Gain at Guimet
Quddus Mirza contextualizes the multimedia artworks of RASHID RANA, to unpack the paradoxes that the artists address, combining the virtual with the situational
Regardless of his medium, material, message, manner or movement, an artist of any worth is always an avant-garde, since he can foresee the future and transcribe it into his work. Ideas, images, techniques or whatever else, artist presents in his creations, is later understood by the public and often followed by others. One can view the art of Rashid Rana in this respect, who from as early as 2002, has switched from painting on canvas to the medium of digital. This shift, on the surface seems a matter of technical choice, but if seen in today's context, heralded the changing world pattern. Especially in a globe, where due to security issues the 'free' transportation of objects and individuals has turned risky and limited (compared to the periods before 9/11). Now on the name of safety, both because of the state's paranoia and public's fear, the movement of human beings and their products have been restricted and reduced.
In that scenario, the physical transportation of an art object is difficult and cumbersome in comparison to the virtual posting of images. Hence the digital prints of Rashid Rana aptly represent our age of internet, cellular phone and computer, where the physical presence hardly matters. So with so many simulacrums the discussions about origin, originality, authenticity and singularity have become habits from the past, without any implications of these debates in the present day societal fabric. But more than the basis of its technique, the work of Rashid Rana, because of its visual construction multilayered meanings, delineates our age and glimpses.
Due to these aspects of his art, in the short span of ten years, Rana has emerged as the most important artist from Pakistan, and has been shown extensively around the world. The latest exhibition of his works is 'Perpetual Paradox', being held from July 7 to November 15, 2010, at the Musee Guimet in Paris.
Musee Guimet is known for its large acquisition of Asian and Oriental art; thus the contemporary works by
Rashid Rana (from 1992 to 2009) are juxtaposed with the pieces from Museum's permanent collection. Hence a dialogue between the new and old is created; more so because the artist's work can be read being a continuation of traditional aesthetics into modern era and sensibility. The exhibition, displayed at the two floors of the museum, is arranged in five sections, each segment highlighting one aspect of Rana's formal and conceptual concerns.
In the first section, called The Idea of Abstract, with works ranging from 1992-2008, the notion of abstraction is explored through a diversity of scale, medium and visual constructions – mainly the grid. It appears that for the artist, grid, if on the one level is a means to maintain the two-dimensionality of picture plane, at the same instance it is a vehicle to investigate, expand and extend the 'conventional' concept of abstraction. In these works, Rana locates the contrasts and contradiction between the readable imagery and a purely sensory surface. So the apparently abstract canvases from earlier periods can be seen as the attempts to reflect upon the language of abstraction. In this section, bar codes, idea of space and the balance between verticality and horizontality, explored in the earlier works, lead to later digital prints and installation, along with a multiplicity of meanings and sensibility.
The second part of the exhibition, Transcending Tradition, that consists of four digital works, deals with an important issue of our time and culture, the tradition; especially because tradition has assumed a grave concern for cultures like ours, which have a rich heritage. Not only the artist, but to any other man living in today's world (particularly the Third World) the main conflict is how to balance past and present. In empirical terms, one can not discern the difference or distance between the two, yet for a creative person the presence of past is important to justify present practices.
Tradition or past, in the South Asia is a significant and valid notion in many spheres, including religion, culture, customs and visual arts. Rana addresses the notion of tradition as an emblem or illusion of permanence, and creates new meaning/versions of tradition in the works included in this section. Reconstructing familiar forms form the heritage, ranging from Mughal portraiture, to ornaments in architecture and patterns of Persian carpet, Rashid has introduced the visual culture and political scenario of present times in these familiar, fantastic and famous art objects. Bill boards, printed advertisements and photographs of a slaughterhouse – all images of contemporary pictorial consumptions are converted into pristine pictures from a distant past, hence building a bridge between two divisions of Time, that exists side by side in the culture of Pakistan, of South Asian countries and other parts of the world.
Real Time, Other Spaces, the third section of 'Perpetual Paradox' provides an occasion to focus on the formal areas in the work of Rashid Rana. By trespassing illusion and actuality of an object, Rana constructs a reality that is not restricted to art only. As in an age that is marked by multiple modes of representing, revising and reversing facts/truth, through media and other organs of public opinion, one is accustomed to accept 'real' in more than one version. Hence the visuals in this part of the exhibition, a building from Lahore and ordinary items such as stove, books and flower vases, define and describe the difference between real and its representation through the details of fabrication. Particularly in this body of work, dealing with the issue of time and space, Rana has frozen the feeling of a moving image (in video, film etc) into a solid and static object. The distance/difference of an actual entity and its pictorial representation alludes to a greater and wider practice of our times that is evident in the realm of art, culture, politics information and faith too.
aking the same ideas and practices into a wider realm, the fourth component of the exhibition, labelled Between Flesh And Blood, comprises of works relating to current conditions in our country – and elsewhere. In these digital prints, the contradiction of apparent and inherent, physical and spiritual, formal and carnal is conceived through juxtaposition of visuals that belong to opposite domains. Sources of art, such as abstract paintings and a canvas by French painter, Gustave Courbet have been reinterpreted and reconstructed, to suffice the content pertinent in our surroundings. References to skin, blood, wounds and cuts in the flesh are transformed into visuals associated with high art or pictures pf pleasurable pursuits. Relying on the abundance of violence, both in its actuality and its virtual portrayal in media, Rashid Rana formulates a language that is extremely formal, yet multi-folded in its pictorial constructions, aesthetic quality, circumstantial references and contextual aspects. The work involves a range of views concerning political situations as well as pictorial conditions within a world that, ethically, ethnically and aesthetically is divided much like pixels in/of the digital prints.
The last section, Self in Other brings forth a pertinent question of our circumstances, of how to position oneself in connection with others, or in reference to one's own image – perceived through others' eyes: Just like mirror (since mirrors, like other human beings, replicate one's image). Similarly some basic entities such as name and face are mostly uttered or seen by others, more than the one who owns these. Hence a man is not merely made of his own self but elements from outside, others and his surroundings; and an individual is fully perceived only when he is reflected by outsiders. A simple phenomenon, that extends to the construct of national identity too. Dealing with these ideas, Rana critiques the notion of nationhood by creating images of national, regional, local and familiar substance. Issues such as rural and urban divide, the shift from local to internationalism, patriotic and populist, or colonial control and indigenous indignation, are a few elements reflected in the works shown in this section.
This exhibition, the first ever of a contemporary artist at the Musee Guimet marks a fact that despite the disparities of time, place and political divisions of the hemisphere, art may serve as a unifying element, ingredient – and force. Something that is significant for many reasons – because today artists can be the only bridge between the actual and imagined, past and present and personal and public realities, like Rashid Rana from Pakistan, who belongs to one country but is not confined to one locality, like everything/everyone around us!.
Quddus Mirza is an artist, art critic and curator who lives and works in Lahore. He has extensively written and published on contemporary art of Pakistan in regional and international publications.