Only Connect: the third edition
'To me, art should direct or deceive. In this age, I think by hiding the identity of the particular artists or their activities, I save art world from the unwanted catastrophe.' – Abir Shome
'America, how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood.' – Allen Ginsberg.
The third edition of Only Connect slid soundlessly from white cube to black box, performing its biannual algorithm on the oracular shrine of the Daily Star Precinct's glinting gallery surface, minus the collective experimentation envisioned. The oracle's sole input was director Sadia Rahman's quiescent, intelligent curation: an anonymous affair educing the directions and penchants of eight distinct artists on the up. Most of the artists deliberated on languages developed in their earlier work; changes and breaks in terrain were only discernable in a few.
The first floor chamber was devoted to now seasoned maverick Rafiqul Shuvo's black and white reels cast in cool cinematic darkness, a sanctum well deserved for his absorbing, several-hour long film series. Muted light on glass cast bronze glares on the spacious upper floor, where Razib Datta's digital collage, Debashish Chakrabarty's photographic space – ultrasound in couleurs vifs and Abir Shome's parodying prints, digital collage and sketches followed the horizontal axis of two walls. Shome's intermedial arrows and Ali's double mirrors (glass, aluminum foil) on the third wall and floor heightened the sense of rectangular 'longueur' even as Meherun Aktar's tactile textile installation, atop a low table off center, and Palash Bhattacharjee's ambient-aural video installation on the fourth, final wall, interrupted the overwhelmingly visual field. Md Ata islam Khan's interactive collage was a bit of an anomaly, placed at the entrance in the form of a puzzle – cut-outs in a box and placed along the outer wall. It is through play, after all, that a black box becomes intelligible. And meander, play, to certain effect, some did.
Shuvo, who has tended to obliterate boundaries between the cube and the world beyond in the past, opted instead for the discreet permeation of gallery space; Palash's screening of an on-going video series also suggested a/n (organic) shift from 'videoed' performance art to video installation, blurring the lines between the two via the technology of the body. Intersecting lightly with the film series on the leitmotif of 'communal alienation', Shuvo's photographs on the walls surrounding the screen beheld 'transactional moments': a street where a transaction occurs between a faceless, passing black car and a bearded man; images in demi-gloom where the man is an object of a momentary and unknown need, a speed that factors him in and out, alienated by the transaction that alone seems to 'know' him, left in the wake of a white swirl. Elsewhere, the image of a white rope, a character in an otherwise black void, approximates an object whose use/transactional value is similarly unknown but that it resembles a link that delinks. His film footage, erstwhile, begins by trailing shorn, down-and-out Dhaka, with its empty stretches of eclectic visuals in vintage afternoon light (ie, gas stations with a giant pony sculpture and streets looking on at apartment buildings with veiled windows), defamiliarizing a tired landscape in an ineffable light. Shuvo's singular sensibility is inimitable: the quasi-nonsensical verse in text ('subtitles' from another cerebral existence) that runs below this Dhaka is delectably raw – a juxtaposition that works against as well as in alignment with the visuals. One seems to run into the even more vintage silver and darkening countryside without blinking an eye. Here a God-like engine, a throbbing hum supplants the text as juxtaposition, jarring with the silence of the village beel (wetland) and environs. Following these landscapes, he summons his own analogy: chasing the 'golden deer' of film/art. In fact, Shuvo's four films chased a Nadja-like entity, the golden deer of Dhaka and desh, a landscape of present absences co-emergent with clues in shadow.
Palash's many times shorter piece consciously absorbs a language that has been present in his work writ large, driven, he claims, by his 'obsessions.' Repetition, echo, and now surrender naturally follow. In Ekti Pala (A Turn) he gravitates towards sound, citing the distant influences of minimalist composers La Monte Young, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Steve Rice. His self-recorded and well-practiced yet spontaneously delivered chant-like drone, caught in real time as heavyweight thunderclouds overcomes a dirty-grey Shahbagh skyline synaesthestcally re-organized in a visual metaphor paired up with a sound loop, such that one cannot tell where the morning's sombre canvass ends and where the vocal chord's counter-song begins. Palash finds both the infinite and momentary in the concept of A Turn in this aural-spiritual plenitude, overcoming the darkening visible plane. There is a restraint and elegance in Palash's work bespeaking the gravity he does not deny or renounce. It is as though the sky from the seventeenth floor window answered Aziz Market's trail of unredeemed dead in a reversal of Ginsberg's irony: Bangladesh, I will write a holy litany in your 'silly' mood.
Both Palash and the other performance artist in this edition, Ali Asgar, extended metaphors of the 'body' for our easy absorption. Though, where the technology of the body in the former takes on a transcendental form, in the latter, the body's transformation is caught in a hall of mirrors, as we see its reflections as suffix to another body (Shame-Less) in a dialectics of personae. A cheeky lipsticked meme and a performed caress plays with the ontology of queerness in a juxtaposition of sounds/labels: queen/drag, with the receding social body in the background, embodied in a letter from mother to son. Ali's second performance in his three performance set, Shameless, does not quite give a glimpse of his range but further articulates his arrival at the threshold of his own becoming. The glamour and glimmer, the vintage queenliness, has a spunkiness and directness that camouflages the indirectness of the allure: Here I am, in your face, choosing the visible, the throne, not the margin. His mother's shame eventually becomes a lost seam in the glass weft of his interbeing. Whereas Ali's performance and installation is but one in his Shameless series, elaborating a language and focus that shows no new quirks in his on-going adventure, Abir Shome's ironic-iconic and diachronic fossil, typical as it maybe to his cryptology of the avant-garde, is nevertheless as atypical an 'antique' of the many-layered present as his collaborative 'new media-book,' Dhaka in the Last Days of Sodom, with his mentor-peer, Shuvo.
Shome's digital prints has a musical lettrism, if you will, where composite text-image collages of red, white, black, blue text and ink colour over omitted words or underline and circle others, themselves presented as found-manifestos/objects from art history. The latter is realigned to his own brand of 'self-preservation', OGCJM art, as the stoned and repeating effigy of its own perpetual perceptual revolutions. Shome's pieces are sly, sustained commentaries which, in the words of Derrida, remain as 'open, cryptic, parodying' in the best example of deconstruction the dissolution of art as a cultural category; only here, there is an unstated reconstruction, re-evolution. Shome steals the fire of all past Gods, from the adherents of Fluxus, to the Situationists, Neo-Dada revolutionaries; claiming and disowning subjectivities, by saving 'art' each time, facetiously, from each: workers and artists, friends and the bourgeoisie. His figure sketches are forceful, giving a sense of his range, depth and not least, aptitude for Ludic experimentation. In contrast, Datta's digitally manipulated collages once again zoomed in on mechanized and repeatable images, in a framing that did not quite do his subject and medium justice. The quality of ex-tempore in Shuvo's and Palash's film series and the latent threat of perpetual evolution in Shome is what this spectator retained most, in an exhibition worth its name: connected only by a perfectly sheer, virtual thread.