Monday, 13 October 2008

'Let's Talk' Grey Noise at the Jam Jar

For me the most interesting thing at Art Dubai last year was the Pakistan Pavilion. The work seemed very fresh and was generally brain engaging in a way that much other contemporary work there was not. Because of this experience I was looking forward to seeing the collaboration between five young Pakistani artists from the Grey Noise Gallery in Lahore and the Jam Jar in Dubai.

'Let’s Talk’ came about after a meeting between Hetal Pawani of the Jam Jar and Umer Butt of Grey Noise. The exhibition represents a dialogue between the five artists and the work is linked as if it were a conversation. The central pillar of the whole concept is a small catalogue containing actual email dialogue and images the five artists exchanged when the show was in the planning stage. It is essential to read this catalogue, not only to help you understand what you see, but also because it creates a strong sense of personal involvement in the show.

The catalogue provides a basic structure of the conversation being had in the work. After that it is up to you to work out exactly where and how the different layers of the conversation intersect. This is challenging in itself because it is not always obvious. Just like a real conversation there are things that are unsaid, slight tangents and unresolved points. However, when juxtaposing the conversation being had by the work with the emailed exchanges between the artists, the show becomes a complete and cohesive entity. Silences in one and omissions in the other also become comprehensible.

The strongest conversational thread in the work is music or sound. The show starts with Lala Rukh’s sound collage containing elements of nature, politics and traditional music. Following on from this is Ayesha Jatoi’s line of sound words running the length of the opposite wall ending in the word ‘boom’. A full stop is provided by a very simple abstract red and white print entitled ‘Where is my God’? Turning the corner you see six small white graves each containing a different book. The interesting mix of titles spans a time frame of more than 10 years but the most recent is the biography of Benazir Bhutto. The creator of these works, Ayaz Jokhio, is strangely absent from the catalogue discussion.

Next is one of Mehreen Murtaza’s large prints evoking sci-fi, technology, creation and myth, an image that does not seem to relate directly to the conversation but is understood when placed in the context of the email exchanges. Her other print relates more directly to the sound motif but also explores faith and technology as instruments of control.

Around the next corner ‘Echo’ and ‘Sleeper’ by Fahd Burki are not what you expect to see having read the email exchanges and this intensifies the feeling that you have established an intimate relationship with the artists. The connection to the conversation in terms of sound is obvious but there are other more subtle undercurrents that can also be divined from the information you have been given.

It’s difficult to elaborate further because the presence of the catalogue is so central to the experience. It becomes like a puzzle, which you have to solve and the more effort you put into it the more rewarding it is. It is a nice redefinition of interactive - one in which exclusively mental rather than physical processes become the ones interacting with the work. What is perhaps most amazing is that you get all this from only eight pieces of work and a rather diminutive catalogue! So the show may be small but it is perfectly formed.

That said you do leave wanting more. Although you can keep reflecting on the concept and the different ways in which the conversation works, you want it to develop. Perhaps into another room, with another catalogue, different artists and a counter argument! However, this would be a different show and it probably needs to remain small because another thing I found was that it was hard to see the individual pieces in their own right. They became secondary to the larger concept and it was that, and the mental challenges associated with this show, which remained rather than the work itself. Nevertheless, Pakistan is still up there on my ‘to do further’ list!

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