In a time when the global population is forced to isolate, socially distance itself and come to terms with its socio-economic disparities in a real way, a recent show attempts to bridge various forms of gaps in the art world. The show Past Present Future marks the onset of a collaboration between Koel Gallery, Karachi, where it took place, and O Art Space, Lahore; and in that spirit attempts a small survey on artists from multiple cities across the country through its curators Nurayah Sheikh Nabi (Karachi) and R.M Naeem (Lahore).
Sheikh talks about addressing linkages between various genres, categories, geographies, and timeframes by addressing a timeline and scope, ranging from entry-level to senior artists from across the country working in various mediums and forms. This dialogue is visualized through two different size formats within which each artist converses with the past and the present and possible futures, the perfect square and the postcard — both reflecting the dynamics and aesthetics that govern the visual culture of their respective times, and the ways in which information is received and digested. While the square becomes a social-media friendly format saving one from the discomfort of cropping an artwork before sharing it with the virtual world, the 4×6 postcard harkens to the idea of memory, through its own intended mechanism as well as its place in the context of our digital age. Both reflect notions of “accessibility and movability”, connecting the world through shared experiences that unite us.
These ideas have become more pronounced in our current times where the digital platform has sustained connectivity in times of forced isolation. However, within the artworld the implications are complex; how does the experience of a particular work change through its multiple inadvertent reproductions? How does (or doesn’t) its meaning change as it moves between these different mediums? It is interesting to note that most of the works included in the show utilize hands-on or “physical” mediums which are then viewed in formats typical of virtual and digital production. However, it seems to be a missed opportunity that beyond the size itself, there is no way of experiencing this shift firsthand— the show remains very much a physical experience and any implications otherwise remain theoretical for the most part.
Past Present Future operates on the theme of bridging divides on multiple levels; reflected in the display itself which mentions clearly the birth year and city of origin of each artist. The sheer magnitude of thirty artists and sixty works means that the uniform size soon becomes repetitive and tiresome, however upon contemplation one realizes the parallels with social media itself and the hypnotic lull of endlessly scrolling through a feed.
When it comes to individual works, it was exciting to see quite a number of artists responding to the theme and the imposed format in unique and interesting ways, which also added nuance to their own practice and allowed the audience to view it in a new way. Adeel Uz Zafar chose to present a digital print of his usual meticulously laborious hand-etched works, focusing on the visual of the pixel and digital glitch, as well as cropping to fit smaller formats.
Ayaz Jokhio seemed to question ways of viewing secondhand visual information as well as notions of ownership as he often does, and showed us a relic from the past with his 4×6 painting representing the back of a photograph from 1996. Risham Syed drew connections of her own between two different series of hers (with one of the few 3D works on display) linking past and present, East and West, mundane and cataclysmic. Cyra Ali, Haider Ali Naqvi, Sadia Salim, and Masooma Syed also displayed noteworthy interpretations of the theme.
However, with many of the other works, one is left wanting for a more intellectual and formal engagement with the curatorial premise, rather than a rearrangement of the artist’s usual style into the prescribed size. Perhaps that becomes a statement in itself as the show attempts to reveal how we experience the gap between digital and physical and a dialogue between large and small, past and present, and how we overcome it to define the future. In that we get an alternate way of viewing these practices, which adds another dimension to the ongoing conversation.