From a distance, the frames on the walls of the Serena Hotel’s Satrang Gallery lead one to think that this is a jewelry exhibition. But then the eye leads downwards to cubes displayed on stands, and two large installations. And a close look at the frames themselves reveal that if this is jewelry at all, it is most unconventional.
Artist and assistant professor of drawing and sculpture at NCA, Imran Hunzai made his unusual approach to his oeuvre early on, with a performance based installation involving music and dance, and the kinetic sculptures of his thesis work. The latter were inspired by his childhood toys: beset by a lack of factory made toys, he and his school mates collected and took apart used batteries, from whose parts they fashioned ‘cars’ which ran on a system of wheels and pulleys. Post thesis exhibitions have featured shapes resembling torsos, cast from tissue rolls, and the carved wooden forms of ‘Wooden Woes.’
Body Extensions, the current work on display, was inspired by an assignment given to his sculpture students. They were to create something from used electronics: computers, video cassette players and recorders, radios. When the students had completed their projects, Hunzai found that a wealth of material had been cast aside. Toying with a band of aluminum stamped ‘Made in China’ which fit his ring finger, the artist began to play with the material at his disposal: transparent plastic sheeting woven through with fine wiring, steel wire, USB outlets, motherboards, and colourful metal or plastic ‘beads,’ all of them discarded from this assignment.
Hunzai is not the first artist to use recycled materials to make art work. Many artists in the West and elsewhere have been doing so for quite a while. Where artists of the twentieth century experimented with the plethora of materials invented by the industrial world, today’s artists use its waste. It’s not uncommon to find similar concerns and materials, in very different works of art. For instance, the Southwest artist Beth Ames Swartz spray painted swathes of kitchen roll paper, then re assembled them to create the series of ethereal, semi abstract landscapes of The Thirteenth Moon, which illustrate the poems of Du Fu and Li Bai. Others use cable ties, objects cast from Styrofoam and so on, to create something completely different from the original. This requires skill, but art also requires that there be an intellectual process. This is not always instantly visible to the viewer: at times some explanation is required to understand what the artist is trying to say. In Wooden Woes, Hunzai’s concerns are often very clear; for instance, the sculpture of a telephoto lens is also the barrel of a gun and includes a long cartridge belt of automatic bullets, illustrating our current political state as well as the focus of the media.
The artist’s preliminary efforts with these electronic gems resulted in pendants suspended on colourful plaited wire which resemble ta’awiz, or talismans, worn as good luck charms. As he continued to ‘play’ with the material at hand, the designs became more intricate, like the filigree patterns in silver that one sees in jewelry from the north, decorated with turquoise and red beads, or meena work. Once the viewer looks closely at these ‘sculptures,’ mounted on plush velvet backgrounds, and realizes the origin of the materials, it is an easy step to divine the tongue in cheek comment – that science, or rather technology, has become a precious commodity which commands big money, in past times reserved for craft and the making of beautiful things designed to last for generations. Cubes covered with plastic sheeting on one side, pendants or rings set with colored ‘stones’ on another, set on plinths, are like the display stands for jewelry or merchandise in upmarket stores, as are the sparkling jeweled sandals, studded with metal pins, formed of motherboards and wiring. But these precious technological ‘jewels’ are transitory objects which lose their value once an updated model is introduced into the market.
The most eloquent works in the show are two large sculptures formed of tissue paper casts. One was inspired by the artist observing his infant son, who crouches here on the floor, his gaze intently following a procession of figures cast in wire, their heads topped by cylindrical ‘hats,’ which fans out as they march further ahead of him into the distance. Hunzai’s contention is that children of today have so many ready manufactured toys, so much ready packaged information at their disposal that they do not need to stimulate their imagination to create anew. All this packaging, all this information available at the touch of finger-tip, is making us into slaves who follow what is given us, rather than stimulating our minds to make something original.
The other sculpture features a distressed cow, its udders plugged and pinned with USBs, and is an obvious statement on mechanization and the excesses of science which plumb the natural world to the point of abuse.
There is skill in this work, the clever manipulation of unconventional materials, and an underlying thought process which, as in good art, offers the viewer visual clues, for which he must exercise his imagination.