Rashid Rana is a contemporary artist based in Lahore (Pakistan), but has traveled and studied extensively in various parts of the world, which makes his vision truly global. Pakistani art critic and writer Quddus Mirza said, “Rana’s work deals with globalization, reflects on its impact and also serves as a critique of it. His use of digital media signifies the altered fabric of our societies, which operate on the model and necessity of transnational operations.
I recently came across a large-scale work by the South Asian artist that Rana presented by Chemould Presscott Road gallery during a recent edition of Art Basel. Title together alone, the series deals with the subject of self-esteem while also celebrating the notion of self-love. “It examines the mirror’s contrasting ability to create and decimate a ‘self’ both as a metaphor and as an artistic strategy in my practice,” Rana explains. Ideas of dislocation and migration, of self and other, and of digital versus real are recurrent in his contemporary artistic practice.
I speak with Rashid Rana about his recent series and the fundamental concerns he explores in his art.
Rahul Kumar: Your recent series titled together alone reveals a dichotomous emotion of virtual unity. How did you come to superimpose the work on the self-portraits of Adrien Alban Tournachon, taken around 1858? How does this add to the intended meaning of the work itself?
Rachid Rana: The series together alone examines the contrasting ability of the mirror to create and decimate a “self” both as a metaphor and as an artistic strategy in my practice. The work is assembled from a collection of mirror selfies in which the seeing self and the seen self are all visible at once. This digital montage is assembled from a collection of mirror selfies – a fairly standardized form of self-portraiture in the age of social media – in which the camera, the mirror, the seeing self and the seen self are all visible to the times, confusing the distinctions between each.
These images constitute a macro-image of a series of self-portraits by Adrien Alban Tournachon, made around 1858. This abandonment to the camera links the first moments of mechanical imagery to the contemporary world, where performativity has replaced formal stiffness. and maybe discomfort. of Tournachon. Thus, the public is free to build their own story between Tournachon’s portrait(s) and the thousands of micro-images that make up today’s mirror selfies. The title of the book together alone refers to the dichotomy between (apparent) virtual unity on a global level in the age of social media and solitary figures contained in their own individual cells within the larger matrix of selfies.
Rahul: It’s interesting that you profess the redundancy of ‘structures’ and dissociate ‘the birth of an idea from its connection to physical form’. How do you manifest this belief through your extensive and varied practice of painting, stainless steel sculpture, video installation, photo-sculpture and photo-mosaic?
Rashid: Source material is secondary to me, especially when dealing with subjects of time and space in an era marked by multiple modes of representation, revision and inversion of facts/truths. I have selected one of my most recognizable source paintings, Napoleon Crossing the Alps and Serment des Horaces, for its iconic stature. I sought to present it as an allegory, in which the violence is simply implied, not made explicit. Through such alternation, the root artwork is imbued with new meaning. In Red carpet, images of slaughterhouses are brought together to create life-size Persian rugs. Likewise, historical iconography is the cornerstone of Transliteration series, inviting the viewer to read the depicted. In walking, the equivalence is not that of art with mass and matter but with the original source from which the image was taken. My works which are inspired by everyday objects such as The stove question the distinction, the difference and the presence of an object. Book II is a familiar product that provides information, contains knowledge and leads to emotional substance, built into a dual reality. And soaking up the illusion and actuality of an object creates realities that are not limited to art.
Rahul: Please talk about the term you coined “EART”.
Rashid: “EART” is a term that was originally an archaic version of the word “art” and I decided to use “EART” because of its associations with being, seeing and doing. It identifies a certain type of practice that exists in the form of real-life actions (activities, events, interactions, interventions, transactions, mediations, etc.) but which can still transcend its primary function through the force of its expression. Eart is not the expansion of the definition of art, but rather hopes to chart new territory beyond its limits.
I introduced the term as part of a document called ‘EART’: A Manifesto of Possibilities 01 which is meant to serve as an invitation to (eventually) new discourse outside of the discourse of art, and to identify intentional or unintentional acts of the EART in the past and present.
I recently had the opportunity to present three concepts at the Manchester International Festival as an illustration of the EART on my part. All three concepts are planetary scale business ideas with a utopian aspiration but viable and possible to execute as viable ideas. The three (business) ideas employ aesthetic and design choices that aim to leave the baggage of 20e century back while alluding to the possibility of the “one planet, one country” ambition.
Rahul: Your practice strongly references polarities and parallel realities. How do paradoxes and dualities become effective tools for mitigating the drama of assumed absolutes and associated absurdities?
Rashid: My initial interest in the duality of space, as manifested in a two-dimensional surface/canvas, later developed into a broader interest in duality and paradoxes, a way of dealing with the burden of depicting reality. These dualities are a very effective tool for negating the drama of assumed absolutes because they often draw attention to their own absurdity. Every image, idea and truth contains its opposite within itself. Thus, we can say that we live in a state of duality. This internal conflict is reflected in my work, especially in the photographic mosaics, at a formal level, and having geographical, historical and political connotations.
Today, I believe that the binaries of east and west are often exaggerated. The ‘real’ and ‘remote’ binaries are more plausible in this regard; a person’s expression is the result of a negotiation between the “real” and the “distant”. The real is at hand – something that can be experienced directly with the body as a place of knowing. Remote control is knowledge accumulated indirectly, from various sources dispersed in time and space. The result is a meditation on place, both in the physical and temporal sense.