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A Response; In Solitude

‘Live art and performative gestures by selected young artists from different cities of Pakistan’.
It is all of Lahore art and artisan growing out of the Taseer gallery and garden on this fall evening in Lahore. It is difficult finding route through the meetings and greetings, feet and hands, eyebrows and smiles. I breathe and I can walk and talk but this performance exhibition questions my existence, from the social, cultural and political to the very intimate and personal. Between this ‘chaos’ of Lahore-social there is intelligent curatorial dictatorship. A whistle blows – time starts – and the crowd is directed to watch a performance i.e. the durational ones while there are other all-evening ones running parallel to these timed ones.
Simplicity of act, a call from a friend, an exhausting day and refuge in a book, collapsing in its arms while it lies on your face, typing on the computer, concentrating on one page of a book, making a quick meal; the mundane is frozen and made valuable in Natasha Jozi’s piece ‘an ode to parallel realities’ I make an effort to interfere in these acts as they invite collaboration but there is a concrete distance- an invisible wall set – between the performance and the viewer. From this work …on… a sense of united aloneness prevails and I’m reminded of “the Value of being alone through William Wordsworth;
When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world and droop
Sick of its business of its pleasures tired
How gracious, how benign, is solitude…
(Maitland, 2014)
The bride is ready for looking at herself in the mirror, a crowd standing watches her while she pulls in a few, on each step to adorn her, from combing her hair and twirling strands in a clip to more. It begins with acceptance and warmth and succumbs to rejections, all audience are in a marriage with her. They wait to see and feel the story of this girl with the white dress and dressing table. Sarah Mumtaz knows the exact gradient of emotion, meter of connection and result of interaction that is required for the climax of her story; she plays joyfully with chance without letting it govern her. There is poise in this work – love, promises, waiting and adorning, all of them dance through it…
“Rd Railing the radical psychiatrist wrote a little monologue to show the way in which love itself – desiring the good of the beloved other – can make personal choice and freedom extremely complex. Here the speaker (a fictional voice) wants to be happy but sees that those around her are not;
They are not having fun,
I can’t have fun if they don’t.
If I can’t get them to have fun, then I can’t have fun with them
Getting them to have fun is not fun. It is hard work.
I might get fun out of finding out why they’re having fun
I am not supposed to get fun out of working out why they are not” (Maitland, 2014)
Solitude is the savior, soul and substance of these acts – from seeking or relishing it, indulging in it to celebrating it … there is a range of performance. From slashing open the tender-memory of a mammoth-representation of childhood-cuddling or bedtime stories to nesting and wrapping oneself in it. A soft yet distant, warm yet cold nostalgia lives through this work. Everyone watches this act while the girl in the fridge, container-box or the visibility of breath that erupts from a layer of skin-like substance placed on the ground occurs alongside. I question the range of this solitude; in Sadeqain’s work it is grounded and subtle, as effortless as every beat of my heart. It is peaceful yet traumatic enclosure, they viewer can be trapped in a sense of ‘confinement’ or an urge to break free while the skin-breathes-in-joy-and-peace, it does not care about surrounding, it can’t even see it. Such indulgent solitude has always received extreme responses through time…from heightened reverence to great opposition;
“Until the fourteenth century solitude was highly valued. The great media celebrities of the period were the saints –and a remarkable number of them were solitary; ascetic monks or hermits ; people going into self-imposed exile and rejecting the civilized world ; women choosing not to participate in marriage …Their socially conventional lifestyle choice. The greatest virtue was to ‘save our own soul’ and develop and intimate relationship with the transcendent. Those with more political ambitions (usually kings and would be kings) could buy themselves out by endowing monasteries and building churches- so that their souls could be prayed for by someone else…
Edward gibbon of the famous decline and fall of the Roman Empire said; there is perhaps no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper or more painful interest than this ascetic epidemic. A hideous distorted and emaciated maniac without knowledge, without patriotism, without natural affection, spending his life in a routine of useless and atrocious self-torture…had become the ideal of nations which had known the writings of Plato and cicero and the lives of Socrates and Cato…
James Wilson was even blunter; as an ascetic monk or self-secluded man possibly a sulky egotistical fellow, who could not accommodate himself to the customs of his fellow creatures. Such beings do very well to write sonnets about now that they are (as we sincerely trust) all dead and buried, but to real may depend on it, they were a vile pack.” (Maitland, 2014)
The box is situated in the corner; the blur impression of a regular daily home-work activity that projects from inside it is a peek in to this oblivious world like the magnified hole in the other fridge- work. Yet both these works are opposites – one shares the pain towards solitude, an investment in it or the lack of it, while the other one celebrates it, will this ordinary box be couriered somewhere else, one wonders what Nida Ramazan is referring to, is it the invisibility or unimportance of this solitude or is it her commentary on the humility or utter absence of solitude?
“In a room of one’s own, Virginia Woolf argues very convincingly that the reason there were so few great women writers is that that it was so difficult for them to be alone; a writer needed a room of her own and enough money to occupy it women were not lacking in talent, intelligence, energy or imagination – all they were lacking in was solitude, in the chance to be creative. Later Woolf goes on to try and work out why solitude mattered so much to creativity. She suggests that every woman is haunted by a sort of inner ghost, which she calls the angel in the house (after a Victorian poem of that name by Coventry Patrmore extolling his wife as the ideal woman). Woolf describes the perfect woman as; intensely sympathetic, she was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish; she excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed daily. If there was a chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it…above all she was pure.
This angel ghost presented a woman from doing anything so assertive and ‘as truly creative work but Woolf goes on to suggest that this angel was a social construct (in the interests of husbands, fathers and men more generally) and an imaginative projection. In order to kill the angel, which Woolf considered both necessary and difficult, you had to get away from all the people wo were projecting, were constructing the would –be writer, not as writer but an intensely sympathetic, pure and unselfish woman. To get away from them all you had to be alone” :(Maitland, 2014)
The still life with two women in it is a mockery of this stillness- it continues an aspect of Ramazan’s narrative. The objects; ‘women’ are the foreground, a beach-y, dreamy, landscape, and the title ‘as long as we can’ and the intensity or necessity of carrying it on – the question arises – for whom? We have a crowd taking selfies with this still life as a backdrop and one is reminded of this excerpt where Sarah Maitland says in her book while commenting on the inaccessibility of solitude due to the prevailing blurriness between personal and public, mine and theirs, she supposes what William Wordsworth’s poem Daffodils would be today in our world ;
“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
I have to rise and go and search
On flicker google or YouTube”: (Maitland, 2014)
“We seldom inspect this paradox, because the reality is so self-evident. Kafka wrote to his fiancé; you say you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to access …that utmost of self-revelation and surrender. That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes…why even night is not night enough”. (Obviously they broke up soon after that) “ (Maitland, 2014)
From astronomic creatures, cups of tea, reading going profoundly and making memory or destroying it to cultures of aesthetics and homely rituals it was rewarding to know that solitude is even more profoundly hunted in our cluttered world of now, it is a reward which nests in the subconscious of all individualistic pilgrimage, irrespective of history, geography, race or religion;
“Of all the claimed rewards of being alone, this is perhaps the easiest to get. It seems rather obvious that great art, great original thinking. Any creative work needs to be done in some degree of solitude. What is more, all the creators tell us so – from Franz Kafka to Wlliam Wordsworth from Werner Heinsenberg to Beatrix Potter, from Georga o’keefe to Luwig Wittgenstein (just to take a tiny range). It seems a universal truth, and it mirrors our own smaller experimental performances but actually it is slightly odd, because as Anthony Storr puts it, art is communication…explicitly or implicitly the work which (is produced) in solitude is aimed at somebody” (Maitland, 2014)

 

 

Bibliography;
Maitland, S. (2014) How to be alone. New York, NY, United States: Picador Usa.

 

Sehr Jalil is a lecturer at NCA, Lahore – and a visual artist and writer.

One Response to A Response; In Solitude

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