For Adrian Piper, works on paper have generally served as a prop for more conceptual explorations rather than as an end in themselves. Mokshamudra Progression inverts that paradigm by using print-making to address and project abstract concerns. In a series of nine lithographically printed digital photographs, a clenched fist is shown stage by stage as it becomes an open palm. These images of transition are printed above an arrow that extends the length of the suite and points to the left and right. At each end, a list of terms is provided: above the fist are words that conjure associations of individuality and control, including ego, particularity, and possession, while the other end of the arrow points to terms that relate to community and absorption, such as non-ego, dispersion, and union.
This gradual evolution is mirrored in the title of Piper’s series, which combines the two Hindu terms moksha and mudra, defined, respectively, as one of the four aims of life, tied to freedom or release, and a symbolic gesture of the hands. The introspective and measured dissolution of the self is a topic with personal relevance to Piper. Over the past several decades, her work has explored the idea of selfhood through virtually every means possible, from performances based on her own ambiguous racial identity, to her scholarship on Kantian meta-ethics (Piper has a PhD in philosophy from Harvard), to her long study and practice of yoga in pursuit of greater knowledge of the self. During this time, the subject matter of her work has, likewise, subtly shifted from a conceptual examination of the ways in which the personal is political—found in works such as My Calling Card ( 1986), which exposed socially sanctioned racism through Piper’s own biracial status—and toward more universal and introspective installations.
Technical aspects of Mokshamudra Progression further suggest a move toward unity through dissolution. The suite, which, taken together, extends as a long horizontal, is comprised of numerous single prints rather than a single scroll-like sheet. According to Piper’s installation directions, the works should be seen at eye level and hung at a distance of exactly six inches from one another. This particular method of display again suggests the combination of individuality and unity, the self and the whole. Such a metaphor could extend further to encompass Piper’s synthesis of media and format.
Lithography, a technique historically noted for its testament to the artist’s presence, is used here to reproduce photography, which, in contrast, presents claims to objectivity. Refusing to commit to either practice, Piper instead refers to the works as “photo-text collage lithographs.” Although it might at first seem like mere semantics, this all-encompassing medium designation instead realizes the ambiguous transition seen in Piper’s suite and in doing so, makes a broader statement about biography, community, and the self.