In darkened rooms at Taseer Art Gallery, Uzair Amjad, Zaineb Siddique and Ahmed Faizan Naveed held a show titled ‘Other Spaces’. Although the work list does feature a salient price list column, dutifully filled out with ‘on requests’, it is unlikely that the artists expect to be thus requested: all three of them are handling media that their current local audience doesn’t ordinarily deem desirable properties. Thus having shrugged off market expectations with this choice, it is expected that the resulting works are approaching the possibility in their chosen medium not only with abandon but also with depth.
Amjad’s installation using glass, wood, formica and lights, is in a similar strain as one of his previous works, which points to the fact that his exploration of earlier concerns is ongoing. The last time, it took a few moments of concentration and some gentle assistance for me to arrive at an understanding that should have been immediately obvious: one was confronted with a mirror that seemed to reflect everything but oneself. This delay in my comprehension resulted in exactly the kind of jolt Amjad would have desired. This time however, expecting a similar obliteration, one approaches Amjad’s work with caution. I can see diffused reflections, stripped of crisply defined features and details. The partially transparent surface allows one to see through and overlap with others in one’s vicinity and on the adjacent similar side of the installation. This erasure of your image for your sake results in drawing attention to one’s perception of oneself. It is analogous to the pronouns shifting between I, You and One throughout this paragraph when describing a singly experienced set of events and results in a similar bafflement.
Of course, in our minds, we imagine ourselves in all three persons. On the other hand, it seems that the image of our bodies is one of the few essential identifying markers that despite not being completely congruent with who we are, is known surely as us. Why do funerals in some cultures feature open caskets with the dead laid out at their very best; why Che Guevara’s body was probed and photographed immediately after death, Muammar Gaddafi’s body was paraded around and Osama bin Laden’s unceremoniously dumped to sea? A body, it seems, is such a potent image that it outlasts even death. It has to endure what the dead do not. Therefore preemptively and unexpectedly stripped of its image, one must feel strangely liberated and terrified at the same time: like “a stranger in a stranger land.”Amjad’s installation offers a similar sensation albeit momentarily.
Zaineb Siddique uses resin to imprison video stills from films dealing with an idea of a postapocalyptic world. Examining the pieces without this context however, these stills look like old x-ray prints particularly because of their luminosity in resin and their amorphous shifting values as one walks around these. The act of embedding an object in resin is akin to fossilizing the present and making it appear like flotsam and jetsam of a past. A found fossil is not the same as kept history. It may offer sketchy and incomplete data by default but whatever it does shed light on, is not marred by a power dynamic. Hence, Siddique’s subsequent subjective creation of fossil-like forms seems to draw attention to the idea of history, the lack of it and the dubious ways in which it may be constructed. However, Siddique’s attempts at interlacing timeframes from an imagined future into the same object are less effective without prior information about her process. This is further corroborated by the fact that the forms of her casts seem to be arbitrary and devoid of a chronological connotation. Siddique’s intent could have been more clearly articulated had she leant towards retro-futuristic forms instead of the simple cylinders and bowls.
Ahmed Faizan Naveed claims to be uninterested in the linear passage of time. For him, no coordinates exist that pin the present to the passing moment or prevent the past or future from suddenly emerging as one turns the corner. Keeping this fluid notion of time in mind, he claims to create ‘minimalistic’ work that is more concerned with universal ideas than the specific objects used to express these. At an intuitive level, this is perhaps similar to the expression of poetry that uses the constraints and privileges of its form to escape the particulars even when it makes mention of these. However, when Naveed entrusts a plastic water bottle to the ‘transformative’ power of a gallery pedestal, the ensuing expression is trite. Moreover, a packaged bottle of water (even identified as Nestle in the title) is politically and economically an enormously loaded object, and Naveed’s installation seems neither enlightened nor enlightening of these. Speaking of light, it is the resultantly refracted projections on the walls behind the object that are most interesting. Perhaps, if the object had not been clearly visible and confrontational, these bodiless light forms would have had the effect that Naveed desired. Similarly, Naveed’s video projection is ambiguous and located spatially in a more open art of the gallery, all of which prevent it from becoming a submersive experience. On the other hand, it is the inadvertently created isolated pockets of light upon the back walls, windows and the audience, visible from multiple points in the gallery, which hint at the transcendental experience that Naveed had hoped to provide.