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Between being and becoming

An artist’s studio is undeniably their personal domain. A microcosm of their self-driven work in progress – brim-full of creativity, knowledge, thoughts and expressions. It provides a shelter where they can shed layers of their self without any fear of feeling vulnerable. Mostly untapped by voyeuristic presence it is a place where they are their truest self and in control. A gallery is where the artists waive that power. Their works shift and so do their meanings. The energy is propelled by the hung works on display as opposed to their production. Despite the relocation of the artworks the making of meaning never halts and continues to be a ‘work in progress’. The audience – a surge of it – floods the gallery space as makers in charge of giving the final meaning to the artists’ work. A white cubed gallery undeniably remains a silent spectator, a devotee to any and all interventions and alterations without actively performing on the foreground. An artist’s studio is an environment where old works,in complete works, and the fresh creations all converse in a controlled chaos. These hypothetical frames are dismantled once they move to a gallery. This space remains unsullied – defiant to the provocations by the entities present.Interestingly however, both provide a space of discovery where the collected and selected objects (or completed artworks) resonate with and create ambiguous tension with each other to incite reflections, critical thinking, and contemplation.

The discourse triggered the culmination of a recent show held at Koel Gallery. Curated and driven by Sadia Salim, “Recorded Time” was an open studio residency staged within the gallery itself. The month long venture pierced the formulated assumptions around studio spaces and galleries. It questioned the degree of susceptibility(or its lack of) embedded in the specific space to change – to human presence, to activities it never encountered, and to its recontextualization as a site.

Five artists gathered to use designated areas within the gallery as their personalized studio. While few artists continued with their already laid trajectory, others took the opportunity to start afresh and to adopt concerns and techniques that were previously – much like the provided space– foreign. However their constant interaction with each other, their collective presence, their exposure before walk-in observers and customers of the café or the boutique (and conversely their visibility before the artists) affected every artists’ work which evidently surfaced in the display.

A graduate from Karachi University, Sarah Hashmi had long held an interest in exploring ideas surrounding the 1947 partition as well as the ensued migration. Her process entails a rigorous interaction with and observation of people, places, communities and cultures. After four weeks of thorough site visits, on-site drawings as well as interviews conducted around her chosen section of the city, the artist teleported the location and the bygone time into the gallery by spreading her research across the walls. Apart from her drawings and hand written texts, Hashmi introduced a cavalry of objects that despite their decay valiantly withstood time. Displayed in a museum-like style, the collected items drew viewers to evoke a sense of loss and nostalgia. After all, the artist orchestrated a time that ceased to exist– the objects had a sense of belonging and yet they didn’t.

For Yasser Vayani the relationship with his collected items is drastically different. To him, the objects are alive, dead, and often possess the ability to rebirth and reincarnate. Vayani holds the fascinating ability to story tell – he treats the objects as non identical characters that he either writes to or writes a didactic for. He strips their functionality that admittedly defined their traits. By decontextualizing the assorted objects Vayani makes a relevant comment on the commercialization in art. The captivating portraits that adorned the walls appeared unpremeditated and unconstrained. Rustic in his approach, Vayani let the drawing seep beyond the patchwork of paper, on the gallery walls and melt further into the grooves of the tiles. The drawings became of the space, and the walls became of the drawings. Seemingly transient, one could not establish their identity since once the taped surfaces are removed, the dramatis personae will further evolve and continue to exist on paper as well as be permanently seeded in the gallery.

Emanating a child-like whimsy, Sara Pagganwala’s space was converted into a laboratory of sort where she conducted experiments and observed chemical reactions with mediums that she never used before. Having a keen interest in performance art where the body serves as an apparatus, it was natural for the artist to incorporate Styrofoam heads in her process during the residency. An avid baker, Pagganwala used similar processes in her experiments – she dipped fabric, net, rope, stones and other materials in buckets of weighed compositions which she then set aside to ‘prove’ or ‘grow’. She additionally calibrated the variegated results of crystals as per the altered measurements of her salt solutions. The decapitated and eviscerated heads reeked of morbidity, however what made them palatable and enamouring were the glitz of the crystals that concealed the grotesque. Unlike putrefaction where the organs erode and corrode in a defeatist manner, Pagganwala’s sculptures constructed a rigid armour under the reactions.

Ammara Jabbar rightfully called her multi sensory installation a “fruit theatre.” She creates an elaborate stage and incorporates kinetics, sounds and smells to comment on the gender dynamics within our society. Her work was an absurd mismatch of random objects that effectively narrated her view on the pertinent issue. The set up was perceivably hierarchical that mimicked a more nuanced hierarchy planted in our cultural framework. A humidifier spewed vapours on a faux orange. However, overpowered by the theatrics behind the mystical rituals, one does not take note that the contents of the vapour were kalaf– a fabric hardener mostly used to stiffen men’s clothing; and uptan– a turmeric based paste used primarily by women to keep their skin nourished and supple. The ironic concoction of the two ingredients was released into a cardboard box,embellished by noticeably kitsch iconographies. One cannot avoid but extract the gentilic imagery from the suspended fruits as well as the fake flora. The garish colour palette of the quintessentially local objects was Jabbar’s attempt to read the native art theories that are uncontaminated by the institutionalized education borrowed from the west. She is curious to find out if the local knowledge of art and aesthetics is disseminated in an equally structuralized fashion.

Ayessha Quraishi compares her practice to the oscillating needle that records the slightest movement in a seismograph. Similarly, she unrolled an entire scroll and scrupulously treated the surface. Her mark makings were a record of time itself – a creative documentation of sight, sound, and touch. Quraishi’s prints loosely echoed the phenomenon of phosphenes or closed eye hallucinations where one observes rapidly changing patterns and floating designs that exist only for a brief time before they dissipate into non existence. The artist chased after those intangible fleeting moments that may continue to reoccur, but never in the same way. There is something organic and inorganic in her visuals. Her work is static yet fluid. It is immobilized yet it vigorously moves. It is erasure and insertion. Like a diagram of molecules trapped in a container, the rhythmic strokes in Quraishi’s work pulsated with a vibrant energy – almost eager to burst beyond the edges. Despite the throbbing reverberations rippled from the back and forth motions,the pieces sat in silence– stirring and calling the crowd from afar to spectate the archived moment that once was.

It is a courageous task to inject one’s soul – a part of their selves – into a personal body of work that is later displayed before an audience forcasual speculation, interpretation, and inevitable criticism. Arguably, this taxing process is also what makes it so poetic. But what is more intrepid is to conduct the ‘making’ of the works in an arena that is unbarred from scrutiny. For artists to share their process, their space, as well as their intimate engagement with their work (with not just each other but with an audience as well) is a daunting yet a very liberating experience; something that the five artists fervently embraced.

With the emergence of conceptual art, the notions around an artist’s studio became some what obsolete and the parameters shifted. Many artists used functional platforms as their studios. Others converted their studios to junctions in order to organize a multitude of operations from. For several artists the studio space is their exhibiting space. And undeniably, few consider their laptops, computers, tablets a quasi-studio – portable, malleable, and always ready. However, the ‘studio’ never got dismissed. It is continually reinvented and redefined in response to the shifts in the figurative climate. This led to a fairly recent interest in the realities of production and situation. Artists, curators, and critics theoretically inspect the dynamics contingent to their mutual inclusion. The critical strategies of many artists equip them to use their space as a source, a point of origin for their work. The possibilities in production significantly broaden once the artists respond to the altering conditions in the expanded fields beyond their studio.
“Recorded Time’ observes this phenomena and draws conclusions on its obscured verity. It appraises the restructured idea of a studio, the redefined identity of a gallery. Their union. Their repurpose. Their being. It examines the transition from a personal workspace for physical production to a venue with potential for multiple forms of interaction, creation, participation, and of course, presentation.

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