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Double, double toil and trouble

All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more collaborative, more real than art. – Dan Graham
Creative magic is ignited when artists become deeply engrossed in their work – especially when the technical facets are woven with the conceptual threads during the making. Every artist is familiar to those moments of unforeseen enlightenment that surface as flashes of insight – a happy accident of sorts. Harness oneself to a creative partner (or two) and we receive a sundry cornucopia of knowledge and experience that can spark manifold such creative advancements to charge not only a successful partnership but a more rounded, nuanced body of work.
Perhaps this thought is one of the many that catalysed the conception of the ‘Mandarjazail Collective’. The collective which is a brainchild of five visionaries – recent graduates from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture to be precise – unveiled itself at its first exhibition “Excerpts” held at the Koel Gallery. Conceived as an abstract idea that anticipated an unsteady beginning, it eventually embarked on its journey with twenty two scullers to steer it right from its infancy.
After freshly germinating from art institutions and stationing themselves in their respective careers, most of the members from the collective sensed an apparent disconnect not only from their peers but also from the other creative disciplines that appear alluring but were often inaccessible back in colleges. Unarguably, the institutionalization of academia has modified the infrastructure in most schools to regiment their transmission of education at all levels. Subjects are often compartmentalized, observed under segregation and presented as immiscible. Unfortunately the practice deploys concrete thresholds between fields and dictates the itinerary as opposed to letting a fluid course take shape. It was this feeling that we as a collective wanted to reawaken. We wanted to experience the opportunity to consolidate and inform as well as learn. Going forward, part of our aim continues to lay in unearthing that arena where all the chalked boundaries are obliterated, in rebuilding an environment where the natural intermingling of fields is relished and encouraged, and in cultivating a space where every member shares an equal sense of belonging and assertive ownership no matter how foreign and challenging the projects may be to their acquired education and expertise.
Seemingly fitting, twenty two headstrong enthusiasts were extracted from disciplines such as textile design, graphic design, architecture, and fine art. Surveying beyond the formal education, the collective brought together an array of occupations such as editors and journalists, a marketing director, teachers, photographers, a yoga instructor, and an art director amongst others. To further seep the intent in the process it was mutually agreed upon to make artworks in collaboration for our first exhibition. The recruited restless minds were arbitrarily paired – inevitably releasing spasmodic moments of anxious excitement for what may eventually surface.
‘A picture is worth a thousand words, but a word too can be worth a thousand visuals.’ The assemblage of various pieces in ‘Excerpts’ serve witness to this idea. Judiciously chosen, the polemic performs as an indispensable harness that reins in the frenzy, induces coherence in the multitude of voices, and yet reinforces the diversity within. Every pair attentively sprouts their oeuvre from a written or spoken word, while respecting their artistic integrity and not letting themselves get incarcerated within the text. By permitting their creative license to re-contextualize the meanings they let their thought process weave one loop after the other – ultimately creating a chain of disparate thoughts. The final works visibly preserve remnants borrowed from the text and portray themselves as its long descendants – distant yet intrinsically rooted within the phrased words. Inspiration was sourced from speeches, poetry, novels and even a Facebook status to deliver a range of artistic creations from drawings, sculptures, and prints, to videos, installations, and performance art. The artists grant viewers to seek a common feature in analogy in an otherwise glorious cacophony of techniques, styles, and mediums; and in doing so, they successfully manage to highlight the potency of words to emanate a gamut of meanings that elude their literal confinements.
Every so often, the collective gathered to ensure the timely progress as well as to sort the logistics. The meetings moulded a fertile environment for constructive criticism and appreciation where insights were provided, ideas were exchanged, and refreshing perspectives were absorbed. Determined in advance, the collective moved forth with their process not only in pairs but in a single unit as well. Every individual provided their feedback on almost all of the pieces exhibited – the collection would not have reached its displayed state had it not been for the contributions we sought from each other.
It was fascinating to observe how loosely the duos interpret their chosen texts, and also to discern how they configure the idea of collaboration for their process. Graphic designer Halima Sadia and fine artist Hira Khan drew inspiration from Nayyirah Waheed’s ‘Split’. The poem illustrates those moments when one silences oneself from voicing something in fear of its plausibly adverse consequences. To re-live this feeling, Sadia and Khan exchanged personalized letters which discuss similar experiences. The final work emerged from those letters as a row of dysfunctional water taps – the artist’s intervention as well as the material and object manipulation aided the taps in presenting themselves as an isolated or family portraits – they stood forth alone and yet actively conversed in silence with the neighbouring taps. Accompanying this was a video installation where fragments from those letters ambiguously seethed over a choked drain.
Fahad Naveed, a journalist, and fine artist Sarah Mir took inspiration from a public Facebook status that vehemently spoke against people’s apathy to the ongoing genocide in Quetta. The status specifically mentions the zealous preparations for Independence day mere days after a deadly blast in the city. While Mir created prints on layered Plexiglass to evoke a sense of familiar bedlam, Naveed displayed a video of a balloon seller who filled the orbs with helium till they burst. These inflatable sheaths of rubber were already packed with rose petals – a poetic symbol of both mourning and celebration. Placed next to a large window in the gallery, the pair aptly replicated our sense of disconnect from the real world whenever tragedy strikes. Arsal Hasan and Affan Baghpati also displayed the plight of the oppressed and the lack of attention they receive from the desensitized population. A broken opening in an abandoned cabinet revealed a portal to another world from which an eye frantically peered through. The viewers – taken aback – were jolted to reality by the abrupt emergence of another entity.
Intriguingly the idea of the viewer as the observer as well as the observed, and the act of observing predominantly materialized as a discourse itself – either thematically or in the execution. Textile designer Mariam Mullah and illustrator Ayesha Haroon played to their strengths by satirically staging a scene from Karachi which the viewers could scrutinize from a derelict window with the use of a magnifying glass. They captured the bipolar nature of the city and the tumultuous life its inhabitants have grown accustomed to. Other concerns that pervaded throughout the exhibition were death, religion, the passage of time and the shift it brings in relationships between not just humans, but also with nature as well as with the man-made.
While many artists joined the collective and showcased in the exhibition to refine their skills and to delve into concepts they are fond of from an afresh direction; others adopted the platform as a free space to indulge in, experiment, and research on techniques and concerns they were not acquainted to. This provided a breathing space for us to step back in; a venue to joggle and re-energize ourselves at. Besides this particular experience, the venture in the long run will nurture our practice, our conscience, and our outlook to sightings and happenings we previously skimmed through. The exhibition as well as the mechanics of the collective continuously trigger us to inspect the heterogeneity and homogeneity between the creative disciplines – after all, no one can map a divide in what may very well be a complex, heavily diffused spectrum.
The collective aims to assimilate more people in near future – aficionados of their respective fields – who may not necessarily be trained from an art institution. The fervent members look forward to repurposing themselves and breaking interventions in the public sphere, initiating an outreach program, and redefining the gallery space for artists and non artists alike; and while doing so, constantly ensuring that the cauldron brews an eclectic blend in order to produce something more well-informed and dynamic for the creators themselves as well as for the audience at large.

 

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