The Image of Nandi in America is the last of a series of sculptures and installations begun in 1988 while I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Stone Image of Nandi, Bull Mount of Siva, is a favorite piece at the Museum and many people who walked by it reached out to touch it. I began to make an exact copy of the piece simply because I wanted to touch it and I wanted others to touch it. Re-making the piece symbolized, for me, the artist taking the work back–regaining the power to define the work. In the process, I thought a lot about what a thing is and who and what determines that.
Does the artist own the work? Is there only one meaning–the original one? How does history and environment effect meaning? How does who possesses the work determine its meaning?
Copying and removing the Nandi from the Museum and then photographing it in different locations calls into question its place in the Museum to begin with. The photographs seem humorous to people because they see something that is unexpected. The Nandi doesn’t seem to belong anywhere.
But calling into question the relationship of the object to its environment also asks how it is defined, and who defines it. It means something different in a cemetery (is it an ornament for a gravestone?), in the yard of a lawn statuary company, in front of a church, next to a statue of Lincoln. Without the original context for which it was created, its meaning is slippery. It’s interesting that in the Hindu religion, these icons are only believed to be inhabited by the god during the ritual. This Nandi has been uninhabited (evacuated) for quite some time.