Open books and the contiguity of reading
Wakilur Rahman's readable and tangible books
The exhibition entitled 'Books, You can Read!,' by expatriate artist Wakilur Rahman, was a play on written words and the architecture of book which contains them. And the intention of his art is premised on creating a conceptual domain applying ad-hoc processes. His entire presentation considers its base motif – the book – not only as the incubator of knowledge and civilization, but also as the 'neuter zone' for one to enter and exit in one's own will without taking into account the epistemic prism and the politics it threads into.
Rather than the structures of language, the edifice that is a book and the possibility that it offers for an artist to have a free reign over it regarding its physical form and, at times, its content, Wakil cuts a swath into our consciousness employing a defamiliarizing effect unknown to artists given to conventional formalism.
Between forms and the web of sensory experiences they often give rise to, the artist adduces many ways of confronting the book, sometimes by treating it as a meaning-deriving structure or form, transforming them objects of contemplation, and, occasionally, to vouch for an emotion-cognition focused experience venturing outside the boundary of meaning. The artist himself testifies that art is an object that has lost its dimension of utility, and the books that he creates are easily aligned with this declared tenet as they are conferred 'objecthood' in realm where books are never treated as such.
It is, perhaps, the intention to formalize a language rather than constructing an alter-reality that the artist avoids the metaphysical in favour of the physical, inspired as he is to treat the tangible, alterable architecture of books. To achieve this, Wakil subjects his objects/books to various acts of reconstruction, mutilation, and even devolvement and decay, and the results are sometimes an equilibrium between ideation and objectification. But his propositions provoke various forms of reading of these reconstructed books, they become a way for the artists to afford some important reflections on the role of text in human life and how time problematizes both. However, these works never question the value systems and hierarchies that underline the life we live as civilized human beings.
For Wakil the book itself is a sign, ominously present to represent time and the tautology of meaning the words or
linguistic constructions transport us into. In the circular relationship of sign and meaning the only breach possible is through not getting to meaning as directly as some would like; which may not be the only way to conjure up a conceptual show around books and texts. But Wakil, for the last ten or so years, has showed his preference for developing a library for all to see and become aware of the transience as well as the persistence of time and memory.
'I'm interested in reconstructing symbols. It's about connecting with an older knowledge and trying to discover continuities in why we search for heaven.' If this declaration by Anselm Keifer is to be borrowed to put Wakil's books in context, as Keifer too is troubled by memory and time, one will notice that for Wakil these concepts lack historicity, therefore the idea of continuity doesn't meddle much with his presentation. The artist is more inclined to show his allegiance to Zhuangzi (365-290 BCE), an ancient Chinese dialectician, who once wrote that, 'A thing seems to be so when we say it is so; it does not, when we say that it is not. A path is formed by being walked on...' (Kolak, D, The Longman Library of Primary Sources in Philosophy) Therefore, the objects for this forty-plus artist is to assign meaning to a meaningless act of producing objects that are at first considered as self-referential constructions and then may spark rethinking as textual matters appear in some pieces to incite collective passion for reading and also to examine – through the reconstructing the edifice of huge tomes – the affect of the unreadable books.
Preoccupied as he seems in matters related to semiotic expression, Wakil, one must not fail to take note of, comfortably avoids the paradigms of duel and non-duel thinking altogether as well as the eschatological issues, though the two books displayed in glass box appear to have been affected by fungi seemed to push us to that direction. These two are works from his previous show (2007), where the books were treated as bed for a kind of edible herb. After three years, they are transformed as they are slowly but surely decomposing – perhaps not to allude to the end of the world vision but to remind us of the ephemerality of life and also to evoke nostalgia.
Wakil's works seamlessly runs into dictions that primarily call for sensuous responses on the part of the viewers, and at times prompt cognitive understanding. In the series of rehels where he furnishes old books with text covered with white or black paint, one single work, in the most teasing way, rewrites an original poem by effacing more than eighty percent of the text. This certainly is a cognition-focused work that stands out, and where meditative reflection is not inhibited as is the case with many other object-like presentations.
Word and the world are never in alignment as was the observation of the anceints, perhaps one day the artist will send some of his tentacles into that aspect. Meanwhile, his exhibition of books is a site from where we may rethink our visual culture that obstinately sticks to the concept that have us in the throe of the belief that it is an eternal celebration of pleasant forms.
'Books, You Can Read!' was showcased in Dhaka Art Center, September 22 to October 15, 2010.