There is a film adaptation of Shakespeares Hamlet made in 2000 by Michael Almereyda and set in modern-day New York, which is not as lauded as the othe
There is a film adaptation of Shakespeares Hamlet made in 2000 by Michael Almereyda and set in modern-day New York, which is not as lauded as the other versions but which I particularly like because of its unique presentation. It is a grungy take on the immortal play and shows the eponymous Hamlet as a lonely, angsty young man who has a flair for filmmaking and is increasingly engulfed by images during the course of action. The Ophelia to this Hamlet is a photographer. Half-paranoid, clutching Polaroids, she walks a thin line between illusion and reality. Together, the two of them manage to overwhelm the viewer with stills and videos, screens and snapshots, narratives within narratives. The power of visuals is clearly conveyed. One can lose oneself in an image-plastered world or define oneself by it.
What reminded me of this movie was a remarkable show of works by Lahore-based artist, Aroosa Naz, recently held at Rohtas Gallery, Lahore. The show, titled Suspended Disbelief, consisted of duratrans prints (backlit photographs) and video installations exploring the growing infiltration of our world by static and moving images, television, computer, laptop and cell phone screens, windows and windows opening into heady virtual reality, blurring boundaries between direct and indirect contact, first-hand and second-hand experience, real and unreal, turning what is unreal into hyper-real and relegating the real to the prosaic.
Nazs work, though it draws from an everyday realism, still has a sense of enchantment that is conveyed primarily by the artists clever and inconspicuous mixing of the still and moving image. At a glance, one cannot tell the photograph and motion-capture apart. In two of her videos Melancholia and Superman distinctions are carefully removed between what is stationary and what is moving, what is ethereal and what is corporeal. The first focuses on the artists still and staring face while little fish move hypnotically on a screen behind her the corporeal poses, motionless, while the virtual flickers and floats in a lulling way. The second shows three housemaids, perfectly poised and frozen, in front of a television screen playing a Superman film.
By having her models pose, immobile, for what is in fact motion-capture, Naz draws attention to the inherently illusory premise of continuum on which a video is built. By tweaking the effects of still and moving images, she also creates a means for both to inhabit the same frame, to co-exist, in her words. Her choice of Superman, to animate the television screen round which the women sit transfixed, is additionally meaningful as he is a character who practically embodies omnipresence; he is pure kinetics, flying free of the naggings of clocks and milestones. Naz subtly slides a superhero into her video to better drive home her concern with simultaneous visual experiences (that) allow us to live in a mirage of so many realities, existing all at the same time.
The allusion to superheroes is recurrent in her work. Another piece, a duratrans print titled Birthday on Skype, shows her son dressed as Batman, sitting excitedly before his birthday cake while his father holds a laptop over the festivities. And from the screen of that laptop looks out the benign face of a remotely situated uncle or cousin who is there in all his virtual presence, so who needs the old promise of being there in spirit? One other print from this series is named James Bond and flaunts a close-up of this other icon from popular culture who is synonymous with dynamism and who effortlessly threads his way out of impossible situations. He laughs in the face of real-time, which is what the artist herself seems to be doing.
Cannes and Times Square are two more images from this group of works documenting the crossing over from one reality to another. Cannes is a set of two photographs, both showing grids of actual windows lit from behind, forming stark white boxes against the surrounding dark. One of the grids, on closer observation, turns out to be the miniature windows of a model apartment complex. Resting in a translucent glass case, it is given away by the many large reflections around it. The illusion is a fitting way of conveying the fluidity with which we move between spaces and frames real and digital. In Times Square, too, the screen of a television beckons, illuminated, alive, cluttered with billboards and other screens beckoning to other worlds a hub of entry and exit points to a myriad existences.
These visual experiences, all in all, pose a lot of questions which Nazs work can prompt us into asking. Her stance is not arbitrary; she simply presents a collection of photographs presenting our everyday transits between these multitudinous realities. But it is in the very neutrality of these images that the strength of her work lies, because it is ultimately the viewers own perception which can give a dystopian or utopian colouring, which can (if that perception is Orwellian, for instance) lead to questions about the preservation of ones true self and identity, about being found, being autonomous. She remains detached, having made her peace with the fact that we live in a world where every inert surface, counter or pane can spring into life at the touch of a finger.
Suspended Disbelief was held at Rohtas Gallery, Lahore from 12-16 March 2013.
Dua Abbas Rizvi is a visual artist and writer based in Lahore, Pakistan.