Having lived and worked in India periodically for more than 30 years, Rice is David Blamey’s first moving image work made in the subcontinent. In this film a rice crop is presented as raw material being handled in a particular space and time. Shot at the family run Laxmi Rice Flour Mills, situated in a forest area between South Goa and North Karnataka, the project documents a distinctive process by which locally grown rice is post-produced to make an edible product free of impurities.

At sunrise workers arrive to unload the day’s rice quota from two huge metal tanks that stand over wood fires. The grain is then loaded into baskets and carried to an outside area of flagstone paving where it is dramatically cast onto the ground. Standing in uneven rectangles in the sun to dry, the grains are periodically turned throughout the day using a series of processes called colloquially ‘fale’, ‘taso’ and ’dato’. These drying methods have been skillfully devised to dry the rice evenly before the husk and the bran layers are removed. The techniques employed are both a commercial imperative and a ritual practice. This work is carried out the same way every day using tools and methods that have been uniquely designed for the task at hand.

The immediate appeal of material being worked in this way stems from the spectacular appearance of geometry from an inanimate food staple. The various cloudbursts, shapes and lines created throughout a typical drying session are reminiscent of western models of ‘scatter’, ‘land’ and ‘minimal’ art. But in this context the mill workers’ actions also speak about the place of physical labour in an industry that has become progressively mechanised. The cultural and economic conditions that have produced such an interesting subject for an art audience are in some measure those of marginalisation and deprivation. For this reason the choreography of reiteration at the centre of this film cannot be separated from the fact that it documents, first and foremost, an economy of means.

Rice
2017

HD video, colour with sound
Duration: 33:29 min

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Rice
Rice
Rice
Rice
Rice