. The first, ever, that’s lived this long. 

*

Clonaid surreptitiously monitors Ravana’s artistic journeys through the virtual world. Ravana is unaware that even as her body stretches through continents and websites in search for knowledge, it is, nevertheless, a restricted body. Clonaid assiduously blocks out danger sites, filters news, censors mail, plants stories.

Ravana is drawn to old-fashioned paintings, movies and philosophies. In a world where companies such as Clonaid routinely grow individual body-parts for medical use, the cutting-edge artworks of the past feel literal and boring: the rudimentary man-machines and prosthetic ears, sharks in formaldehyde and luminous green bunnies. 

However, artmakers termed bio-artists still work with biological material, hoping to create fantastical beasts as artforms. The louder the howls of public protest – “Is this depravity art?” – the more bio-artists find a purpose as cutting-edge questioners of the status quo. Never mind that they have yet to create anything that lives. 

Ravana shudders at the bio-art cadavers; the use of living material to create dead hybrids fills her with a nameless horror. 

“Isn’t it strange that artists and scientists are both obsessed with bodies – despite knowing that the only sure thing about the body is that it will die. That coded into our bodies at its most basic level is the blueprint to be created and to be killed. The ultimate proof of being human is the ability to die.” 

Vishnu no longer appreciates the irony of these words from a body created to challenge the surety of death. She feels the first fingers of dread that clench into a fist, the fist that might shatter the looking-glass.

*

Despite her worries about where art is taking her sibling-child, Vishnu encourages Ravana’s painting. It consumes the girl, keeps her from wanting to escape Clonaid’s bubble into the real world. 

But when Ravana wants to paint her, Vishnu feels vulnerable, says no. Ravana persists. 

“Oh ok,” she tells Ravana finally, “this could be a way to get comfortable with my ageing body.” 

Ravana lets out whoops of delight.

Vishnu sits, uncomfortable in her nakedness, goose-bumped skin and fretful thoughts, shivering a little. Perhaps it’s the cool air, perhaps it’s the strangeness of knowing that even as Ravana draws Vishnu, she’s mapping a trace that’s part-Ravana too. 

While Ravana draws, there’s little conversation. Artmaking requires Ravana’s body and mind to be bound up together, thought and gesture entwined to determine which line to follow, what colour to lay out. It’s in the twenty-minute breaks that they have their little chats, flavoured with java or mocha. 

Ravana tells her about the research paper for her online degree, a touch of superiority evident, satisfaction at entering a world of art-ideas and theories so alien to her clever sister. Her latest enthusiasms are contemporary spins on old theories of embodiment, and how it can be re-used to explain the act of artmaking.

“It’s an amazing gestalt of how we think of world and self, mind and body, seeing and touching, not as separate but a synthesised whole,” Ravana says, willing her sister to understand. “It’s about the lived body, how it’s through this body that we experience and acquire knowledge of the world.”

Most of this chatter flows right over Vishnu’s scientific head. 

Vishnu’s estranged mother is an artist, yet she hadn’t anticipated Ravana’s unruly appetites for art. Vishnu hadn’t expected the body made from her own body to be so different to her. 

Vishnu is slow to realise that while their fields of play are chalk-cheese, their gameplan is identical – a single-minded need to create, experiment, go underground till their endgame is achieved. 

Almost against her will, Vishnu begins to enjoy what she terms the “high falutin’ arty exchanges”. Over time, their dialogues go both ways, Vishnu learns of art and Ravana, of science. The two systems interlock over a fascination with the body. Ravana’s flowing paint meets and understands the abstract shapes and stains under a microscope. 

*

“These bodies are the perfect product,” assures Val’i, the impossibly handsome, newly-appointed communications director, unveiling the new product branding to the team. 

Clonaid needs money to achieve the dream of immortality that is yet many, many steps away. The powers-that-be have come up with an interim product for sale. Cloning the self for companionship.

“Think of the possibilities,” whispers Sur-Ya. Vishnu can tell that her boss is swept away by Val’i’s demagoguery. “It’s utopia; you can always have an intimately-related other being alive, a sibling/child that’s a complete family rolled into one.”

If you can afford it, of course 

Val’i continues: “Clonaid’s globally respected as the company specialising in therapeutic cloning and delivery of body parts for the ill and handicapped. The ‘aid’ in the company name has done wonders in promoting its image…”

Under the guise of a transfixed listener Vishnu stares at Val’i, automatically searching for those ever-so-subtle tell-tale knife marks near his ears and temples. None. Holy wow, was this man born that way? Great genes, wonder if we should try cloning him. Batteries not included, but patently not necessary. Every woman’s dream. 

Reluctantly Vishnu pulls her mind out of gutter-fantasy, tunes back into his frequency. 

“…what we’ve been doing these past two years goes beyond the boundaries of anything previously defined as advertising,” Val’i says. “This is beyond imagemaking, beyond brand communication. We’re not selling product. We’re solving the depressing problem of loneliness –”  

The dramatic pause. 

“ – en route to finding the solution to immortality.” 

Maybe we can clone a mute version of him, she thinks.

“No ads, no sir, nothing so crude. Precise, individual messaging is our communication frontrunner. Supplemented by feeding-the-facts through sitcoms, streaming platforms and AI-enhanced gaming modules.”

His audience knows the facts but Val’i enjoys the sound of his voice as he recaps …

How AIDS, then Covid, then V-pox, then the viciously mutating NETs – a by-product of ‘improved’ IVF techniques – wiped out generations. How fertility and birth rates have fallen, and family units have completely unravelled. How SUs or Single Units – individuals with just the single parent and no siblings – form the bulk of the new infertile demographic. How the rise of SUs in turn multiplied the problems of terminal loneliness, depression, too much money and too many possible addictions. The pro-cloning lobby, sanctioned by many governments is gaining in strength. 

He beams as he reaches his climax, the new brand message. “The ultimate kicker’s our tagline: With Clonaid, you never need be alone.”

*

“What d’you think?” Ravana asks, dancing round in her enthusiasm, as she unveils her newest artwork of two intricately mirrored bodies. Ravana’s body repeated, thinks Vishnu, till she realises with a small shock that the other body is hers.

The unintended subtext of this artwork makes her deeply uneasy.

“It’s good,” says Vishnu, feeling inadequate, as always, in her response. 

“You really shouldn’t respond so passively big sister! Look at the two bodies – are they the same? Or is one subtly more powerful? Are those strings controlling them in the background? What you get out of art depends on what you bring to it.”

“So your painting can mean – anything?”

“No, no,” more vigorous shaking of Ravana’s short, bouncy hair. “But I never close off the intent of the work. Not every painting will speak to you, but when it does and when you hear it – oh, a painting isn’t a monologue. It’s a great big fucking dialogue, big sister.”

*

Ravana has been bargaining with Sur-Ya – good behaviour in exchange for equipment to do old-school silkscreen printing. Finally, the machines are found, installed. Now Ravana’s consumed in a flurry of printing multiples. 

Vishnu has been busy trying to re-create the chains of multiplying cells in Ravana’s blood, and hasn’t had time to come look at Ravana’s new experiments. Today, faced with another dead-end in her lab, the older woman takes a break from her series of petri dishes to look at Ravana’s print series.

“I don’t actually like copies,” says Ravana by way of introduction, excited at being able to show off the new work to her beloved sister. “Prints have diminished aura.”

“Diminished- what?”

“No soul.” 

“Then what’s with the printing?” Vishnu enquires, wary, bemused.

“It’s an experiment to support my thesis. I’m arguing for the necessity of the artist’s actual touch in a work to call it an artwork. The superiority of a uniquely painted work to repetitive multiples.” 

“Though a painting, too, is created by the continued repetition of brushmarks.” 

“Well said! But-”

“Thank you.”

“But – the repetition of brushmarks doesn’t have a preordained end, unlike a printed multiple.” 

Ravana smiles fondly at Vishnu. “I’ve nothing against the process of repetition. That’s that how we all start, isn’t it, a single cell that divides into two, four, more, more. We’re about repetition, doing things over and again, day in and day out, through which we create, oh, all kinds of things – routines, systems, gender, identity, paintings. I like unpicking the idea of repeated marks and layers, sometimes identical sometimes not, moving back and forth, altering the repetitions into something else.”

Convert transform change.

*

The pen is angled precisely above the ruled paper, over which falls grey, filtered sunlight. Sunbeams that fall as gossamer diagonals to separate shadow lines from light lines on the paper, sunlight that creates distorted shadows out of the pen and spiral notebook, hooked metallic teeth that bite into the straight lines. 

Ravana is busy at work, writing her dissertation. 

Vishnu’s brain notices all the details around Ravana, everything in sharp focus other than the intangibilities of what she’s been entrusted to convey. She searches for something with which to open the conversation.

Vishnu says, more abruptly than intended, “Paper’s an anachronism. Why don’t you use the computer?”

Ravana is irritated. Unknown to her, hormones are flooding her system, making her moody, off-centred. Ravana has just caught herself thinking of Sur-Ya in lust – yuck – and she can’t cope. Her brain and hand scream in unusual opposition with each other. 

Sod off, Ravana wants to scream at Vishnu. “Leave me alone, can you?” she snaps instead.

Not a great beginning.

Later Vishnu wonders why she ignored every warning sign, why she continued with her practised spiel. She blames Sur-Ya, who was monitoring hormones in the body that’s under their permanent surveillance. 

“Puberty’s near,” Sur-Ya had told Vishnu with barely concealed excitement. “Ravana needs to be equipped, now, so she works with us in the complicated process of living through it. Our methodology failed spectacularly with the other clones – they were too unprepared. Let’s learn from our mistakes, let’s ease Ravana into it.”

Going against what her gut is telling her, Vishnu embarks on the carefully planned blueprint, inked out by Clonaid’s top minds. Meticulous, non-sensationalised explanations of the why-what-who of Ravana. 

Vishnu expects sparks, she gets a complete meltdown.

Fission.

“I’m a freak. A monster like my name. One of ten heads. It’s what my name really stands for isn’t it. A monster who couldn’t be killed, because every time one head was cut off, another grew in its place,” Ravana shrieks, face contorted with rage and despair. 

The words are spoken-shouted-wept from a body unpeeled in layers, to find no centre. No life conceived in love. Scant possibility of a soul. 

Ravana remembers her friend. “So that’s why Kumbha is sick; dying because she’s a damned clone too, and you didn’t know how to make her right, you incompetent monsterbreeders.”

The word-waves slam home against the shores of the originary body at which they are directed. Vishnu feels the body-blow, but Ravana isn’t done. 

“What do I own? My body? But it’s your fucking body too isn’t it? Were you so in love with yourself that you felt you deserved to live forever?” 

Vishnu can taste Ravana’s bile in her mouth. The feel of Ravana’s hatred against her skin is frightening, she’s unused to anything but worshipful love. When idealism is stacked up too high, it can only collapse into bitterness. 

Ravana doesn’t stop weeping. She refuses to see Vishnu. She tries to comprehend her body’s response to the binaries of sibling and parent eerily conflating into one. 

It goes on for six days, then everything changes on the seventh day.

The Seventh Day

On the seventh day Ravana walks into her white studio of filtered grey sunbeams, and picks up her pen. 

On the seventh day Kumbha dies, Vishnu knows she must tell Ravana. 

On the seventh day Vishnu walks into the sunbeam room.

On the seventh Ravana tells her sister/mother that the blood has started.

*

Ravana bleeds.

Ravana stops bleeding.

Ravana lives beyond that seventh day, a month ago. 

Beyond that seventh day, a month ago

A fragile stasis. 

Ravana continues to write out her dissertation in her studio. Her themes of embodiment and subjectivity lie curdled in her, Ravana doesn’t know what to do with them. 

Slowly, the questions are let out into the grey light, black ink on white paper. 

Has her creative life made her a unique individual? A life shaped by the way she has inhabited the body, rather than the genetic structure of that body itself. Have the particular neuron-firings between brain and hand, and back again, constituted her own particular subjectivity? 

The young clone falls back on her words and pictures – a particular extension that belongs to no-one’s body but her own – and they catch her fall. Cocooned in her white world, Ravana pushes against her ideas, and allows them to push back into her.

*

A few corridors away from Ravana’s sunbeam room lies another white world, but the mood of jubilation there might belong to another planet. Clonaid is in overdrive, planning the campaign to introduce Ravana to the carefully prepared world. 

Like the Second Coming of a first coming. A high-powered group meets to decide on these matters, Vishnu is an antelope within a tribe of jackals. She watches and listens, appalled at how they think of Ravana as a set of cells. Very special cells. Her cells. Designer jeans constructed to fit the derriere of their choice. 

Vishnu fights the capitalist construction at the levels she can – Sur-Ya, Val’i and others – but it’s a losing battle. She wishes she could reach out to her own mother for advice, but is not in touch with her nomadic parent. Vishnu’s decision to come work for Clonaid alienated her mother, who saw it as a deep betrayal of familial decisions to shun eugenics. Her mother didn’t believe Clonaid’s stated intent to only clone body parts for medical needs. 

*

If shock could mark the body like a physical beating, Vishnu would have been black-and-blue when she left Sur-Ya’s office. 

“We have to start cloning procedures on Ravana, and she cannot know this,” Sur-Ya said, refusing to meet her eyes. There was desperation underlying the bald statement that delivered the solar plexus blow.

“Ravana’s the only one who’s survived, and while we need to know why, we also need more of her. Soon, very soon. Now, in fact.” 

“You need her consent,” Vishnu begins to protest. 

“No. She’ll never agree.”

“It’s her body, you need permission.”

“Clones have no rights, not yet anyway.”

“Take my cells.”

“Your body’s too old for us, but anyway, it’s not your cells that will advance our research, it’s Ravana’s.” 

Encoded into human DNA is the need to copy the things human’s desire, whether it is forging paintings or faking banknotes. To the Clonaid tribe, Ravana is just the latest, most logical outcome of the impulse to covet and replicate. 

Vishnu writes countless mails of protest. Clonaid’s directors threaten to remove her from the team that will start next-level cloning trials on Ravana. They warn Vishnu that if she doesn’t stop, even her visitation rights to Ravana will be cut off. 

*

Strange days pass into stranger days. When she attends the Clonaid meetings that plunge into detailed discussions of Ravana’s body, Vishnu is acutely aware of her own. Her sessions in Ravana’s studio have reconnected her fractured sense of self to her sense of body. Now, like Ravana, she feels and holds emotion in her physical self. 

Listening to how they will parade Ravana like some showpony, Vishnu aches at the coldness in her belly. But equally, she knows the dark, shaming kernel deep within her – pride, that it is her clone that has survived. 

Pedigreed showpony. 

Pedigree. 

She’s almost-sure it’s the extreme hybridity of Ravana’s genetic pedigree – her own genes – that has given viability to Ravana. Vishnu’s mixed-up genes are a rarity in these xenophobic times. None of the other cloned scientists have anything as diverse. Their double helixes are the result of eugenics, the picking and choosing of genetic material over several generations. They are products of the designer baby fad that eventually triggered the disastrous NETs epidemic. 

Vishnu’s gypsy-like family had quietly resisted eugenics over several generations, a dangerous detail she keeps well hidden. Vishnu’s cells are Ravana’s, via genes that are Indian, Nigerian, Brazilian and Korean at least, and who knows what else. These generations of random pairings have bequeathed Ravana her hardiness. Ravana holds a chance-conglomeration of continents in her lanky body. 

Vishnu recalls another of those arty conversations with Ravana, about chance. Chance in the mating of sperm and egg, chance at the level where quarks and other exotic particles execute mating dances. Chance in the way a mark develops on canvas.

*

Ravana finds out her intended future through the oldest way in which Chance intervenes in our lives, by slyly converting us into accidental eavesdroppers. Once Ravana overhears, albeit electronically, she cannot stop shaking. It’s like listening to a premeditated rape that she’s powerless to stop. 

It’s come back to this, she thinks, it’ll always come back to this. 

My body. My unauthentic body. 

Ravana thinks back, with different lenses, to painting Vishnu’s body. What would she call that mirrored painting now – an authentic representation of the self? Of the other? She doesn’t know where the boundaries of her body lie, at her skin, or extended further to that of her sister-parent. Or beyond to petri dishes and computer simulations.

Her brain burns out thinking through these conundrums. 

The young woman is aware that she’s losing direction by trying to navigate the complexities. Real answers come when complexity is reduced down to its core. 

She goes through the questions that she could ask. Why do I paint? What does it mean to be human? How do I reclaim control over my body?

Ravana brings to her situation a process of thinking that her mother-sister would call applying degrees of freedom to a system: focus in on a few properties – as few as possible – and in their manipulations and interactions you learn crucial aspects of the system. 

Ravana is rigorous with the process till it comes down to the one, singular degree of freedom that’s in her control. 

It’s like the double slit experiment that changed the world so long ago, that showed how the unobserved punctum, point, particle, entity can be many more than one thing at the same time: a wave, a human being, an experiment, a possibility. 

Till you look at it, and then it becomes the one, singular, immutable thing. That’s all the future ever is, a series of possibilities that you collapse down to create the present.

The Present

… Given that the world is infinite, there are infinite ways of receiving knowledge of the world through the body. Artmaking transmutes this experience. Authenticity is conferred on the body that receives, reflects and reflects it back to the world.

Mother-sister finishes reading My Body: A User’s Guide, and it guides her back to the mirrored body painting, the centre of everything, the parent tree with its branches, its subsets. She picks it from the stack, props it in front. 

She lets in the emptiness, allows it to fill the empty place that was recently occupied by a presence she now calls child. A place she owns, too late, as parent. She accepts that forgiveness and understanding are two different things, after all. 

With her final act, Ravana has won and lost. There’s enough trace of her presence in frozen blood and skin and tissue scattered through Clonaid labs. Cut one head off, another spouts in its place. But it will take another fifteen years.

Author’s Bio:

Parvathi Nayar is a multidisciplinary visual artist, writer and poet based in Chennai, South India. Water and urban memory are through-threads in her art and writing.

As a writer, Parvathi wears multiple hats: Fiction writer (co-author, 15 Tables at TranQuebar, book of linked short stories, 2022; short story Rattrap published in The Best Asian Short Stories 2021 by Kitaab Singapore; shortlisted for The Bombay Review’s Creative Writing Awards Fiction, 2021) poet (photopoetry presented at HELD by Goethe Institut Chennai, featured in Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English 2020-21); arts writer for publications such as National Geographic, The Hindu, The Jakarta Post and The Business Times, Singapore. She is currently working on a novel of conceptually-linked stories.

As an artist, her complex drawings, videos, photography and installations have been presented at such prestigious venues as The Esplanade Singapore (2022), Chennai Photo Biennale (2021), Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, Mumbai International Airport, Singapore Art Museum and CP Biennale 2, Jakarta.

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