Depart's pick from the Samdani Art Award Section
This year, the Samdani Art Award accepted projects from 13 young artists. Rasel Chowdhury, a young photographer, has finally been anointed for his Railway Longings. Curated by Daniel Baumann, director, Kunsthalle Zurich, who was fascinated by the quality of the emerging art in Bangladesh, the section was teeming with talents. Depart revisits few of the memorable projects from the site.
Rafiqul Shuvo's plane of immanence
Between the fragmentary unveiling of reality through an image or text and the eternally elusive 'totality' of our lived experience there lie experiential nuances from which Rafiqul Shuvo draws his inspiration. His multimedia piece appears like a rupture on the very skein of the venue where it was presented, on the third floor of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academi, during the Dhaka Art Summit (DAS).
With its destabilizing effect achieved through stark, disjointed wall drawings set against a monitor that relays an uncanny video in loop, the work is a 'combine' in the true sense of the word. At the level of the linguistic expression it coalesces the smooth with the striated as well as the locale with the global. The video defamiliarizes the known scene with its crisp black-and-white imagery suggesting 'exceptionalism' enshrined in the heart of chaoticized Dhaka – a capital-driven amalgam of an urban space, while the wall drawings are an alchemical inscription achieved through an osmosis that draws no distinction between the sources of inspiration coming from home and abroad.
The film in its fragmentary treatment of Dhaka's reality thrives on the disjointedness of its plot. A relay of the most mundane of all activities including a trembling hand of a servant serving tea to waiting guests, the video negotiates situatedness at its most disconcerting best. The drawings on the walls on the other hand are purged off such local references. The 'uncanny' in the video stems from the unresolved moments since the activities relayed forever remains without closure. Rafiqul's Communal Alienation thus gives the impression of a work in progress unspooling multiple open-ended narratives on a sense of belonging.
Atish Saha: interiorizing the exterior
The plotter of this series of bathing scenes enacted at River Buriganga, Atish Saha simply provided the backdrop (drapery used in studio environment) to his subjects set out to perform their daily dips. What this young photographer sought to achieve is to show how the social ritual of bathing continues on a river that is dying a slow death choked in discharges from industries and the settlements on and around its banks.
As is his wont, with this seemingly straight-forward, high-keyed take on portraitures placed under the rubric Water, Atish ploughs through a well known thematics achieving an aesthetic distancing to the effect of what one can dub as sublimely spectral. As an on-going project that places a retroactive lens on environment and its impact on the people on the edge of an urban desert who survives by drawing sustenance from the river, the artist carefully bypasses the 'development narratives' continually being released in the global network of NGOs.
Squeezed into a corner, Atish's series of portraits beams out an otherworldly aura lending each of his portraiture a pseudo-ceremonial dignity. Perhaps the religious themes he was simultaneously working on bled into this otherwise earthy theme where his intention seems to have been to alight on his objects of attention flanked as they are by the collective woes and the ecstasy even while taking the daily bath as a form of ablution of sorts.
Palash Bhattacharjee's performative prank
The two channel video playing two separate yet interlinked footages set on a repetitive mode in the installation Palash Bhattachrjee has conceived for this edition of DAS takes sound as an integral element. So this complex of a work commences first as a site to project a slice-of-life only to initiate further unfolding of layers, thereby plunging the viewers into the abyss of an existential inquiry – is the end a new beginning?
As a witness one experiences the experiencing of a simple act of discarding old books. Some even lie on the floor as an extension of the 'reel' into the 'real'. The work is a reenactment of an event in life sliced into pieces – the dusting hands on the right channel tentatively liaise with the left panel where books are showered on the floor to imply the act of disowning. Thematically the videos represent two consecutive sequences of the same act. However, in the final iteration their avoidance of any affectation – visual qualities generated through digital means – they candidly forward a double bill of an idea. The work makes one look at 'time' as an arbiter of life and also delineates its rhythm in the represented end of a chapter in the life of a booklover.
Though there is no apparent dilemma visible in the video works about the disposal of books, through the rhythms of the moving hands and pouring books there emerge ambiguity – though the sense of urgency for renewal, too, is something that never escapes the mind.
In the Indian tradition of thoughts time is circular – never-ending, as such the end is always perceived as a new beginning. The Greek word 'telos' also variously stands for end-goal-purpose. In Palash's presentation perhaps purposefulness is evoked by a seemingly purposeless performance of dumping one's collection of books.
Ashit Mitra's cryptograms
Process can be variously shored up into artistic idiom, and the subsequent results of expanding on that line of production can be made to read like silent, incomprehensible scripts. One may elicit their signification in their 'presence' as did Zen Buddhist monks while looking at the waves of the sea, or moonlit stone-studded landscape in order to built on the 'belief system' where earth, air and sky or void formed the repositories of knowledge. Ashit seems to bring into play comparable (con)textual reading of the world or the lived reality in his abstract etchings – seven of them were presented as a single set in the Dhaka Art Summit.
The work grants us intermission prompting an involuntary withdrawal from usual matrices of vision and cognition. Built through a meticulous process of prick- and/or mark-making, some even recall Yayoi Kusama's 'Infinity Nets'.
This set of seven etchings on paper reveals the artist's ability to tap mute visual energy as each frame produces space/plane as an object of meditation. Perhaps the thought that it is not humanly possible to decipher the world has given rise to this need for a language that withdraws from the world to reorient the onlooker so that he/she pauses to meditate the world uninterrupted. Whatever is behind this mystifyingly mute language of expression, one can be sure that the etcher of this series Where There is No Title appeals to our pre-linguistic 'selves' initiating a gaze-shift. The cryptogram thus can be read as marks of 'recognition' rather than an effort in language creation. Therefore this withdrawal from what is retinal and cognitive perhaps is his way of mediating a 'state of being' about which we are now able to reflect on without ever feeling it. Addressing speech, sight, sound, image and writing in an inverted expressive mode Ashit seemed to simply try and rebuild a space-time about which we only have memory.