Rashid Rana explores ideas of dislocation and self through the lens of digital vs real

The multi-disciplinary practice of Pakistani artist Rashid Rana encompasses a critique of the altered fabric of the contemporary society and its transnational operations.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Oct 13, 2022

Rashid Rana is a contemporary artist based in Lahore (Pakistan), yet has travelled extensively and studied in various parts of the world, which makes his outlook truly global. Pakistani art critic and writer Quddus Mirza said, “Rana’s work deals with globalisation, reflects on its impact, as well as serves as a critique of it. His use of digital media signifies the altered fabric of our societies, which function on the pattern and necessity of transnational operations.”

I recently came across a large-scale work of the South Asian artist that Rana presented by gallery Chemould Presscott Road at a recent edition of Art Basel. Titled Together Alone, the series deals with the subject of self-gaze while at the same time, it also celebrates the notion of self-love. “It examines the contrasting ability of the mirror to create and decimate a ‘self’ both as a metaphor and artistic strategy in my practice,” says Rana. Ideas of dislocation and migration, self and the other, and digital vs. real are recurring in his ongoing contemporary art practice.

Books 2, 2011, UV Print on Aluminium,Rashid Rana | Rashid Rana| STIRworld
Books 2, 2011, UV Print on aluminium Image: Courtesy of Rashid Rana

I speak with Rashid Rana on his recent series and core concerns that he explores in his art.

Rahul Kumar: Your recent series titled Together Alone reveals a dichotomous emotion of virtual togetherness. How did you arrive at layering the work by self-portraits by Adrien Alban Tournachon, taken in about 1858? How does it add to the intended meaning of the work itself?

Rashid Rana: The series Together Alone examines the contrasting ability of the mirror to create and decimate a ‘self’ both as metaphor and 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 standardised 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 at once, confusing the distinctions between each.

These images constitute a macro image of a series of self-portraits by Adrien Alban Tournachon, taken in about 1858. This surrender to the camera connects the earliest moments of mechanical imaging to the contemporary world, where performativity has replaced the formal stiffness and perhaps discomfort of Tournachon. Hence, the audience is left to construct their own narrative between Tournachon’s portrait/s and thousands of micro constituent images of present-day mirror selfies. The title of the work Together Alone refers to the dichotomy of the virtual (apparent) togetherness at a global level in this age of social media and the solitary figures contained in their own individual cells within the larger matrix of selfies.

Asl-e Shuhuud-o-shaahid-mashhhuud (The Viewing, the Viewer, and the Viewed), 2015, Single Channel Projection, Rashid Rana | Rashid Rana| STIRworld
Asl-e Shuhuud-o-shaahid-mashhhuud (The Viewing, the Viewer, and the Viewed), 2015, Single Channel Projection Image: Courtesy of Rashid Rana

Rahul: It is interesting that you profess the redundancy of ‘structures’ and de-link ‘birth of an idea and its connection with physical form’. How do you manifest this belief through your extensive and wide-ranged practice with painting, stainless steel sculpture, video installation, photo-sculpture and photo mosaic?

Rashid: Source material is secondary to me, especially when I am dealing with the subjects of time and space in an age that is marked by multiple modes of representing, revising and reversing facts/truths. I selected one of my more recognisable source paintings, Napoleon Crossing the Alps and Oath of the Horatii, for its iconic stature. I aimed to present it as an allegory, in which the violence is merely implied, not made explicit. Through such alternation, the root artwork is imbued with new significance. In Red Carpet, images of slaughterhouses are brought together to create life sized Persian rugs. Similarly, historical iconography is the building block of Transliteration Series, inviting the viewer to read the represented. In The Step, the equivalence is not that of art with mass and material but with the original source from which the image was taken. My works that take from everyday objects such as The Stove question distinction, difference and presence of an object. Book II is a familiar product that provides information, contains knowledge and leads to emotional substance, constructed into two-folded reality. And imbibing the illusion and actuality of an object creates realities that are not restricted to art only.

Beauty Lies, 2020, Single Channel Video Video: Courtesy of Rashid Rana

Rahul: Please talk about the term you have 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 making. It identifies a certain kind of practice that exists in the form of real-life actions (activities, events, interactions, interventions, transactions, mediations etc.) but can still transcend its primary function through the strength of its expression. Eart is not the expansion of the definition of art but rather hopes to chart a new territory beyond its confines altogether.

I have introduced the term as part of a document called ‘EART’: a manifesto of possibilities 01 that is supposed to serve as an invitation to a new discourse (possibly) outside the discourse of art, and to identify intended or un-intended acts of EART in the past and present.

I have recently had the opportunity to present three concepts at Manchester International Festival as an illustration of EART on my part. All three concepts are planet-wide businesses ideas with utopian aspiration yet viable and possible to execute as viable ideas. All three (business) ideas employ aesthetics and conceptual choices that aim to leave the baggage of 20th century behind while hinting on the possibility of ‘one planet one country’ ambition. 

Familial Unfamiliar, 2017, C Print + DIASEC, Rashid Rana | Rashid Rana| STIRworld
Familial Unfamiliar, 2017, C Print + DIASEC Image: Courtesy of Rashid Rana

Rahul: Your practice heavily references polarities and parallels realities. How do paradoxes and dualities become effective tools to lessen the drama of presumed absolutes and associated absurdities?

Rashid: My initial interest in the duality of space, as manifested within a two-dimensional surface/canvas, later on expounded into a wider interest in duality and paradoxes, a way of dealing with the burden of representing reality. These dualities are very effective as a tool for negating the drama of presumed absolutes because they often draw attention to their own absurdity. Every image, idea, and truth encompass its opposite within itself. Thus, we can say we live in a state of duality. This internal conflict translates into my work, especially in photo mosaics, at a formal level, and having geographical, historical, and political connotations.

Today I believe that the binaries of east and west are often overplayed. The binaries of ‘actual’ and ‘remote’ are more plausible in this regard; one’s expression is a result of a negotiation between the ‘actual’ and the ‘remote’. The actual is close at hand – something one can experience directly with the body as the site of knowing. The remote is knowledge amassed indirectly, from diverse sources scattered across time and space. The result is a meditation on location, both in a physical as well as temporal sense.

Rashid Rana | STIRworld
Artist Rashid Rana Image: Hamza Yousuf, Courtesy of Rashid Rana

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