Mountain of Salt – Bindi Vora in Conversation with Raquel Villar-Pérez

Bindi Vora’s newest book Mountain of Salt (Perimeter Editions, 2023) is an assemblage of sorts. Collecting the works of the eponymous project created during the pandemic, the photobook has afforded the artist a space for play: to deconstruct the images, to re-construct and expand the narrative. In this interview, we talk about words, images, the state of the world, constructing, deconstructing, play, and moments of catharsis.

Raquel Villar-Pérez: Can you tell me about yourself?

Bindi Vora: I am a British-Indian interdisciplinary photographic artist, associate lecturer in photography at London College of Communication and Curator at Autograph. As an artist, I am interested in how ideas of resistance and resilience are influenced by our everyday surroundings. My work combines collage, linguistic motifs, and analogue processes – working with an archive of found images procured over the last decade. I am interested in how these materials can be reused and recycled to create new narratives but can also be traced back to other works too, like interconnected tissues. Currently my research is concerned with practices that articulate thoughts of care and the repercussions of this entangled word.

RVP: How did  Mountain of Salt start?

BV: Mountain of Salt is a constellation of 371 works initially conceptualised as a human response to Covid-19. These collages are comprised of found images, appropriated text, and digital shapes. I felt quite overwhelmed by the mass of  information being thrown at us; what to do / how to behave. With so much of life, as we knew it, now in flux, and having to quickly adjust to these new ways of being, I felt really compelled to make something as a response and an outlet.

Mountain of Salt is a constellation of 371 works initially conceptualised as a human response to Covid-19. … I made a conscious decision to work with found photographs and archives, as these colossal moments that were unfolding, felt like they had occurred before – through gestures, scenes depicted, or places. For me, finding images became a sort of obsession that allowed  me to fill time and be transported somewhere else.

Home became my sanctuary, and that adjustment initially was quite difficult. I remember not leaving the house for weeks on end without even realising it. Doing normal things like going to the supermarket was something so alien. I avoided the shops for nearly a year because I would be overcome with so much anxiety to be around so many people, so my partner would take his mountaineering rucksack with him and stock up for two weeks at a time. It wasn’t healthy at all, but home was a safe space and just with time I realised I needed to get out more. Running became a new healthy habit I got into, and still enjoy now. We spent a lot of time and energy nurturing the overgrown jungle of a garden and turned it into our small haven where we found moments to think and exhale.

RVP: I remember, at the time of the covid-19 pandemic, we witnessed an overload of image-based art projects that felt very similar to each other. I find quite refreshing the fact that you didn’t take one single new image. I also like the fact that it all starts from language. What was your rationale behind marrying together certain words to certain images?

BV:  I made a conscious decision to work with found photographs and archives, as these colossal moments that were unfolding, felt like they had occurred before – through gestures, scenes depicted, or places. For me, finding images became a sort of obsession that allowed  me to fill time and be transported somewhere else. My method was to make keyword searches, either from the text itself or through words associated with those pieces of text or an emotion it would stir up. These juxtapositions were either meant to glue together meanings or create a friction of some kind.

RVP: How many images does the project have, and how did you decide to bring  it to an end? Is the photobook the closure to it?

BV: As I was developing the work, I didn’t have a set number of pieces that would eventually be made. The process was quite intuitive. Initially, each piece was developed through daily moments during the pandemic where ‘advice’ was being given, dissected, and expanded by those in positions of power. The works pinpointed exact moments. As each wave of the pandemic unfolded across the UK, several tens of works were made and would then teeter off as we emerged changed in that space. With all that was happening at the time, it became about the wider politics; equality, hyper-vigilance, Brexit, pledges of reform, and prolonged moments of stillness are all encompassed. Each piece felt necessary; they would describe multiple power plays, hierarchies, social structures that were constantly jarring with the realities that unfolded and realities that seemed to normalise death. On reflection now, this functioned as a visual map translated as coordinates through words and shapes, pinpointing important moments as they unravelled and oscillated. I had thought the title piece Mountain of Salt made in July 2021 would be the final piece, but in fact, No. 372 Democracy Is an Absolute Farce made in April 2022 underscored the series.

RVP: Can you tell me more about the choice of title?

BV: The title of the series alludes to the idea of being on this continuous upward climb but faced with the precarity of tumbling at any moment, which is how I felt during the pandemic. As an artist I am interested in how ideas of resistance and resilience can be influenced by our everyday surroundings. Each piece in Mountain of Salt draws on something we each experienced in our individual and collective ways, awkward, rough, smooth, densely layered but ultimately raw. Even now, the pace at which we consume these small fragments feels out of order, speculative in some form, but equally, it all feels completely normal too… these worlds we oscillated through and continue to navigate are ever changing.

RVP: What was your process? How and from where did you source the images/text?

BV: I began by collecting language. Language from politicians, journalists and individuals who were sharing their commentary, thoughts, and directives, collated through a multitude of platforms; daily briefings, twitter commentary, news articles and even placards from the Black Lives Matter protests later that year, such as “Statues Are Not Neutral”. Sifting through information became a strange ritual of monitoring the curves and the new sanctions that were created to try and pacify a virus that could be transferred through the simplest gesture of touch. Even as I reflect now on where we are, I still don’t feel I’ve digested this experience, but rather, we’ve just been jolted back into normality.

As an artist I am interested in how ideas of resistance and resilience can be influenced by our everyday surroundings. Each piece in Mountain of Salt draws on something we each experienced in our individual and collective ways, awkward, rough, smooth, densely layered but ultimately raw.

The collages developed very organically. It would always begin with placing the language and from there I would literally spend hours sifting through my own archive of photographs, that I had been acquiring for over a decade – but also using eBay, New York Public Library digital collections and other sources until I found the right image. Working with collections of images is particularly fascinating. I always feel like our relationship to these objects changes as the world around us and context in which these works exist changes. It is this organic repository that continues to provide rich connections, questions, and multiple lines of enquiry. In this context, whilst making this work, delving back into the archive was important. It wasn’t a moment to take or make new images, it was about highlighting the sentiment that these moments, these ideas, these visuals were recurring. The images you see in the final works  vary in terms of their age, finish, and type – from early stereoscopes, Polaroids, medium format prints, press photographs – but all are markers of time. By applying the same treatment, cropping them to the same size, they created a sense of uniformity where language and image sit in tandem, creating a way of re-archiving and reprocessing these images. Despite this work starting with the pandemic the series really expanded from there.

RVP: The works are all black and white and the note of colour is brought by the geometrical digital shapes. Can you tell us more about their role within the photograph?

BV: The digital shapes that you see layered on the surface are placed strategically, not only to direct the gaze to the various intricacies within the composition or to ask you to pause in the small space, but also speaks to the semantics of what the shapes represent – balance, community, totality, union. All these behaviours, forms of action, statements and observations being forced onto us by those in positions of power, kept conjuring very vivid visual triggers in my mind. While we were being told what do and how to behave, it becomes farcical that those very individuals were doing the complete opposite.

RVP: The combination of words and images convey a level of sarcasm and wit, rhetorical strategies that you haven’t used in previous works. Why did you choose to use these for Mountain of Salt?

BV: There wasn’t a single strategy I set out to use as I was making them, they very much developed in an organic way through the language I was collecting. In some instances, I was thinking about feelings, other times were about depicting historical moments I pictured from books I had previously read, others were about using the image / text combinations to provoke a response. I think for me, what felt so epic about this time was the sheer amount of information we were being forced to intake in one go, confusing, cynical, comical and everything in between. It is the only time in our lifetime where we were forced to stand still and absorb what we were being told in many ways. This work is very different in its own right. It really pushed my practice in a very different direction.

RVP: How do you think previous works inform Mountain of Salt?

BV: Collaging for me has always been a way of juxtaposing myriad trajectories into one visual plane and has been part of my practice in various formats throughout my career. In 2011, I made an artist book titled Journeying a Non-Place, a topographical visual map made of photographs locating the streets I was walking in Paris for the first time as an adult. Ultimately, this format for me becomes an exercise of locating and dislocating. For Mountain of Salt, I felt the book format was appropriate. Each piece in the project is 20 x 20 cm approximately. They are purposefully small as I endeavoured to conceptualise these colossal moments that were occurring in our lives into something smaller that you could grasp in your hands. It was about humanising the succession of events, about coping with reality. Similarly, the book follows this intimate format. It is something you can clutch in your hands, turn pages, close the book, etc. It can be read back to front and front to back.

The word I always return to when I think about this work is catharsis. The process of putting together the photobook meant that I had to revisit the whole series, reprocessing each piece in succession. So many of them pulled me back to the pandemic moment in which they were made. It highlighted once more the sheer power words have when strung together and the deep residual impact the pandemic continues to have.

RVP: Mountain of Salt, is the visual result of how you processed all that was happening at the time, yet, in hearing you talk about creating the photobook, it  feels playful, even healing. What has the process of creating the photobook meant for you?

BV: The word I always return to when I think about this work is catharsis. The process of putting together the photobook meant that I had to revisit the whole series, reprocessing each piece in succession. So many of them pulled me back to the pandemic moment in which they were made. It highlighted once more the sheer power words have when strung together and the deep residual impact the pandemic continues to have.

RVP: Tell me more about the photobook published by Perimeter Editions. How and when did this project start?

BV: A chance encounter with Justine Ellis, co-director of Perimeter Editions, during the Photo Ireland festival last year, sparked a conversation about shaping this work into a book. Considering the sheer number of works, we spoke about visual strategies already inherent in the work, which were originally conceptualised as single works originally disseminated as works online. Together with Dan Rule, the other half of Perimeter, and Narelle Brewer, the wonderful designer of the book, we considered lots of ways of translating these works into new ways of seeing / experiencing the works. We were all quite set on unravelling the way Mountain of Salt has been seen so far and re-shaping it into a book format. As you leaf through the book, the whole work has taken on a new way of being seen; the text has been split away from the images, the pace at which you see the images has changed, and the font takes its cue more literally from the style of headlines. This works in the book format, as there was more space to play around, without overwhelming the visual plane. 

RVP: Let’s talk more about the actual physicality of the book. What is its dimension? How many pages? Are there any essays?

BV: It is a cute but mighty photobook. There are 448 pages, and it is approximately 15 x 19 cm and I liken it to a door stop; it is about 2 inches thick! The book followed the same rationale as the original works, they are meant to be something you can hold in your hands; the book is meant to be something you can grasp, but close, open and leaf through at your own pace. Because of the vast amount of text present in the series, especially now that is split from the original image collages, and the short afterword I have written for the book, between Dan, Justine, and I, we decided not to add more words to it. We wanted people to experience the sentiments in this new fragmented, joined up way at their own pace.

RVP: Are there any other sensorial elements to the book?

BV: The paper textures vary from the cover to the inside papers; one is more textured and the other is smooth. Both papers work beautifully well together. There is a lightweight to the paper for the book block, as you gradually leaf through such heavy content, there is an ease to it. What is interesting about the book is you can read it in a traditional way, or you can land on a page mid-way through it and pick up the pace from there. Narelle did an incredible job; she really thought about the pace at which you were experiencing the image / text fragments. The pages would vary between 1, 2, 3 and 4 images in any spread – there wasn’t a set pattern, but you feel a rhythm as you go through the book.

RVP: In the book, it feels as if you’ve gone back to the purest form of the elements that shape the artworks: language on one hand, images on the other. Was this a deliberate decision?

BV: How do you grapple with so many works and unravel them to still make sense but also provide more pausing moments in between? This is the beauty and anticipation of bookmaking. It is a craft. Working with individuals who really see the potential in the work and can work with you to pull it together is a humbling process. We wanted to take the cacophony of visual and textual fragments and create a new experience to see this work that sits outside of the new images.

RVP: Can you talk more about the narrative order you did choose for the book?

BV: The images follow a chronological order throughout the book. This was something I was quite adamant about as a strategy. It needed an anchoring, especially because the images are presented in a completely new way. The layout follows the entire process of making Mountain of Salt almost like an elongated timeline unfold, then it ends with my afterword, which was more like a reflection about the process of making and the more nuanced subtleties inherent in the work.

RVP: Any suggestions you have for the readers on how to approach the book?

BV: Open the book and see where you land.

Bindi Vora
Perimeter Editions 2023





All Rights Reserved: Text © Raquel Villar-Pérez & Bindi Vora
Images © Bindi Vora/Perimeter Editions



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