The new physicality : ‘Image space’ in Shimul Saha's media and light installations
Both Baroque and the digital spaces engage the viewer visually, seductively and affectively.
–Anna Munster, Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics.
If the digital media and the formalist strain in visual art seemed irreconcilable in the artistic milieu before the millennium, works of Shimul Saha reassuringly makes a case in favour of their compatibility. By resorting to the virtual process of cloning and repetition and the subsequent projection of the outcome into the gallery space, the young artist from the non-profit Britto Arts Trust takes a decisive stab at the visual-virtual realm of the computer-generated motifs and patterns to re-inscribe the surfaces of the exhibition space and re-invent emplacement of images in and around the built environment.
Set against the aesthetic dictions which the new media compelled into being, and the operating logic that kept feeding the visual culture of the new generation of artists who emerged following our entry into the new millennium, Shimul's solo Tangible & Intangible, primarily a plugged-in endeavour, makes visible a cognitively entrancing form of secular arabesque. With that the formal rigour in visual art sees a happy return.
Shimul's schema is determined by his deft manipulation of the computer programmes that enable an extensive replication of the motif in use to meditate on its architecture as a point of entry into the world awaiting redesigning or remaking, for that matter.
It is human habit to seek an enlargement on the given structure of any motif – annex as we do an entire man-made world to it. For Shimul it is either a chair, as in An Object and His Consciousness, or a transparent stack of drawers, which we witness being replicated in a digital image set against a dark background in Don't Think I Can't Fly. These familiar elements dictate the final scheme of his imagery often constitutive of a virtual mandala – dark, defamiliarized and displaced from the immediate reality of time and space, yet seductively inviting.
Through the culturally-motivated (taking architecture as a point of departure) and the logically-conceived visual patterns, the artist seeks to establish a link with and distance from that 'elemental motif' which had been his starting point – from where the artistic action began in the first place. Shimul's carefully constructed cosmos, a semi-sacred spatiality, which is an aftereffect of an cognitive/emotional Big Bang brought on by his encounter with the material world and an education in the digital media, is akin to a self-referential realm of a mystic – where the world is understood in terms of the intricate patterns waiting to be deciphered.
The media in use privileges an immersive experience, a mental effect which is exponentially increased by the ‘noir’ atmosphere he creates. Shimul satisfyingly explores the crystalline effusion of the digitally reproduced and refined geometrical structures brought forth by way of a nocturnal vision, producing a synthetic, anaesthetic effect upon the eye of the gazer.
Plumbing subtle psychological implications of that mysterious element represented by the 'drawer' – the artist extends his language into the complex cognitive ravine of the modern man. A drawer is an interior that is also an opening into an exterior or vice versa. The psycho-scenographic model that is a drawer reminds us of Dali's 'drawer' paintings and sculptures, understood by many as references to the secrets of the body which is in sync with what Freud once posited: '…[T]he human body, purely platonic at the Greek epoch, nowadays is full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable to open.' If Dali was concerned with the narcissistic odour that his drawers emitted, Shimul commits a transcendental quality to it – adducing, in silence, the zones that rests between cognition and the absence of it.
Shimul's 1st major digital media venture facilitates an eclipse of the actual space by the digitally mediated virtual architecture developed in the vein of the patterns of atoms or molecules of crystalline matters. The artist repetitively clones a single unit to launch an exercise in cumulation, thereby reaching a harmonious whole. In some of the works, the projected video follows through the entire process from the point of genesis to the elaborate 'end design'.
The artist has completed a two year stint studying Art and Design at Lahore's Beaconhouse National University in Pakistan, and upon his return this solo elicits an affirmation of the new knowledge and its attendant language which often verges on the abstract.
To understand his process, one must look at the paper model of a wardrobe placed at a steep angle of repose in a pile of sand occupying the corner of the gallery. His process is demonstrative of how a particular unit – a set of matchbox-like drawers in this case – is repeated to build his building that lies off-kilter in the sand. The photographs generated from that tiny structure amply demonstrate the digital media's ability to problematize our sense of 'the real' – by creating a false sense of being in space. The virtuality in the actual photographs of Pretending to Be thus embodies the modes of transference of space – or a sense of space – into the actual world. This formula is expanded in varied forms in this exhibition.
In the end some of the cryptic formal patterns can be described as his way of 'stepping outside the messiness of the body,' unruliness of the real, to be in accord with the perceived logic of the universe.
His title such as Anima – the anthropomorphic archetype which Carl Jung proposed as part of the male psyche/self understood as a 'complex', and representing the feminine in man – demands an extensive excavation. In absence of such contemplations, Shimul's reference to depth psychology – one that embeds all such complexes in the region of the unconscious – simply falls under a process of digitally mediated production and consumption. American academic and critic Anna Munster writes that '[i]nteracting with digital technologies is kinaesthetically and proprioceptivally limited,' perhaps Shimul's projects are an attempt at burning a hole into that close-knit virtual fabric.
Tangible and Intangible, Shimul Saha's 1st solo exhibition was showcased at Britto Space, August 24 to September 6, 2013.