While writing these lines, I am aware that no one knows my whereabouts. I may be in Karachi, Lahore, London, Venice, Boston or Mumbai. My location is my email address, and contact is my mobile number. Both which defy and deny an actual place.
These inventions (and gadgets) which we use – but which use us too, are signs of a time, that has taken a leap beyond geographical boundaries, even national borders, as well as physical items. Long gone are days when I last received a hand-written letter, or had a photograph printed on a glossy paper. Those objects now exist in the museum of collective memory, yet we still have newspapers produced on paper, books bound in hardback and paperbacks, art made with paint, canvas, stone, steel, wood, paper, fabric etc. But along with these, we access news on our computer, brows books on Kindle, and look at the artworks on different websites.
In a sense, we are living in a no-man’s land. In a space surrounded by the territory of physical and the realm of virtual. One is not sure about future. Perhaps material may survive solely in our recollection of past. As presently we have witnessed a shift towards virtual in the field of art. One comes across video installations, photographs on Instagram, and works manufactured digitally, all that was not possible before the age of Internet.
Walter Benjamin in his seminal text, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, discusses the future of artwork, likewise Art Now Pakistan, in the current issue, presents the work of art in the age of digital production. A number of artists are creating works either using digital medium or solely for virtual arena. Arguably that shift in the medium, technique and approach, besides being a reflection of an age, where even money has gone virtual, is a comment upon the possibility or impossibility of physical movement, and actual contact. Particularly after the divide of the globe that occurred in 2001, due to which travel from one country to other – for some – has become difficult, hazardous or impossible.
Rashid Rana the most prominent artist of our times, choses to use the language of digital. His work created at his studio in Lahore, is sent through Internet to Germany where it is printed, exhibited in UK, and collected in Canada. While the artist is still at his hometown, Lahore. His preferred medium is a realization of altered means of communication as well as a response to political conditions where (in the words of Mia Couto) “The earth’s been covered with borders, the sky filled with flags. But there are only two nations – that of the living and that of the dead”. However in our world now, there are only two nations – that of the physical and that of the virtual!